Places to MEDITATE. This is my favourite activity (or rather no-activity ? 😉 ). Go somewhere awesome and sit and meditate or cycle. Kind of the same. Haha. And one podcast I heard from Swami Tyagananda of Ramakrishna Chapter in Boston, said that spiritual seekers notice a sense of familiarity when they do their practices in a new place. And I have been thinking that my daily yoga and meditation practices in every new place I go to, adds to the experience of the place for me.
This Salem trip was very interesting and one of the first such trips where I met a fellow, senior seeker, chatted about spirituality and he showed me around some great places to meditate. And we meditated a while.
So if you are around Salem and wondering what to see, head to one of these places and meditate a while.Continue reading
One of my first Lighthouse visits was the Kaup Beach Lighthouse near Udupi in Konkan Karnataka. I took a local bus from Udupi going towards Mangalore and got down at the small town. There was this Mariamma temple opposite the bus stand,
It is odd that this blog of mine hardly has anything about Mysore, considering that it was my favourite city to visit for years… so it is only fitting to write about it now in my Unexpectedly Awesome place series. In the first post I wrote about the Western Ghats and here I will write about the Mysore Lakes – the two most unexpectedly awesome spots in Mysore.
Everyone has heard of Mysore, so I am sure you would have too. 🙂
Usually people talk about visiting the Mysore Palace or the Vrindavan Gardens. But there’s more,Continue reading
So, when I first went to Mysore, I was very excited because it was Tipu Sultan’s city. I had grown up watching Tipu Sultan on television and remember his valour and courage against the British tyranny, and how he finally got betrayed. Yes, TV ends up influencing way too much. Anyway much later I realised that Mysore was actually ruled by the Wodeyars – who apparently were fairly good rulers, even though they were allies of the British? While Tipu Sultan’s main city would be Srirangapatna just 15 km away! The whole history of Mysore & and its surrounding areas is worth a good read and I still don’t understand half of it. Apparently the true kings – the Wodeyars were just puppets during Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan’s reign? But again like I said need to read more on this.
When I went to Mysore for their famous Dasara (or Dussera festival) celebrations in 2013, I took the chance to visit Srirangapatna. This was one tiring day – I was on my feet for over 10 hours, by the time I reached back to my hostel I could not stand anymore and just collapsed on the bed, truly!
Srirangapatna is unique as a ‘Fort City’. This means that the entire city was built inside a fort… so as you enter you are first greeted by Fort walls, canons and other old military fortifications. Even the ruins of these fortifications are quite impressive. The area inside is decent, clean and green albeit a little confusing as there are some ruins and then some newly made constructions so I am not clear what is what.
Sorry for the photo over exposure. Often as I am traveling I just stop clicking pictures as I am absorbed in the place….. this is one such trip – most pictures haven’t been clicked and the ones that are, are over-exposed. 😉
So I will actually source pictures from elsewhere so you get an idea about the place.
Surprisingly I was first greeted by a Jain temple. I always find it fascinating to find Jain temples in various unsuspecting corners of the country. So I visited it, drank water, cleaned my feet and looked around. It was an interesting architecture, different from the usual Jain temples. A mix of south Indian architecture and Jainism stuff. Here you can take a look at some of the pictures here – if you know about Jain culture then you will be able to get the very South Indian flavour of this temple.
Further in the city we come to the famous Ranganathswamy temple, this is a Vishnu temple. I looked at it from outside, but I had enough of temples so I gave it a skip. I walked around the town a bit and it is a lovely, quiet little place. Every now and then there are some ruins with placards stating this was so-n-so spot in the reign of Tipu Sultan. There are some wells, and place where his body is found and royal garden and so on.
Interestingly there were two very ancient temples I came to. There were many old people sitting outside – like a typical small town situation where the village elder men come and sit in a spot – gossiping and chit chatting. So I asked them how old is this temple? Most of them didn’t know English…. only one guy knew a bit so he rumbled a lot in Kannada and then went like “800” years. Hehe. I checked online and it seems no one has written about these temples maybe cause they were pretty derelict.
