Of Clouds and Waterfalls

Tarun and Simrita were visiting from Delhi and we decided to do a little road-trip and show them the Coorg countryside. It was our first trip to Coorg as well and everyone was looking forward to the holiday. Peeyush, one my very good friends from b-school turned out to be in Bangalore and we had the 5th member of our contingent.

After a last minute ‘tyre-change required’ diagnosis for our own car and frantic late night phone calls we headed out of Bangalore at 5.30 am in a rented Innova.

At Kamat’s over steaming cups of filter coffee and breakfast, we decided to visit the Namdroling Monastery at Bylakuppe before heading to our homestay in Virajpet. I had been to Namdroling before but rain drenched, green and very quiet, it felt like a completely different place. Peeyush, who was recently back from a month long stay at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal was our guide and gave us some quick gyan about Buddhism, its philosophies and some very interesting anecdotes.

20130624_163952   20130624_165630

Buddhist monasteries are usually very beautiful with rich decorations and vibrant colors and the Namdroling monastery is my all time favorite. Each pillar is a work of art with such fine detailing that takes your breath away.

20130624_163944   20130624_163607

Gorgeous thangka paintings adorn the walls everywhere depicting scenes from the Jataka Tales or from the lives of the various Bodhisattvas.

20130624_163921   20130624_163914

And the detailing on the clothes and accessories is just mind boggling.

20130624_163845   IMG_3561

And then the final reveal when you enter the main hall – Gigantic statues of Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. The hall itself is huge and extremely quiet and the overall feeling of awe and grandeur is inescapable.

20130624_162755

After a quick snack of momos and thugpa at Bylakuppe we headed to our homestay in Virajpet – Coffee Trails. We had planned a trip to Coorg with a stay at Coffee Trails last year as well which we had to cancel due to floods along the way. The owner, Ms. Ragini was very understanding. So this time we decided to book with her again. The place was breathtaking. It was a cross between a homestay and a resort with 4 rooms constructed on a little hill with a view of the valley.

20130625_101146   p20130624-202948

Huge balconies with lovely chairs and a view of the hills covered in clouds. We spent a lot of our time sitting here watching the rain and downing warm rum and hot pakodas. The clouds actually enter the balconies and the rooms and it was a surreally beautiful experience.

The home cooked food was finger-lickingly good with the cook feeding us all the local specialties in every meal and then some more.

p20130624-203243   IMG_3576

Because of the heavy rain forecast we had not planned to get out much. But we heard that because of the rains the waterfalls were in full glory and we decided that was something worth getting drenched for. So after a quick stop in Madikeri for buying spices, coffee and what not we headed to Abbi falls.

You could hear the roar of the water long before even seeing it and what a sight – A white curtain of water cascading down the rocks. The mist from the falls was all around us and the view of the falls from the little bridge in front of it was something else. The rains, Abbi falls and hot coffee made for some wonderful memories.

20130625_115649   20130625_115659

On the way back from Abbi we decided to make a quick stop at the Taj Vivanta in Madikerit for coffee. I had heard a lot of good things about the place and wanted to find out whether all the hype was true. The hotel has an open lobby with an infinity pool and a panaromic view of the valley below. The clouds were actually inside the lobby and had completely obscured the view. We stood with our mouths open and stared at the cloud covered infinity pool for a while. But finally we had to head back to Virajpet without the coffee because the Taj here had a very strange rule of a minimum 1500/- per head cover charge for ordering anything.

The road to Taj Vivanta passes right through the heart of one of the most beautiful golf courses I have laid eyes on. Even though not immaculately manicured, the Mercara Golf Course was gorgeous with rolling landscape cloaked in mist and fogs and it made us forget about the coffee experience at the Taj.

20130625_132705   20130625_134614

We set out from Virajpet for Bangalore on Day 3 with a plan to stop at the Dubare Elephant Camp. But we soon found out from the locals that the entire place was flooded and the Cauvery was flowing too fast and angry to make the boat crossing to the elephant camp. The expressions and the hand movements by the locals suggested that near certain death was involved. So we made a quick detour and decided to see the Irupu falls and head back to Bangalore through the Nagarhole national park.

We had been warned that the road to Irupu was quite bad and it was a 20 minute trek through a forest full of leeches to get to the falls. But when we finally got there it was nowhere as bad as what we were expecting. The 20 minute trek was on a very clearly laid out paved path through the forest and none of us got leeched or even spotted one.

The Irupu falls come down from a much greater height than Abbi and the water flows through the forest along the path of the trek.

