Fanefjord Church on a Really Windy Day! #Berlin2Copenhagen

As I have mentioned earlier in my Berlin to Copenhagen cycle story that from Stubbekobing to Stege was the maddest day in the entire cycling trip! I wanted to cycle 70-80 km that day but managed a very hard 25 km. It was too windy! Later when I checked the weather, I figured the winds had been 45km/hr that day. This windy meant that if I put my cycle on the stand it will topple, if I am cycling at the side of the road I get pushed into the middle of the road, when going downhill I need to peddle, peddle hard!

At all times the wind was pushing at me from every direction. There are no glass windows like in a car or a strong helmet with a screen in a motorbike. It is just me and my cycle. #Phew that was one hard day but also awesome –  I had never experienced nature in all its magnanimity. 🙂Continue reading

Unexpectedly Awesome Places in India #2: Mysore Lakes

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

Unexpectedly Awesome places in India #1: Western Ghats

westernghatsIt is fascinating to visit a place and find it unexpectedly awesome! Old thoughts, old expectations, understanding of the land, all get questioned. A new respect and appreciation for beauty grows in my heart every time I come across such a place. So here is a series of posts on the lesser known places which turned out to be one of the best places I have visited.

WESTERN GHATS

The ‘Ghats’ had always been an unpleasant word for me as it meant hours spent in a vehicle that keeps going around hilly bends in the road leading to nausea and motion sickness. Now a days that I am traveling out of passion this motion sickness has become much more bearable, as I am so excited about the place I am going to.

Yet I had not particularly noticed them – the brilliant Western Ghats. The beauty of these Ghats hit me to the core only at this secluded spot in the forest at Dandeli,Continue reading

Travelogue: My Kumbh Mela Story @ Trimbakeshwar, Nashik

The 3 lovely days I spent at the Kumbh Mela in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik were a truly unique experience. I was thinking of going with a few friends but they were busy with some work, so went on my own. Usually I travel solo but for the Kumbh Mela I was a bit concerned. Not concerned about safety, but Indian religious activities are not very supportive of single people. For eg: None of the older religious ashrams would give a room to a single person – guy or girl.

The auto driver I was chatting with said that there have been couple of stories where single people came to stay and they committed suicide. So everyone is scared to give rooms to single people. I hear such stories at many different places – I don’t know how true they are. What is sure is that most older religious organizations won’t give you a room if you are a solo traveller.

So as I got off the government bus at Trimbakeshwar in pouring rains and cold winds, I knew finding accommodation would be a challenge so I had already looked up a Kumbh Camp with a female dormitory online and had confirmed vacancy. So I was walking in the general direction of that camp and in a very short while I was completely drenched. All of a sudden from behind comes a voice like that of an old friend,

Voice: Which standard are you studying in? (in Marathi)
Me: Ehhh… huh?
The couple: You are in college or school?
Me: I have a business in Mumbai
The Couple: Ohh which business
Me: Online Marketing
Husband: My wife is also looking for a job
Me: Uhh…. So are you getting a job? Or no? (Addressing the wife)

This was a couple from Mumbai. The husband was a police officer who had come down to Nashik for duty as part of a 10,000 strong force called in for Kumbh management. The conversation then turned into a banter about how the husband refused to help his wife train and get a job in the Police too. I chipped in my advise to the husband that “yes, you should train her, after all she is your wife” 😉

These kind of crazy things happen while traveling. Then the couple suggested me some places to stay. A Gajanan ashram. They probably didn’t know that these ashram types don’t give accommodation to single people. I later checked out the Gajanan ashram – which is a lovely place to stay with a clean bhojnalaya but No Solo Travellers Please! If going with family this may be a really good option, it is right opposite the city bus stand.

Trimbakeshwar
Temple at Gajanan Ashram.
Maharashtrian Breakfast
12 INR for Poha and Tea breakfast at Gajanan ashram bhojnalaya, Trimbakeshwar

So onwards – I thought of checking out other ashrams just in case they have a different policy for the Kumbh. Surely single foreigners have come down to witness this religious fare! Anyway visited Swami Samarth ashram – they promptly told me they were full and confirmed to me that no ashram will take in single traveller. He also said that female dorm is probably quite unsafe, better you take a hotel in the town.