So that was fun. I visited that one temple, also No photography. There were many little forks in the road… so I realised there was a lot to explore in this quiet town. Moreover, there are also many areas to explore on the other side of town …. this is on the other side of the highway. I didn’t go there, instead I went to a bird sanctuary!
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is just a few kms away.
Srirangapatna to Ranganathittu is a fairly easy bus ride. You can get many buses from the Srirangapatna bus stop which drops you at a bus stop which is 15-20 mins from the bird sanctuary. You need to walk from this stop to the sanctuary gates. Some people may take rickshaws from here. I didn’t bother… I like walking. The road passes right by the river and hence quite green.
I wasn’t sure how it might be going alone, as this was my first bird sanctuary on my own. The ticket guy seemed a bit amused when I just walked in (as most people came in vehicles) and asked for one ticket. 😉
Overall, I had a great time here. The place is lush green and cool. There are many nice spots to just sit and enjoy. Probably due to Dasara there were quite a few people here even though it was October, off season for the sanctuary. The best time visit here is March to May. But I love nature and the green environment of the bird sanctuary. There is cafe which serves odd, Indian version of a lot of interesting dishes 😉
There is also a kids area for them to play around. The highlight is a boat ride which takes us closer to the bird and crocodile areas. So we pretty much saw lots and lots of one type of water bird, mainly these white ones,
We also saw crocodiles up close, basking in the sun. It was quite fun… as I have never seen so many of them, just comfortably basking in front of us. The boat took us very close to one of them… was fun…
So after spending a while here… I headed back to Srirangapatna. But here many of the places were closed as it was already evening. The town started getting quite deserted as tourists head back. I seem to have missed out seeing quiet a few of the places here in this sleepy town – so another trip is mandated. 😉
I am anyway a slow traveler, and like visiting places impromptu, I miss out on some good places because of that, but then I end up seeing and experiencing other stuff so I guess that is fine. I also end up spending quite a bit of time on nice spots… like I spent almost 4 hrs in Ranganathittu… part of it just sitting around and observing the the foliage, the birds, animals and the play of nature. 🙂
But there are many places I didn’t explore here…. in fact I could write a whole bucket list of those places.
1) Triveni Sangam: Holy rivers – Kaveri, Kabini & Hemavati confluence is just somewhere around Srirangapatnam
2) Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, Gol Gumbaz – and many other ruins. There were sign boards at the highway… so I guess I would explore the other side of town too.
3) Roam around the city a bit more and explore the various forks in the road I saw. If possible connect with a local to tell me more about it…
Have you been to Srirangapatna? If you haven’t I do recommend it when you are in the area… it is quite enchanting. Ranganathittu – I suggest go in the right season… because people who, really want to ‘see’ a lot of things for their trips to be worthwhile, might not really enjoy here in off season.
To whomever I mentioned “I went to Chikmagalur”, they all had heard of it before. Could be the Coffee, as Chikamaglur is often known as the Coffee land of Karnataka. My first impressions of this town was – small, quaint and spacious. Broad roads (as per India), small 2-3 story buildings and beyond these buildings I could spot an undulating hilly landscape. Most importantly while Mumbai was sizzling in the summer, this place was quite pleasant.
The hills around Chikmagalur are surrounded by Coffee plantations. Most plantations here are huge over a few hundred acres for sure. Long walks and even treks can be a real joy. These plantations keep animals like cows, goats, dogs and such, they have wood-burning boiler geysers bringing you hot water, activities like drying pepper or beans is usually on – so overall we feel like we are in a place very different from our usual urban lifestyle.
The fresh air, water and food add to the charm that these natural homepads offer.
The place we stayed at took care of all of our meals. At times we had local delicacies while other times Knorr packet soups. For family travels this is a good setup as everyone enjoys. Every evening we had dinner around the campfire. My niece and I had a nice time dancing around it as well. Travel memories. 🙂
You haven’t been to a campfire if you haven’t danced, sang songs, fanned dying embers to get sparks and done a whole lot of other fun.