20130626_113143   20130626_114135

After witnessing and getting completely drenched in the glory of the Malnad monsoon we headed back to the madness of Bangalore with a heavy heart.

Coorg, you beauty! You shall see me again soon!

20130626_114128

20130626_114338

Posted in India, Road Trip, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Havelock Diaries – Part 2

After lazing around for 2 days, beach hopping and stuffing our faces silly with yummy food we decided to do an introduction course to Scuba diving. DIVEIndia, located at Vinnie’s Island had come highly recommended by some friends who had been to Andaman earlier and we chose to do our assisted dives with them.

Waterworld

We suited up and got into a boat which took us out to Nemo Reef, our diving site. The instructors from DIVEIndia gave us some detailed instructions to get us started on our beginners’ dive. The boat anchored about 100 metres from the dive site and we got into shallow water to put on our oxygen tanks and practice all the different techniques that we learnt. After that we were all set to head out to the diving site.

Having snorkeled before, I had some idea of what to expect. But the freedom of having an oxygen tank and going much deeper into the water was something else altogether. The sky was absolutely cloudless and the sun was out. The sunlight lit up the water beautifully, illuminating the colorful marine life, anemones and coral reefs. With just the sound of your breath for company, we set out for one of the best 1 hour of our lives.

Soon enough we found out why the diving site was named Nemo reef. There were many clown fish families living in anemones, scattered all over the diving site. Unlike the other fishes which swam away as soon as you approached them, the clownfish were far more patient and allowed us to take a really good look up close.

IMG_1818   IMG_1750

This lil fella even came and nibbled my finger.

IMG_1760

We went about 8-10 feet deep in the water and were there for about an hour. Other than the clownfish we saw many other varieties of marine fauna – moorish idols, trevally, parrotfish, angelfish, groupers, clams, sea cucumbers, sea snakes and so many more that I do not remember the names of.

Scuba diving was an amazing experience and I shall definitely return to do a proper certification.

Beach hopping

We spent the rest of our time at Havelock beach hopping on our scooty. The island is heavily forested in many places and while you are riding through the forest, you glimpse quiet, secluded beaches with miles of white sand and waves. The island has beaches on both the Eastern and Western sides making it possible to catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

20130517_064845   20130517_065130

The Radhanagar beach, one of the most famous beaches of Havelock, and voted as one of the best beaches in Asia. We spent a whole afternoon here and were rewarded with a glorious sunset which tuned the entire beach golden.

IMG_3494   IMG_3495    IMG_3497   IMG_3510

Beach No. 5 on the Eastern side of Havelock was gorgeous as well with hardly any waves, white sands and crystal clear waters.

IMG_3454   IMG_3378IMG_3458

Our Havelock adventure ended on Day 5 with a glorious sunset at Beach No. 2. The next day we caught the morning ferry to Port Blair and then flights onward to Chennai and Bangalore. Havelock is a beautiful gem in India’s tourism portfolio. Even though the flights can be expensive, the island itself has good resorts, many restaurants, plenty of diving schools, making it a great destination.

20130517_174144

Posted in India, Travel | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Havelock Diaries – Part 1

For the last few months, I had been desperately missing the sea. Having lived in Mumbai most of my life, the sea had become a big part of my existence. After moving to Bangalore a year ago I found myself missing the sound of the sea, the smell (I know), the walks/visits to Worli Sea Face and Marine Drive.

After reading the talented Archana Srinivas’s journal entry on Havelock Island, this place had been on my wishlist for a while now. So the husband and I decided to head to the Andamans this summer. More specifically to Havelock Island, for some sun and sand!

We arrived at Port Blair with a short stop over in Chennai. Had booked a sea plane to take us to Havelock from Port Blair. This was India’s only sea plane service till recently.

A flight like no other

It was truly a flight like no other. The sea plane was just large enough to hold 10 people including the pilot and the co-pilot. The plane takes off from a normal runway right next to the Port Blair airport.

The flight is just 15-20 minutes long, but is an amazing experience. The plane flies low over the aquamarine waters giving you unbelievable views of islands, clouds and coral reefs.

20130513_151316   20130513_151943

The waters are crystal clear and one can see the ocean floor and all the coral formations.

20130513_152359     20130513_153448

The plane landed in the middle of the ocean and dropped us off on a floating platform where we waited for our boat to take us to Havelock. Though expensive, I would highly recommend taking the sea plane for at least one leg of the journey. Its a beautiful experience and gives an aerial view of the paradise you are about to reach.