Used to these kind of conversations I just trudged along – more than completely drenched but so excited – I was at the Kumbh Mela!

As I was walking two saffron clad babas came my way and one of them welcomed me to join them. I had no idea why. He started a conversation,

Where are you from?
Mumbai
Traveling alone?
yep
Our akhada is also from Mumbai. In Nalasopara (or something). What do you want to see here?
Err…. Temple
Which temple?
Jyotirlinga
Acha … our swami from so n so akhada is also going to the temple. You can just join us. You won’t have to stand in Q n all. We have cars. Indica, Alto…
Err…. Currently I am going elsewhere…
Arey don’t worry. It is all safe. You stay with our Maas n other ladies. It is no problem.
Err… I am going on my way now… will contact you later
Ok. What is your number?
Err… (gave number)

Some more banter and I left the fellow.
Later the baba gave me 25 missed calls that day. I messaged and told him ‘Don’t call me’. He didn’t reply to the message but the next day he gave me another 8 missed calls.
I have absolutely no idea what that was about.

I had a good laugh on it with my dorm roomies. Yes, I reached the dorm and it was good – a lot more basic than I anticipated but manageable and really safe. Overall a better experience in many ways to a private room in a hotel. Staying with the other women in the dorm added to my Kumbh experience. They were attending the nearby Swami Nithyananda Shibir and I got to know quite a bit about that path by the end of the 3 days. Listening to these people reminded me of my days when I stayed at an ashram too. The conversations within different spiritual paths are very similar, just different jargon. I went with them for Dinner to the Gajanan ashram bhojnalaya. Very clean and hygienic place.

Day Two: Explore Trimbakeshwar!

The next day I explored Trimbakeshwar! It is a really small town, and I enjoyed strolling around. The management had done a really good job and most places were clean. The crowds were only at some spots – around the temple and main Kushavrat ghat. The other lanes and places were not crowded at all.

This is how crowded it got. Quiet manageable & I went to other ghat areas which were quite empty. So would be a lovely experience to take a dip in quiet and solitude.
This is how crowded it got. Quiet manageable & I went to other ghat areas which were quite empty. So would be a lovely experience to take a dip in quiet and solitude.

I went and saw another Ahilya ghat, which was completely empty but so picturesque with the western ghats in the background. Lovely place to take a dip on a non-important day.

Trimbakeshwar
Ahilya ghat, amidst the beautiful western ghat hills. The rains made it all the more ethereal!

From there I walked to the Panchayati Nirvana Akhada. Yes, I had put that whole missed-call-baba incident away. So I visited this akhada and another baba this one completely coated with ash and dreadlocks welcomed me. He invited me to some food and water in the bhojnalaya if I wished. He explained it was because all guests are always welcomed, Atithi devo bhav. This was a good time for me to ask lots of questions to him about his path and all but my mind went blank – this is a very common phenomenon with me. Some other baba in some other place had told me this happens when people with a higher level of awareness are near. Maybe. I don’t know.

I visited their temple. Nice, quiet place with many other babas with long hair sitting around. It was all very intriguing. I have had previous such interactions but otherwise just the fact that these ash smeared babas with dreadlocks are actually well educated and speak impeccably can be a huge surprise by itself.

Trimbakeshwar
Visiting the Panchayati Nirvana Akhada Bada Udasin – Temple
Kumbh Mela
Well managed, clean streets of Trimbakeshwar
Trimbakeshwar, Nashik
A mosque nestled amongst the trees

Finally headed back to my dorm to see what the others were upto. There one lady who had taken up bhramacharya as a trial (her path had that option) had some work. So my dorm friend and me helped her out with her work. I asked her about various aspects of bhramacharya. Does the organization pay the expenses of people who take up “trial bhramacharya”. What happens if a committed sanyasi quits & so on. I find these details about different paths very interesting.

That evening roomie and me decided to visit the temple. As we figured the temple line was small at the time. The police outside said it would take about 1 n half hour. We were in for a shock because the line seen from outside was about 1 and a half hour but there was a whole other section inside which was way longer. So we ended up standing for over 4 hours in the line! Finally we made it inside just when the temple aarti was starting. It was a truly enchanting experience because that temple is really incredible and with the aarti going on, it was an enthralling experience.

What really touched me was that standing in such a packed area in a line with people from completely different backgrounds could have been an unpleasant experience. But somehow we all bonded with each other. There were some conversations and smiles and empathy passed around. By the time we reached the temple sanctum sanctorum it was a close knit group. This meant so much to me. While it was difficult the long line and wait – it really didn’t feel that much at all. In other circumstances I would have gotten claustrophobic and left midway but to experience such a situation with love and kindness – I attribute this to the Trimbakeshwar Temple energy!

Kumbh Mela
Long line to enter the temple. If you go early morning till about 8am the lines are a lot less!
Trimbakeshwar Temple
The lovely Trimbakeshwar Temple!

We exited the temple only around 10pm, had a quick dinner and wrapped up for the day.

Day 3: Ramkund & Tapovan, Nashik

My dorm roomies left early next morning. I went to the temple for another visit, early at 6.30am. At this time there was only a 1 hour waiting. Again an ethereal morning spent in this beautiful temple. I even got to sit in the garbhagriha for a few moments. So powerful.

Trimbakeshwar Temple
Trimbakeshwar Temple early morning

After that, I wanted to attend the Swami Ramdev Shibir which took place everyday from 5.00 to 7.30am. But it was too late for that. So I took the government bus back to Nashik to explore the ghat there called – Ramkund.
This Kumbh Mela is unique because it gets split up. The shaivites are at Trimbakeshwar with the incredible temple but smaller ghats. The Vaishnavites are at Ram kund – a huge ghat and many other temples. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time at Trimbakeshwar, I now wanted to see the Nashik part.

Kumbh Mela
Ram ghat, Nashik

There were some people at Ramkund taking dips and doing pooja, but considering that the ghat is really huge it was mostly empty. At about 11am the loud speakers on Ram kund crackled on and they started reciting the Bhagvad Gita in Hindi. It was lovely to sit by the Godavari river and ponder on the Bhagvad Gita. Only the river was quite dirty but overall everything was way better than I expected.

Ram Ghat, Nashik
Hanuman idol at Ram Ghat, Nashik
Kumbh Mela, Nashik
A mural depicting the story behind Kumbh Mela. The Asuras & Devas churning the ocean for a pot of Amrit or elixir

From there I headed to Tapovan. Apparently there were “many temples” to visit there. I didn’t really see any temples but strolled around in the park which is supposed to be the remnants of an historically important ‘Dandakaranya’ forest. This is where Rama, Sita and Lakshman spent time in their vanvaas. There is a confluence point of Godavari with river Kapila here. Sadly it was utterly filthy.

Tapovan, Nashik
Panoramic view. From the left flows the Kapila while Godavari meets it from the right. It is a nice place and river confluences are interesting to explore. Too much filth though.
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A pooja going on at the Tapovan Godavari-Kapila sangam point

The vaishnav akhadas camped in the Tapovan area but I didn’t see much of their camp. Maybe it was somewhere else. There was another ghat area here at Tapovan. So taking a dip in Nashik would be a much more relaxed experience. They had really prepared well for this big event.

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The only real ‘baba’ photo I took. I am a really reticent photographer. And I asked their permission before clicking, they were happy to oblige. 🙂

Having overall gotten an idea of the Kumbh Mela I took my leave of the place and headed back to Mumbai. I am really looking forward to being part of another one, probably the next one that is happening in 2016 in Ujjain & Haridwar. Now I will gladly plan to go during the important shahi snan days too. I just hope it will be as well managed.

In case you are planning to go to a kumbh mela and are looking for tips, this other blog I have written especially for solo travellers would help.

Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati – Photo Essay

Today October 2nd, 2015 is the 146th birth anniversay of Mahatma Gandhi. Here is a quick photo post on my visit to the Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad earlier this year. This was Gandhijis home from 1917 to 1930 and a central hub of the Indian freedom struggle

I had been wanting to visit this place for a while and was so glad to get a chance. Surprisingly the ashram was a lot on the lines of what I had imagined – quiet, serene and earthy.

Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad
The iconic quote by Gandhiji that inspires us to live true to our values and inspiration so that even our lives can be the message of what we truly value!
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
Hridayakunja – Gandhijis house. A very earthy, traditional Indian cottage. Clean and spartan.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
An event was taking place when I went there. One of the older and prominent Gandhian had passed away a few days back. This was the prayer assembly for him.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
Pigeons, mynas and squirrels create a nature-friendly environment. There were a lot of people when I went there and the prayer event as well, but on a quiet afternoon it can provide solitude
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
The lovely Sabarmati river promenade in the Gandhi Ashram. The river flowing placidly by the ashram gives the place a serene ambiance.
Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati
At the entrance.

 

Spend an afternoon here. Gandhiji is an iconic Indian. What he achieved via non-violence is remarkable. Looking into his thoughts and life stories can be inspirational.

Guide to Matheran – Asia’s only vehicle-free hill station #Mumbai

For Mumbai-kars Matheran is a household word. At home, the talk of a short getaway from Mumbai usually starts with Lonavala or Matheran. So when my family decides to go to Matheran during a long weekend this Summer, I was quite skeptical. I presumed there would be crowds and I wasn’t sure it would really be much cooler than the utterly HOT & humid city. But since everyone was majorly excited I succumbed.

Surprise, surprise but Matheran was not just deliciously cool but quite low on tourist traffic. We got rooms easily at a well placed resort at decent rates – 1800/- per person, per night incl food – and the market wasn’t too crowded either. So I must say, I really enjoyed this Summer weekend in Matheran and as usual I could spend a lot more days here just gallivanting around. 😉

To the uninitiated who haven’t been to Matheran before (probably you aren’t from Mumbai… or are living seriously under a big rock in Mumbai) the charm of Matheran is in many experiences. Walking on the unpaved, hilly paths amidst lush forests. The natural laterite (red) mud that sticks to everything you are wearing and your shoes needing a serious wash when you get back. The entire town being a No-vehicle zone so your transport choices are either horses, hand carriages or your own feet. Being wary of the truly, aggressive monkeys all the time – they may just jump on you and snatch food from your hands – literally.

I find that apart from the Mumbaikars, there is surprisingly less chatter about people from afar visiting this place. Considering this is Asia’s only vehicle-free hill station, and so charming a place, I feel there needs to be a lot more buzz about it. Even for those of us who have frequented this place often, here are some interesting activities that help us see this quaint and charming hill station in a whole new light.

Get lost in the red Earth, forest roads

Matheran has a lot of ‘points’. Louisa point, Sunset point and so on. Go on a walking trail on your own… try reaching some of these points as you can. But don’t worry about getting lost in these trails. If you get a weekend that is not crowded, as I did, then you can really get lost in these woods. The sign boards are non-existent. So you may choose to wait at a crossroad for someone to come by, who can guide you or you can just pick a direction. This actually happened to us and was really fun. We went off in another direction for a while… but then realized this didn’t seem right, so turned back.

Matheran red paths
Red earth roads amidst the forest. 🙂
Matheran Charlotte Lake
Matheran’s Charlotte Lake Near Louisa Point

Usually if you keep following a random track either you find yourself at some “point” or you find yourself back in the market, through some small red path that you had never noticed before. It is like all roads lead to the Matheran market 🙂

Spend a quiet evening in the Bazaar & Observe the local culture

As we had a quiet weekend with hardly any crowds, the bazaar was very enjoyable. I specifically tried out a few Maharashtrian dishes.