Only thing to check with regards home stay is the distance from Chikmagalur town. Our homestay was 30 – 45 mins away. So depending on your length of stay – keep at least couple of days to just stay in the plantation and experience that place. If you are going for outings everyday then taking a place so far out doesn’t seem to be the right choice. May as well stay somewhere in town.
The reason I was excited even for a two day trip into Karnataka was because I have explored many of the places and this would be a way to explore some more adjoining areas. Some of the main attractions near Chikmagalur are,
Halebeedu & Belur
The sites of two well-known Hoysala temples. Belur is 20 kms from Chikmagalur. Halebeedu is another 17 kms from Belur. So a comfortable day journey. I had already been to both these places. This was my second visit to Belur, we didn’t go to Halebeedu. If you are looking to go to just one of them, because of time constraints then I suggest go to Halebeedu because it has a garden, lake and two Nandi idols which are in the top 10 biggest in the world.
Halebeedu’s temple carvings might also be more interesting to many people because it depicts the Mahabharata scenes – some of which you can decipher yourself. The main attraction in both these temples according to me is the intricacy of carvings. How they have managed such intricacy so many years ago, in such minute detail is mind boggling.
A lot of people swear that the guides are a must to truly understand the magnificence of these temples. I have taken a guided tour in both places and honestly, found their way of giving the ‘lecture’ very uninspiring, but that is just me. I am usually looking to understand places much more deeply. I also like it when the guide narrates everything as a story, the way it happened rather than history class. I hope they have some well made audio tours installed in these places soon.
This is a sacred place for Hindu and Jains alike. On top of a small 20-min-climb hill, there is a huge Bahubali idol. Many Hindus know him as Gomateshwar. He is the second son of Rishabha – the first Jain tirthankar.
This is another Hindu religious place near Chikmagalur. Someone had actually recommended this place to me. Though I have not been here yet… but it maybe worth checking out. There is a famous Annapoorneshwari Temple here. Apparently, there is a 4000 year old Kannada dialect inscription on this temple’s back wall. It says that in the Future there would be flying machines and these would disturb human peace. So if we know some local stories and such then these religious places can be very interesting.
There are some other hill stations also nearby. These can be checked out.
The highlight for me about the excursion from Chikmagalur to Belur was this picnic in an open spot.
A farmer came to enquire as to what we were doing, quite a dilapidated looking fellow (as per me, an urban creature)…. and he was well versed in English. 🙂 Surprise. Surprise.
The surroundings are very picturesque and green. Reminded me a bit about Hampi….
I went from Mumbai to Mangaluru in overnight konkan railway. That train ride was also very eventful and enjoyable. Have a lot of pictures to share in a next post. I reached Mangaluru early in the morning at about 10ish. Mangaluru to Chikmagaluru I took a local bus ride. It is about 5-6 hours journey, there is quite a bit of Western ghats enroute and the bus connections are a bit flaky. So be prepared to really enjoy the local and very budget transportation. 🙂
You can also just take a car. That is what the others in my family did. They were coming from Bangalore. The time taken from Bangalore & Mangalore is pretty much the same.
All in all, a lovely place to visit. Staying in the plantations for a few days can really relax and rejuvenate.
If you are aware of the South Indian cuisine restaurants present everywhere in India, then Udupi would be synonymous with them, BUT If you have travelled there, then like me… when you hear Udupi, you would think of Krishna temples, Malpe beach and what not.
I travelled there a while back and then wrote very few posts on it, but recently just recommended it to Canadian friends…. so here is a quick write up on stuff to do there…
1) Krishna temple in Udupi is a good place to see. There are some 9 Mutths around the temple. Each mutth takes up temple care-taking periodically, it’s interesting. There is a bhojnalaya there where they serve free lunch for all… a good place… Culturally and structurally it is a very unique place. Caste system is very much prevalent there so that also for many of us would be unique. It does not seem to be an exploitative caste system because I met a lower caste woman there who showed me around. She was quite normal, except when we talked about caste system. She was like but of course the Brahmins are so much purer than me. So I was like ‘okay then….’
2) Malpe Beach – this is quite nearby from Udupi…about 6kms or so. There is an old Balaram temple there which is unique because Balaram is Krishna’s brother n not too many temples for him. It has a lovely verandah around it with a banana seller there. They don’t speak English or Hindi. They only talk Tulu and Kannada. I would love to go and just talk with people… if only I can get a babble fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 😉
Overall the town is quaint n small to walk in. There is a fishing wharf place which some people find interesting… it has a ship breaking factory, but I wasn’t sure if it was all safe. I mean seemed a bit deserted. So being solo I really didn’t go there….
The Malpe Beach itself is quite great. When I went it was pretty empty which is great. The sea is fierce as we move South side of the Arabian Sea. It was good to see the Mahatma Gandhi Statue there on the beach… this man really made a mark in all corners of the country and world! 🙂
3) St Mary’s Island – from Malpe beach there is a ferry that goes to these islands – apparently they are interesting with some unusual rocks. The ferry have specific timings so enquire beforehand if you wish to go…. I had gone there in monsoon so the ferry was closed.
4) Kapu lighthouse – On the way from Udupi to Mangalore there is a little place called Kapu or Kaup. This is really charming with great Karnataka backwaters. It has a lighthouse which is a nice place to visit n see – only not sure of a accommodation there so if you are in a taxi or have really light luggage then you can go see the lighthouse. Travellers @shadowsgalore said they have done a backwater cruise somewhere here, so if you want you can contact them..
Spent two Pongals in a really traditional setup. This was at Isha Yoga Center near Coimbatore. Pongal is the harvest festival. It is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in most other parts of India.
Apart from the difference in the name, the way of celebration is also very different.
Continuing from the last post where I wrote about my adventures in Hampi – I took a moped and rode off to a village called Anegundi to check out some Kishkindha ruins from the time of Ramayana!
Anegundi was a surprise. I entered this village chowk on a sultry afternoon with just a few people around. There were sign boards pointing towards various heritage sites like the 1000 pillared mandapam and so on. It was an unique village I have seen, with chickens running out of some cow dung plastered mud huts while there were some very nice looking apartments like this one,
There really wasn’t anyone around whom I could ask about this. I found this bungalow kind of structure very intriguing as it looks so new age almost.
I then headed off to see the 1000 pillared mandapam. On my way I came across many old folks sitting around and a bunch of kids playing. They didn’t greet me in anyway – this was different from Hampi – in Hampi most of the locals would greet me with a “Hello, how are you” in english! 🙂
The mandapam was so cramped with the 1000 pillars taking up all the space it was kinda funny. I believe I still need to develop my appreciation of ruins 🙂
Maybe at the time it was built this technology might be impressive! I am not clear when this built though… as all the ruins in this area are kind of mixed up. There is stuff from the Vijayanagara times which was fairly recent compared to Kishkindha – Ramayana times.
Just outside the mandapam was a river where the village women were washing clothes.
In the distance I could see another white temple structure – it is another heritage place which was called the Chintamani Temple. That is where I headed next,
I met a sweeper/care taker kind of person who doubled up as a guide as well. This is a whole another story about first impressions and women safety which I will write about in a separate post. Basically the guy looked so disheveled but I judged partly by his body language and partly by general gut feel that he was an ok fellow.
The place rather entire Anegundi was devoid of any tourists when I went there. Being solo I was a little creeped. Entering temple ruins isn’t the best safety procedure but my overall gut feel is that in a place where tourism is main source of income at least the locals would not mistreat travellers.
Apparently there is a spot inside where Rama stood to kill Vaali. As the Ramayana story goes Sugreeva fights Vaali for the rule of the monkey kingdom. It was important for Sugreeva to win so Rama kills Vaali from afar standing at this spot,
Yes I know without the relevant context it seems like what Rama did, killing Vaali from afar when he was busy fighting Sugreeva seems to be dishonest. I am sure the story explains the matter out – I cannot remember the entire thing as of now…
There is a small bow carved out into the hill near this place. Apparently the flowers have been placed on the stone which has footprints of Rama. Again I am little skeptical about what is authentic historical marks and what are propaganda kind of stuff for tourist/religious purposes.
What was cooler however was the cave behind this place. It seemed really good but because there was one local man sleeping inside and only this caretaker fellow around, I didn’t go in. Otherwise I would have loved to meditate inside. There was also a small goat track leading up into the hill where Rama went to repent for his killing of Vaali. Overall though I saw all these spots with some skepticism
Overall my instinct about the caretaker were right, he was very respectful and decent. Kudos to awesome folks who are disheveled yet decent! 🙂
The main temple building which is still standing is probably many hundred years old. The main deity is a Shiva linga form – Chintamani. Overall nice sprawling temple with many little alcoves, pathways and river side scenic view!
So overall was a very nice visit to the Chintamani temple. Then I headed out again and drove around the town for a bit…
Came across a Jain temple. I am still surprised when I learn of Jain temples in random places like Anegundi, Karnataka or Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh, but I guess it is to be expected as Jainism is after all a very ancient religion …. and it has had a vast number of kings catering to it as well which allowed it to propagate and make its presence felt!
I went into the Jain temple and checked but the doors were closed and inside there were no deities – so just ruins. In fact there were some broken idols nearby which is a problem because it is not supposed to be good to keep broken idols in Jain/Hinduism. There were also some signs of vandalism so was a little troubled by that.
Already by this time I had spent 1 an half hour or so here in the heat. I was really feeling very dehydrated. There are hardly any inviting cafes/shops around in Anegundi – at least when I was there. Considering the lack of even a single tourist apart from myself makes me wonder whether I landed up at some really off time! Maybe because this was just after the Dassera festival hence people may have come for holidays and returned back.
Final place I visited was a Jagannath temple I saw just at the cross-roads before leaving the town. I wasn’t sure whether to visit, but it was a good decision to go in as I really liked the architecture and overall feel of the place. This is the first time I saw a reclining Vishnu idol on the snake in Vaikunth. It was very cool… similar to all those mythological pictures like this one! 🙂
This was outside that temple, couldn’t photograph inside,
Good time visiting this quaint town… would be good to go when there are a few more people around, that way I can explore freely. There are still more ruins to explore though… so if you go there then you can spend a lot more time if you are prepared for it 🙂
Anyway my story does not end here…. will write the next blog post where I finally feel like I found Kishkindha! 🙂
I spent 3 days in Hampi. 1 and half day I spent working on my laptop. All the hotels there have wifi. They have to, because neither Tata Photon nor Vodafone have connectivity. Its a heritage place and so the government hasn’t allowed any mobile towers there.
I was wondering what to explore when I eventually got free. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy random ruins. Then I came across some info about there being Kishkindha ruins in Hampi I was totally excited. Most of my generation has grown up watching Ramayana and Mahabharata on TV. No way I will miss a chance of seeing some ruins of this era.
So off I went to Anegundi a nearby village to see the ruins. I hired a moped (I have never driven one before), bargained however possible and drove off. The lovely moped guy bid me off saying ‘In case you have an accident or something give me your Mumbai address so I can claim money for the moped.’ 😀
It was quite exhilarating driving off like this, I don’t think the smile left my face except when big buses headed towards me on the highway. First place I went to was Pampa Sarovar – apparently some water kund where Rama n all must have halted on their journey.
There is a very old devi temple there. It was also the Sharad Poornima night and a marwadi family had come there from a nearby city. They come to this Pampa temple every Sharad Poornima to do the Satyanarayan Katha. I had a good time chatting with fellow Gujaratis. They might have been surprised to see me solo traveling & asked me whether I got scared. I told them that traveling in Karnataka is not scary as people are very friendly, despite language problems they help. Unlike Tamil Nadu 😉
I got free, delicious breakfast – awesome upma and buttermilk.