20130513_154146

Paradise Found

The ride from the jetty to our hotel was a very short one and voila, we were at Eco Villa Palm Beach Resort. The location of this place is quite nice. It is situated in an enclosed bay like area which turns the beach into a gigantic swimming pools. With crystal clear water and hardly any waves, you can walk out into the sea for quite far and still see your feet.

The property was quite interesting with separate little villas scattered all over, some right at the edge of the water. They also have very interesting duplex and triplex huts with views to die for. The staff was courteous and the resort was close to all the action and good eating joints. The only problem was the upkeep. The whole place could do with some money being spent on sprucing it up and maintaining it better.

IMG_3429   IMG_3362

There were palms all over the property with these lovely seating arrangements facing the water. Many a hot afternoon were spent here reading books.

IMG_3293   IMG_3284

The seating area outside the villa and one of the regular visitors.

IMG_3256   IMG_3369

We spent the 5 days zipping around the island on a scooty and taking in the sights. Oh wait! Completely forgot all the hogging that we did. The food in some of the restaurants was simply outstanding. The Full Moon Cafe at Vinnie’s Island was easily the best of the lot with greatly priced, amazing food.

IMG_3422   IMG_3448

Fat Martins with its veggie fare of wide variety of Dosas, rolls and milk shakes was quite cool. Its quite a small place and easy to miss. Just look out for the sign with rolly polly chef.

IMG_3479   IMG_3481

Anju Coco was another nice place to eat with a very wide variety of options. Looking at all the pictures I think a separate post can be written on all the pigging that we did.

🙂

IMG_3482   IMG_3434

20130514_142703   20130514_144108

Part 2 of the Havelock Diaries coming up shortly.

Posted in India, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Colors

“What you are seeing is a blur of colors right now. Everything will start getting sharper and clearer every day”, the nurse was saying.

Colors! It had just been a word for her till now. A concept she was had been unable to grasp.

When the call had come about the corneas being available, Maya had jumped with joy. She had come blind into this world 28 years ago, but luckily into a loving family which supported her every step of the way. Her parents had brought her up to be a confident young woman who lived independently, had a job she loved and so many hobbies to fill up her time after work.

But over the last few years the small things that never bothered her before were starting to make their presence felt. What future did she have at her medical transcription job? It was perfect for her, converting voice recorded medical reports into digital documents. All she had needed was a braille keyboard to get started in her job. She was a star, one of the most productive and accurate transcribers. But what next?

Her friends were slowly starting to get married. Maya was in her twenties and had led a very protective existence. She found herself wondering about how it felt to have a boyfriend, a husband, a normal life together with someone special. She wanted to be like her friends. Go shopping, buy clothes, actually watch a movie, not just listen. She had heard about makeup, but could not grasp the concept yet.

How does a person who is not aware about something, experience its absence and feel handicapped? Maya had grown up being told that she wasn’t handicapped, she just needed a little help. She was very independent, but always felt her parents hovering protectively.

So it was very hesitantly she had asked her parents to go see an ophthalmologist. It had been many many years since her last visit and her parents were also pleasantly surprised when the doctor had said that medicine had advanced to a stage where they could make Maya see. She had immediately agreed to be added to the transplant list.

The wait had been agonizing. 2 years and 8 months of waiting for the phone to ring. And now she could see. Finally!

It was not easy. It was like her brain was constantly being assaulted by what her eyes were seeing. She closed her eyes so that she could calm herself. Get her thoughts in order. This was the world she knew. Easy to understand. She reached out and got her phone in her hands and opened her eyes again and tried to see. She knew she had a phone in her hands. She had to make these associations. Learn. Like a child.

The next two weeks in the hospital went by in a blur. Every day things got clearer. She could see movement, shapes. She could see peoples’ faces. She saw herself in the mirror for the very first time. Maya was ecstatic. She spent her hours in the hospital dreaming about the new life she would start, about the challenges and the fun. She had to learn to read and write. She wanted to study more. Travel. See the world.

She was going home today! Maya was waiting for her dad to get the car while her mother was chatting with the nurses.

“I cannot believe this day has come! My daughter can see. Thank you so much for taking good care of her.”

“Arrey, why thanks and all. It’s our job. It was nice to her here. She is so full of life.”

“I know. Now we can stop worrying about what will happen to her after we leave this world. We are going to start looking for a boy for her soon.”

“Haan! You better start looking now. You have a tough task ahead of you. All the boys want only fair girls. Dark skinned girls like your daughter need all the luck they can get.”

Fair, Dark? Maya knew these words. But she did not what they meant. She had yet to make that association. She ignored the babble.