Matheran MAharashtrian Cuisine
A plate of Maharashtrian Misal. Quite spicy! Other dishes to try out are poha, sabu dana wada/khichdi, usal…

What I had not noticed on my earlier visits was that, there were so many religions hodgepodged into that little market. There is a big Hindu temple and quite nearby is a Mosque. Then down the lane is a Jain temple. There is also a Parsi market. I found it all very interesting…

Matheran vegetable market
A vegetable market named after a Parsi lady in the main Matheran market. T
Matheran Mosque
A mosque in the Matheran market

Another piece of culture in Matheran are the chappal sellers. Apparently these chappal sellers of Matheran used to make leather chappals as their family craft and these chappals were well known. Now however no one wants to pay for them… every one wants the cheaper outside chappals. Also there are way too many chappal shops in that market – that can’t be good.

So observing and listening to the people can really bring up so many stories of peoples lives.

Find out Local stories

The market place as I described earlier is chock full of interesting matters. Strike a conversation with the locals and find out some stories! Knowing the stories, legends, realities and myths of a place can helps us know and understand it better.

Here is one such story that I found out,

Matheran Pisarnath temple
The Pisarnath Shiva Temple

The Matheran market is called ‘Pisarnath market’ after the local deity Pisarnath. People from all over the area come frequently and worship at this Shiva temple. It is the village deity. The temple is located at Louisa point, on the banks of Charlotte lake. As the story goes, a person was roaming around the forests of Matheran and he came across a natural linga – often known as swayambhu or self-forming linga under a grove of Pisar (Marathi name) trees. So he started taking care of that linga and worshiping it. Slowly this deity became popular amongst the other people in the village. I guess due to some miracles and such that may have ensued, people started believing in this deity.

Go Chikki-tasting

In the shops of Matheran you will forget that Chikki is typically made of Jaggery and Groundnut.  There is a whole gamut of Chikkis here – different colours, different texture, different flavours and a wide variety of ingredients. So go to these shops and try out a few. 🙂

Matheran Chikki Tasting Matheran Chikki

Matheran Chikki
Some of these Chikkis can be really hard to break!

Try out a new Look

Travel is a chance to be a whole new person. Matheran somehow always incites me to try a new look. There are a whole bunch of hats and caps available. Even horse riding attire and gear is available and commonly worn by people who are seriously into horse riding. So try out a new look!

Hiking & trekking

There are many trekking routes in Matheran. I have personally never trekked as usually I am there with family but you can search around. There is a trekking route from Neral to Matheran – I have wanted to do this for a while, but not got a chance yet.

Long walks and hikes as I also mentioned earlier are easily possible. You can take any of the forest paths and keep walking… even after frequent visits there will be more paths to discover. 🙂

I asked another traveller from Mumbai, Deepika Gumaste to share some of her thoughts about Matheran. She visited Matheran quite recently, just one weekend before me in fact. 🙂

Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, there are a lot of weekend places I have traveled to. One that always scared me was Matheran, only because of the notorious “too touristy” tag that it has earned over the years. But eventually, I took the leap of faith, just because I had exhausted all my weekender options and it turns out that Matheran is fun, if tried in some other way than the usual ones, otherwise it’s just too crowded and not enjoyable. The best season to visit Matheran off course is the rainy season, but because I wanted to do something different, I went there before the onset of monsoons. The touristy greens were yet brown and prudish. I hiked from Dasturi to Matheran. All along the healthy horses, rustle of dried leaves and the toy train keep you great company. – Deepika

Thanks for your thoughts Deepika! Matheran is definitely a lot of fun, especially when doing something a bit different!

How to get there?

So to get to this awesome-schmosome place, you need to get to Neral. A little town about 2 hrs from Mumbai. Local Central Line trains are easily and frequently available from Mumbai & I guess Pune also. I have never traveled here from Pune.  Once you reach Neral you can get the iconic toy train – but you need to book well in time otherwise it may get full. I have been in the toy train few times before, but it gets too packed, so I rather prefer taking a car or hiking up. There is a also a trekking route that takes you from Neral to Matheran.

If you take a vehicle it takes you up to Dasturi. From Dasturi you need to buy a ticket into Matheran and then you can take a hand-carriage or horse to Matheran. I suggest you just walk it up from Dasturi to Matheran – it is a lovely 20 mins walk through the lush green forests, near the toy train tracks. Just take care not to carry foods openly – cause it is sure to attract the monkeys.

If you have taken the toy train, then it will drop you right at Matheran town so no awesome walk from Dasturi to Matheran for you. 😉

Matheran Toy Train
Matheran Toy train….
Matheran dasturi
Lush greens enroute Dasturi
Matheran, Dasturi
Towards Matheran….

And don’t forget….

The laterite red Earth of Matheran will inevitably leave its marks on you 😉 Every time we return from an outing to Matheran – all the clothes and shoes are rounded up and washed separately from anything else because they leak Red dirt. So pack clothes that let you enjoy with out worrying about spoiling them.

Also the monkeys were really aggressive. So keep foods inside the bag at all times. You won’t know when they are near and will grab it from your hand.

🙂

Viva Matheran!

Srirangapatna – the Fort Town & Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka

Re-looking at our history is one of the things I love about traveling. So many little nuances of places strike you when you are actually there. Like I may not have imagined the pride of the Hoysala kingdom without going to the Belur & Halebeedu temples. Imagine finding ruins of Kishkindha from Ramayana stories in present village of Anegundi near Hampi!

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
Just as I enter Srirangapatna…..

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.

Srirangapatna
See there are some ruins *i think* and then there is some new fangled stuff… and yea I know the picture is completely over exposed.

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.

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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.

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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.

Ranganathittu
Quiet waters….. some local people were also walking but most people arrive in cars or rickshaws

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,

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A full colony of these white Ibis…..
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More white Ibis on trees….
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The full flock shot of the White Ibis. 😉 There were two – three such flocks that I could see… the actual bird sanctuary of course goes in much deeper….

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…

Ranganathittu
They keep their mouths open to dry out….

 

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.

A Quick Jaunt to Chikmagalur, Coffee Land of Karnataka

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.

Coffee Plantations

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.

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The coffee plantation staff quarters. Often they have parties and the distance music can be heard in our rooms.

 

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Walking in a coffee plantation…..

 

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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.

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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.

Nearby Places

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.

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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.

Shravan Belagola
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.

Horenadu
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.

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View from our Picnic spot
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Family enjoying their lunch 🙂

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. 🙂

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The magnificient Western Ghats on my way to Chikmagaluru from Mangaluru. Clicked from the local bus I was traveling in.

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.

Take a visual tour of the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Had a great time roaming around in the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur. I spent practically the whole afternoon there (which explains why I have a whole bucketlist of places left to visit) .

I took the audio guide. When it is well made I really enjoy the audio guides in India. I listen to it slowly while meandering through the monument. It really helps give a feel of the place with the background music and historic stories.

Have tried to capture that feel with this presentation…. enjoy this visual tour of the Hawa Mahal…

I was trying to make it a 100 slides… but didn’t have that much patience. Did 29. 😉

Tip: Watch fullscreen & imagine yourself there in that era!

Udupi & the nearby Malpe Beach of Tulu Land, Karnataka

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….’
Temple Entrance...Love the yellow
Temple Entrance…Love the yellow
temple sacred pool
temple sacred pool
Interesting boat carving within the temple sacred pool....
Interesting boat carving within the temple sacred pool….
Of 9 mutths this is one of them....
Of 9 mutths this is one of them….
Interesting curio shop...
Interesting curio shop…
Interesting curios ...these are all wooden stuff....
Interesting curios …these are all wooden stuff….

 

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….
A quaint building in Malpe ...
A quaint building in Malpe …

wharf

Near the fishing wharf...
Near the fishing wharf…
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! 🙂
Gandhi everywhere!
Gandhi everywhere!
Malpe Beach....
Malpe Beach….
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..

Udupi & Maple Beach
Arabian Sea in all its glory!
Malpe Beach
Kapu Lighthouse
Udupi
Karnataka Backwaters
Happy Travelling! 🙂