Anegundi is an interesting sort of village. I guess it was interesting because there wasn’t abject poverty. A lot of villages in India are in a state of obvious poverty and backward. This village did not seem that way. Interspersed were the ruins.
After the hype of the last post, I am going to have to disappoint you a little bit. The gypsies were very much there…. not ethnic Romani people but peasants and villagers from around North Karnataka. Lots of them had gathered at an ancient Shiva temple located near Dandeli for the full moon of the Hindu month of Magh. The following new moon of Magh is the very famous Maha Shivaratri – the biggest day for yogis and Shiva followers around the world!
These rural folk were leaving after a 7 day celebration at the ancient temple, and the Dandeli roads were jammed with their trucks, carts, lorries and what-not vehicles! It was such a bright and colorful fanfare! They were carrying sacks of vegetables, poultry and other foodstuffs with them. At meal time the ladies got big pots and pans, started a fire on the side of the road and started cooking meals!
I have seen villagers often, but never such a colorful, traveling group! It was quite a site and brought to mind all the stories of gypsies in caravans – hidden romances, mischief, noise, stories of joys and sorrows.
I noticed some incredible things like lots of carts had bells tied to their wheels (maybe to warn other vehicles on the road at night?), they had tyres hanging out at the back – a person would stand on it so it acts as a brake when the cart goes downhill (!!) and on another instance a truck full of a family with kids and elders actually had a ladder to climb on and off it! Innovative and so interesting!
Sadly I didn’t get a chance to take some good photos – partly cause I am a shy about making them conscious that they are a novelty! Partly also because I wasn’t carrying my camera on me while I passed these people because I was going River Rafting! That brings me to the next part of this post – some awesome River Rafting in the Kali river!
I haven’t river rafted elsewhere in South India, but apparently this is the most genuine river rafting experience you can have. It is a 9 km long stretch with 6 rapids. The rapid grades are pretty good, two of them have high grades and give you a real thrill. Horbills, Eagles, Cormorants, Egrets are commonly visible during the rafting. There is also a small section which is like the backwaters – so very enjoyable!
Apart from the River itself, the rafting experience was conducted with a lot of fanfare. As we boarded the raft and went out onto the calm river we got instructions about paddling – forward, back, get down and so on. This is usual but after that we were all asked to jump into the river as a prep – in case the raft turned over in any of the rapid , we shouldn’t panic. So we jumped down, most of us had a good time floating around, some who were scared of water screamed for a while. We then re-boarded the raft – it was quite a bit of fun! After that we were off towards the rapids… all through we continuously paddled, ‘got down’ into the raft when the rapid hit us and immediately got back to paddling. Overall it was a fun experience, only thing is that the rapids don’t really justify the major prepping – “when the raft overturns….” I think these instructions are more like a formality I doubt that rafts actually overturn! Mostly people end up jumping into the river themselves for the fun of it….
Previously I had river rafted in Manali, that was another brilliant experience. Being amidst the Himalayas on the mighty Beas river is just exhilarating. We hardly got any prep there… even the paddling while we were in the raft was minimal… so on this comparative calmer stretch of Kali the prepping seems over the top.
The other major difference in the river rafting experience was the lack of facilities. There are absolutely no changing rooms or any such facility here in Dandeli. Its very surprising considering that we are all asked to jump into the river which means everyone is for sure dripping wet. Once the rafting is over we have to head back to the place we stay to change and clean up. This place is usually an hours drive. The climate was quite warm when we were there so it wasn’t much of a problem but in colder climate this might be a problem. Overall I am just surprised at the lack of facilities, but it was still a lot of fun!
This is why I was not carrying my camera with me when I went river rafting, so couldn’t click awesome pics of the gypsy troops! 🙂
I did click another bunch of awesome pictures though, everyone who sees them asks me whether I went to Ladakh too! Stay tuned… next post! 🙂