The parades started soon. Photos were uploaded on websites, visits to the salon for bleaching, creams were bought, shade-cards were compared every day. Now Maya understood the ads that she saw on TV.

“Fairer skin in 2 weeks.”

“It’s not just your face, your body needs to be fair too.”

“Facewash, pack and moisturizer combo, to get that perfect fair skin”

Maya caught herself wishing she didn’t understand, wishing occasionally for the old days when she did not understand what fair and dark were. When colors were just words in the dictionary. Words that she had known nothing about…

This post is a part of the Blog-a-Prompt week at Marathon Bloggers. Today’s prompt is Colours.

943054_10151698834945815_497939187_n

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Epic Road Trip – Leg 5

Jaisalmer – Udaipur – Mumbai – Bangalore

Leg 5

Desert Mirages

The last leg of our road trip began with a lovely drive to the border. We decided to go visit the border posts of Tanot and Longewala, famous for being the spots where the 1971 India-Pakistan war was fought. These posts also happen to be the farthest you can go without taking special permits etc from the army.

The drive itself was beautiful, passing through small villages and complete nothingness for miles. The road stretched for miles and miles showing us mirages of water and trees. At Tanot, there’s a peaceful temple dedicated to Tanot Mata which houses a collection of all the shells that were dropped by Pakistan on or close to the temple during the war. Not a single one exploded apparently. The soldiers and locals come here to pray for protection.

381-1   388

We climbed the nearby dunes and sat there for a very long time, watching the sun set and just enjoying the vastness of the Thar desert.

410   411

We headed for a camel safari in the desert the next day, near the dunes of Sam. The whole experience was quite mixed. There are at least 20-30 ‘desert camps’ which offer the service of a camel ride followed by dinner and local entertainment. It is chaos with thousands of people descending every evening and a cackle of guides, their camels and vehicles. The camel ride ends at the start of the desert where you have to compete with thousands of other people to just climb up on the dune to see the sunset. Our camel guide told us he can take us deeper into the desert for more money and which we agreed to finally because it just didn’t make sense to go where he was taking us otherwise.

A 037   A 050

He did take us to a better spot deeper into the desert, but it was the 1st of January and the whole place was littered with broken alcohol bottles and syringes. People had come into the desert on 31st night and had left the trash behind. The amount of trash was phenomenal and quite dangerous. The only bright spot was there was miles and miles of sand dunes ahead of us with not a single person in sight. The sun set itself was gorgeous and we forgot the broken beer bottles and especially the syringes for a while.

After the camel ride it started getting cold and we went on our way to the desert camp for dinner, Rajasthani folk music and dance. But the camp that was booked for us by our hotel in Jaisalmer was so sad that we took one look and decided to just skip the whole thing. We decided to call it a day and head back to our hotel. A bitter-sweet end to our Jaisalmer journey.

A 087   A 120

End of the Epic Road Trip

We headed out of Jaisalmer early next morning. We were headed back to Udaipur with a breakfast stop in Jodhpur along the way. We made surprisingly good time and reached Udaipur in time for a late lunch and to catch the sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola. It was finally sinking in that the trip was fast getting over.

A 170   A 184

We headed to Mumbai from Udaipur and from Mumbai back home to Bangalore, the same way that we had come. We had been on the road for 21 days and it had been an awesome experience overall, a trip of a lifetime! Our Chevy Cruze drove us around without a single complaint across such varied terrain that we were amazed that we only had one punctured tyre on the whole trip. A big thumbs up to the Bangalore-Mumbai highway and the roads of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

I would strongly recommend everyone with an interest in driving to do something like this at least a couple of times in their life. Cars today have become super comfortable and with good roads the hours don’t hurt as much as they used to 5-10 years ago. A road trip can be planned and precise and as footloose and unplanned as you want. Everywhere you reach you already have a vehicle at your disposal to do what you want, see and experience what you want. The time spent together driving from one place to other can also be really memorable. Great conversations, new music to be discovered and just taking in the sights while you are on your journey.

Cheers to a wonderful trip and any such more to come!!

Posted in India, Road Trip, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Epic Road Trip – Leg 4

After an awesome stay in the Kangra valley, we descended from the hills and made our way to Jaisalmer with stopovers in Chandigarh and Bikaner. The drive from Palampur to Chandigarh was non eventful, but the next leg was anything but. Google maps showed us roads where there were none and took us into the heart of Haryana farmland. We spent some time roaming around a bit lost and finally reached Bikaner in the evening. But then again, that’s the whole point of road trips.

Leg 4

Bikaner to Jaisalmer was  quick drive and we reached our hotel just in time for lunch. Our hotel, Narayan Niwas Palace, was a heritage property located in the heart of Jaisalmer city. We decided to walk around and explore the surrounding architecture in the evening sun.

Patwon Ki Haveli 

A beautiful five storied structure, this haveli was built by a Patwa (a trader & moneylender) for his five sons. The haveli has 5 different sections, added one after the other at different periods of time.

It is easily the most elaborate and intricate building in Jaisalmer after the Kings and Queen’s residences in Jaisalmer fort. Apparently this haveli was allowed to be this grand only because the King used to borrow money from the Patwa.

All the five sections now are owned by different entities and people with only two sections which have been turned into museums open to the public. The craftsmanship, both outdoors and indoors is one of the finest examples I have seen.

043   053 047   058

The haveli is full of beautiful antiques and specimen of Rajasthani grandeur. Murals adorn many of the walls and are apparently freshened up or re-done regularly.

120   109

Its absolutely breathtaking to see every inch of the haveli full of such beautiful workmanship.

091   061

Scenes from a Fort

The next morning we headed to see the Jaisalmer fort. Made of sandstone, the fort looks like it is rising out of the desert. A beautiful fort with a living settlement inside, it definitely deserves the name of “Sonar Kila”. The fort glows golden in the evening sun, like burnished gold set on fire.

The place has also gotten really really commercial with touts, shops and guides milling all around and really irritating the hell out of many tourists who just want to have a look around and soak up the place. The lack of an audio-guide really pinches here.

215   237 234   262

We walked around the village where people still live and carry on with their daily lives. Lot of houses have these wedding announcements painted on their walls. Not sure if they are announcements or invitations.

350   355 

More scenes from the living quarters.

353   352  346   345

This is my favorite picture from the trip. He was standing at the gate of the King’s palace inside the fort. I think his job was to welcome the people coming in but he was standing there oozing melancholy from every pore on his body.

307  

Posted in India, Road Trip, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Epic Road Trip – Leg 3

Apologies for the massive delay between Leg 2 and Leg 3 posts. Here goes…

McLeodganj – Palampur – Kangra

Leg 3

After Kufri, we were headed to Dharamshala and McLeodganj, our last stop in the hills before we headed south west to the desert. (Or so we thought)

We drove back down to Chandigarh to drop some friends and headed to Dharamshala passing through Kangra. The change in scenery from Chandigarh to the Kangra Valley was breathtaking and our first view of the Dhauladhar range as we passed a curve on the road was an almost divine experience.

Our experience in McLeodganj was not so positive though. The town wore a deserted look, the hotel we had booked was shady and generally the whole town had a very shut down look about it. After being continuously followed by a group local men, we gave up and decided to leave the next morning. But the big question was where? We had a good 3 days before we were expected in Rajasthan and the hills were too beautiful to leave so soon.

ERT-II 024   ERT-II 027

A friend in Kasauli had mentioned Palampur in one of our conversations and we decided to go there on a whim. It was quite close to Mcleodganj and seemed off the typical tourist track.

It was the best decision ever.

Palampur was a sleepy little town in the heart of the Kangra valley with majestic mountains and tea estates all around. After our bad hotel experience in McLeodganj, we stayed at the Taragarh Palace, a heritage property which was another 20 kms outside Palampur. We spent the next couple of days exploring the surrounding region and just soaking in the mountain air.

ERT-II 068   ERT-II 060ERT-II 055   ERT-II 033

ERT-II 026

Another tip from a friend was not to miss the Kangra fort before we left from this region. And what a great tip it turned out to be.

We headed for a day trip to the Kangra fort one morning. The fort was not very impressive to look at from the outside. Smallish fort with grey stonework, repairs/patchwork in progress in some places. But the fun began once we bought the audioguides and entered the fort.

There were no touts, guides, not too many tourists. The fort was clean and well maintained. There were some repairs happening inside the fort and the material was being transported the traditional way using a donkey pack.

The audio guide in the voice of Roshan Seth was mind-blowingly good and was the highlight of the trip. It was like listening to an episode of Discovery of India. I wonder why more Indian historical places do not have good audioguides. The guide was extremely well made and told many stories about the history of the fort through ages.

ERT-II 087   ERT-II 095 ERT-II 100   ERT-II 107    ERT-II 159   ERT-II 179

After spending a few hours in the fort, listening to the stories and exploring every corner we headed back to Palampur. Our next stop was straight to the desert from the mountains.

Posted in India, Road Trip, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments