Category Archives: Travelogue

A view from Tosh village.

Comfortably Tosh, Not

A serene and scenic village that has been discovered by the tourists in the last few years, Tosh is still not completely urbanised and you would be lucky if you could visit it before tall structures are erected. It was in May 2016 that we visited Tosh after completing Sar Pass trek. At a height of 7874ft from the sea level, Tosh is situated in Himachal Pradesh. As you move up scaling its altitude, the view of Parvati valley will begin to serenade you. From the paths that take you to the village, you can see a dam, a part of hydroelectricity project, under construction in Barshaini, a nearby village.

View of Barshaini from Tosh

View of Barshaini from Tosh

To see this, you have to look down from the Tosh village. But when you look up from there, clusters of clouds that are stuck to the Deodar trees growing at the peaks in the Himalayan range sheepishly wave at you while they try to detangle themselves and rush to hide. It won’t be a wonder if an imaginary Santoor starts playing in the background.

A view from Tosh village.

A view from Tosh village.

Heralding the commercialisation, you can find eateries and hotels with wanna-be urban look on the other side of the bridge that you have to cross to get into the village. Once you cross the bridge and the eateries, you walk straight into the village of Tosh where you cannot ignore the sudden serenity compared to the bridge-side of the village. Cut off from the noise of the rambling people and motor vehicles, you can hear the cattle moo. The multicoloured houses are constructed with wood.

Multicoloured houses made of wood

Multicoloured houses made of wood

They have a different kind of thatched roof.

Tried colour pick with blue. Anyway, the house must have been feeling blue.

Tried colour pick with blue. Anyway, the house must have been feeling blue.

Each house owns at least one cow.

Cow maatha....or to be....she looks very young.... Reminds me of Ganga in Sharath Komarraju's retelling of Mahabharata

Cow maatha….or to be….she looks very young…. Reminds me of Ganga in Sharath Komarraju’s retelling of Mahabharata

If you take the two or three deviations of the path from the bridge, you will see the whole of the village. You can choose to go on Kheerganga trek from the village or just hike in the vicinity.

Tosh is a beautiful village that has not yet been inflicted with the pain of becoming a full-fledged hippie place, but I am not writing to tell you only about how unscathed it is in terms of tourism. I am writing to tell you a funny story about how much we ate of that mouth-watering food.

This is a story of eight people who ate brunch, which by no means was light, at 11:00am in Kasol, reached Tosh and planned to eat lunch by 1:30pm. After roaming around the village, we sat near a temple and wondered what to do. To leave Tosh soon meant having too much of time in hand after reaching back Kasol and to wait till we were really hungry meant missing the last bus from Barshaini. Or we had to simply miss eating in Tosh. But that would be unpardonable! The owner of the hotel where we stayed in Kasol insisted that we eat at Hill Top Guest House and Restaurant. Not because he owned it or his friend owned it, but it supposedly served delicious food. And we went there to confirm it. Hill Top Guest House and Restaurant is actually located at almost top of the peak on which Tosh is situated. Even after strolling and hiking, our maida-laden lunch refused to get digested. That didn’t hinder us from finding this arty restaurant.

Making it very evident as soon as we entered the restaurant, a wall art showed us what will happen inside your head after smoking up. It is pretty interesting, I must say.

To know more, smoke up!

To know more, smoke up!

Ogling at the wall art, we started discussing what to order. We tried ordering as small quantity of food as possible since we were still not hungry. Irrespective of that, the food order ballooned to pretty sumptuous for sixteen not-so-hungry people, and not just eight. The waiter who came to take our orders heard us speaking in Kannada and told us that he used to work in a cafe in Hampi, another land of ruins and hippies, before coming to Himachal Pradesh. After the small talk with him, we ordered food thinking we could handle it. Brace yourselves for the insane amount of food that we ordered for lunch after brunch.

To start with, hot and sour veg soup

To start with, hot and sour veg soup

Hash brown potatoes had turned into aloo ki sabji. We ate anyway.

Hash brown potatoes had turned into aloo ki sabji. We ate anyway.

Two of this. Israeli style: Pita bread, hummus, vegetables, potato fries and falafal.

Two of this. Israeli style: Pita bread, hummus, vegetables, potato fries and falafal.

Lasagna. We did behave like Garfield.

Lasagna. We did behave like Garfield.

Chicken Lafa. It is of the length from the tip of middle finger to the elbow of an adult. Stuffed with whatever goes on top of a pizza!

Chicken Lafa. It is of the length from the tip of middle finger to the elbow of an adult. Stuffed with whatever goes on top of a pizza!

A pizza named Parvati

A pizza named Parvati

After eating, we could hardly move. So, we wobbled out of the threshold of Hill Top Guest House and Restaurant and descended to cross the bridge. We hired two cabs to reach Barshaini from where we came back to Kasol.

Tosh is situated 4km away from Barshaini. Now, if you ask me where is Barshaini, I would say about 17km from Kasol. In case you don’t know where Kasol is, this Hippieland is aptly located in Himachal Pradesh, India. You can reach Kasol either from Bhunter or from Manali in the same state. And to reach Bhunter or Manali, it is safe to start from New Delhi or Chandigarh.

Sar Pass

Sillage of Sar Pass

Standing in the bathroom at YHAI base camp in Kasol, listening to River Parvati guzzle in and out of herself next to our camp, staring at the chilled water oozing out of the tap, hoping it wouldn’t bite when I attempt to partially kill myself trying to bathe in it, I wondered what I would write on my blog about this trek. I thought it would be better to recap everything. Where should I start? Well, it took a phone call at almost midnight to pester and keep me awake until I finished booking my slot for the fifth batch of YHAI’s Sar Pass trek of 2016. I had not even bothered to check the pictures of the trek on the internet before booking. It was a whimsical decision when my friends were on a conference call with me. “Shwetha, do you want to join us on Sar Pass trek?” After a yawn, I said yes. We took YHAI membership in the middle of the night and booked our slots. We were only short of flight and bus tickets to reach our destination, Kasol, on 9th May 2016. Long story short, apparently not, all eight of us are back in Bengaluru, and here I am writing about Sar Pass trek, which helped to set myself free.

Our base camp in Parvati valley. That's River Parvati. I sound like a boring tour guide already.

Our base camp in Parvati valley. That’s River Parvati. I sound like a boring tour guide already.

When we reported at our base camp in Kasol, we were welcomed by two women sitting at the reception. They appeared to be grumpy. Maybe it’s because they had to sit there all day watching young people trotting around in a manner they couldn’t because they were in charge of registering participants there and had to be glued to their seats. They helped us complete our registration and allotted separate tents for males and females. Yes, I would rather use the words males and females because it is easier this way when there were people of all age groups present. We didn’t have much to do on the first day. For someone like me who doesn’t know what to do even on a Sunday, sitting idle for a long time was a little irritating. By evening, before the people high up in sky pissed on Earthlings, we visited the town of Kasol…err, its market…or whatever is there of the town. Some of us had to buy waterproof pants and warm wear. Rest of us had to waste time. So, we chose to make fun of each other by wearing woollen clothes with weird designs. One woollen cap was sure to make you look like a cock if you wore it. I was talking about hen-cock, just to be clear. Shopkeeper almost shooed us out. I even found a bookstore there.

Ahha! One in Kasol!

Ahha! One in Kasol!

Until sunset, we spent time gazing at the snow-clad mountains that we could see from our base camp.

A view from our Kasol base camp.

A view from our Kasol base camp.

YHAI has this tradition of “electric campfire.” In that dazed condition at night, I was struggling to keep my eyes wide open for the sake of campfire only to see one of the grumpy women switch on the “campfire.” But then, we took turns to make fun of that as well. The third batch, i.e. SP-3 was to leave for Sar Pass next morning and our batch, i.e. SP-5 had reported that day, so SP-4 had to entertain us, and they did really well. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I crawled back to the tent allotted to us and dozed off.

“When the morning came I was up before first light…” Yes, that is Be There’s lyrics by Howie Day and that’s exactly what I did. Next morning saw our batch walking and running to a big playground somewhere in the middle of Kasol. Waking up by 5:30am to get ready by 6:00am for a workout isn’t new to me, but workout in hill station where people would be still snuggling with each other at the wee hours was new to me. I had a feeling that people here make offenders stand in the middle of the playground and stone them and throw them into the river. Anyway, there we were for our morning workout. Pretty gruesome all of a sudden, but I enjoyed it. After that one hour zesty workout in the Himalayan range, we came back to base camp by 7:00am to freshen up and have breakfast. SP-3 was ready to leave. We had to do some not-so-awkward cheerleading. After that, we were taken on acclimatisation walk. And Ta-Da! Walk turned into a trek! Magic! When we reached the intended spot up the hill that we apparently walked, Jagadeesh Thakur, our trainer and guide for the day, informed us that it was our turn to entertain SP-4, that was to leave for Sar Pass next morning, and SP-6 that had reported that day. Subgroups were formed instantaneously and programs were charted out. Rest is history and hers as well. Can’t explain. My bad, if you got my PJ.

I woke up to the sound of rain rapping on our tents. Our itinerary for the third day was to train in rock climbing and rappelling after the morning workout. Thanks to rain, we only had to go out of our tents to do cheerleading for SP-4 and for the morning routine. Since YHAI didn’t want to let us be idle, they sent us to Manikaran by walk and we didn’t complain. Manikaran is a village, 5km away from Kasol, whose main attraction is a gurudwara and hot water springs adjacent to that. People in and around gurudwara use hot water springs to bathe, to cook and for other amenities.

Manikaran

Manikaran

My friends and I had been there on the previous evening, so while the rest of the batch chose to visit gurudwara, we chose to shop and eat in the market behind. If you want to buy trekking gears, go to Kasol market. If you want to buy souvenirs and gifts, then shop in Manikaran market. After returning to our base camp, we had a daunting task ahead of us. That was to repack our backpack. According to YHAI, the weight of the backpack for males must be 5kg and for females, 4kg. My backpack weighed 8.5kg. Reducing its weight further meant leaving the down jacket behind and dying due to hypothermia in higher camps. Just kidding; you could stay awake for the whole night crouching in a corner for which fleece pants and jackets would be enough along with thermals. Our Quechua backpack itself was about 2kg. Using backpacks provided by YHAI to reduce weight meant shoulder pain and imbalance. So, I went ahead with 8.5kg. We stocked all our extra stuff in a cattle shed behind YHAI office. That night I tried my best to be entertained by SP-6, but no, nope, no way I could stay until the end by 9:30pm.

There was no workout on the morning we left from our base camp. Finally, we were to leave. While everyone was excited about the start of the trek, I was in a dilemma. YHAI was giving roti and bhindi ki sabzi to pack for lunch. I love bhindi, but I was worried if there would be dishwashing detergent in the higher camps. Oil in food stinks after a long time if not washed properly. Sar Pass proved it. Let’s save this for later. So, after breakfast, with SP-6 and SP-7 cheering us, we walked down (up) the imaginary red carpet like celebrities. We were to trek to Grahan camp, which is at 7700ft from the sea level and our trek’s walk on the first day was about 9km. Initially, we descended for about a kilometre and everybody was happy thinking most of the day’s trek would be similar. But later it was ascent, and it didn’t stop. Nope. Not until we reached Grahan camp. From Kasol to Grahan, we passed through a jungle initially and found streams as the water source. To say, there were many stray dogs that would wander in and out of our base camp looking for food. But, there was this one white coloured stray dog that I had not seen before in the base camp that accompanied us on our trek. We thought it would go back to Kasol after a while, but it proved us wrong. By 11:00am, we reached half the way to Grahan, like just 4km away. But our guide was hell-bent on having a stop for lunch at that time. I mean, who has lunch at 11:00am? YHAI treks have more pitstops and you tire more due to them than due to trek. So, even after spotting the lunch arena, because I was the first one to reach there, I thought we would stop somewhere ahead by 1:00pm or some time, and went ahead. I had already walked for a few metres and didn’t hear anyone coming behind me. I turned around to look and only this white coloured dog was coming. I thought I must have walked fast and continued. There started my conversations with the dog. I usually don’t speak with anyone while trekking, but at that moment, I felt obligated to talk to the dog, at least for courtesy sake. I asked him to come along, whether he wanted to take a break or if he was thirsty. We both walked together for a long time, both of us just following the well-trodden trail out of the few we came across. When I stopped to give water to the dog, I turned around to see Sriharsha come running towards me and gasping for breath. Did you ask why? Let me tell you. You need to know this. He had come to take me back to that lunch-spot where I didn’t stop. YHAI has only one punishment for rule breaking or deviating from their instructions, and that is the participant will be checked-out from the trek. On the morning that we left the base camp, the camp leader’s instruction was that nobody should go ahead of our trek guide. To avoid the impending punishment which could have been only to me or to the whole group, Sriharsha had run after me to make me retrace my steps for a kilometre. And lunch break was for 2hrs. “Bring out the playing cards” was my friends’ motto whenever they could get place and time. We started trekking again after the 2hrs gap and it was a complete ascent. From here to Grahan, for almost every kilometre we used to find vendors selling lassi, candies or lemon juice. These people come up till those spots only to make few bucks. Such is life for them there. However, more vendors mean more pitstops and lethargy. The last 2km stretch to Grahan was steep, and we were struggling to reach any flat surface where we could rest. Alas, we found none. To reach YHAI’s camp in Grahan, we had to pass through the village. Grahan has homes for its residents and homestays for the trekkers and tourists. As far as I could see, agriculture is villagers’ main occupation. I could see wheat fields spread far and wide from where I stood.

Grahan village

Grahan village

Our camp leader there was a good and soft-spoken person, unlike the ones in the base camp. But that is their job. Camp leader in the base camp has to handle about 150 participants at a time and camp leaders in the higher camps have to handle 52 participants at a time.

Reminds me of the song Some of Us by Starsailor. Ah, I love that song!

Reminds me of the song Some of Us by Starsailor. Ah, I love that song!

Also, when we reach higher camps after trekking, none of us will be in a state to create havoc. Anyway, it rained heavily as soon as we settled in our tents in Grahan after welcome drink, high tea and hot tomato soup.

Grahan was our last look at a village. After this, our only link to any civilization was camp leader and his crew at each camp.

Grahan was our last look at a village. After this, our only link to any civilization was camp leader and his crew at each camp.

We had dinner in an empty tent, with people of one tent at a time awkwardly giggling and galloping for dinner. We already had instructions that we needed for the next day and since there was no electricity or mobile network, we all dozed off early with nothing to do other than narrating ghost stories to each other in our tent for girls.

Isolated sheds. Home for psychopaths.

Isolated sheds. Home for psychopaths.

On the day we left Grahan, some people paid for hot water and to use toilets bathrooms in the nearby homestays, and others were content with facilities provided by YHAI. By 9am, we were ready with our packed lunch. We were reluctant to leave the village surrounded by Himalayan mountains, but we were going to a better place. No, we were not going to die, but just to higher camp with better scenery. As far as we got to know from the camp leader, Grahan would be the last village we would come across until we finish the Sar Pass trek. Seeing us playing with puppies in the vicinity, our camp leader said “You will get puppies to play with here, but in Padri and Ming Thatch you will get bears. If you by any chance, spot a bear on your way, don’t stare at it. Your stare will intimidate the bear and it will think of attacking you before you attack it, even if you don’t have any such intentions. Years ago, Sar Pass trek route was Grahan – Padri – Ratapani – Nagaru and so on. Due to more and more bear attacks on trekkers and camp crews, YHAI decided to close camping at Ratapani and shift to Ming Thatch, a comparatively safer place.” Then, by 9am, we went on our way to Padri looking for bears on the way with our guide. Our guide for the day told us that after lunch we will only have to descend. Until then we were constantly ascending the slopes leading to Padri, our next camping site at 9300ft from the sea level, 9km away from Grahan. The way to Padri was again through the jungle. Once I reached there, the surroundings made me forget the beauty of Grahan. Where Grahan was a scenic beauty surrounded with bare minimum civilization and terrace cultivation, Padri gave me a feeling that I am a fish in the bowl surrounded by the rims of the Himalayan mountains. The routine of welcome drink, high tea and hot tomato soup happened, and the briefing followed soon after. Every camp had two types of pits. One, connected to toilets were all excretions went and another where we could throw our dry wastes. Camp leader of Padri showed us bear killings of three bulls and a good viewpoint from where we could take good pictures of the mountains as well as profile pictures for Facebook. Oh, bulls! There were so many bulls there, running their horns through mud and grass. There must have been at least fifty bulls. Thinking about bulls, why don’t people say cowshit and bulldung instead of bullshit and cow dung?

Padri camp site at 9300ft from sea level. We had again waled for 9km that day.

Padri camp site at 9300ft from sea level. We had again waled for 9km that day.

Anyway, back to bulls in Padri, villagers leave them here to fend for themselves because taking care of bulls is a bad investment without any returns as they don’t give milk, but only dung. Villagers take them back to the village after a few months only for the purpose of mating with a cow.

Padri

Padri

There were horses too with bells dangling from their necks. These horses were used to bring all the necessities from Kasol base camp to higher camps and were left free until next trip.

Bull. Just bull.

Bull. Just bull.

We played cards at the viewpoint also until sunset, had dinner later and prepared ourselves for stargazing, but it was a cloudy night. I dozed off listening to the bells of the horses that were grazing near our tents.

Some experiment with my camera

Some experiment with my camera

Every morning our routine was to wake up at 5:00am. No, wait. That would be untrue. YHAI gave us starch and dietary fibre rich food at every camp that our bowel movements would wake us up before 5:00am to make us run to toilets, which were in such places that going to attend nature’s call itself was like a small trek anytime. After the morning routine and breakfast, we left from Padri forgetting the oxygen cylinder, given to each group at the base camp before the leave from Kasol, only to send a few guys back for a kilometre to Padri camp and delay our trek. Rest of our trek to Ming Thatch, which was 11,200ft from sea level and 10km from Padri, was a killer.

Tall trees intimidating you

Tall trees intimidating you

It was an ascent of about 2 and 1/2km after initial false hope of descent, and we were again gasping for breath. We stopped at Ratapani, the previous camping site, for lunch. The Rs.12 Maggi at sea level is Rs.60 at this altitude.

Maggi at Ratapani

Maggi at Ratapani

You get single omelettes too at the same price. While ascending we heard thunders many times, and it rained with hailstones soon after. Supreeth picked up a big hailstone, and I snatched and popped it into my mouth! It was good! Ice basically. Rain fluctuated between downpour and drizzle, and the rocks were slippery by the time we neared Ming Thatch. Rain brings happiness to us but also pain if we are trying to get a foothold on rocks. Even from far away, we could see a flag fluttering at the top and we were happy thinking that is the Ming Thatch camp. But, once we reached there, we could see only a small idol of goddess there. That meant we had to go down again to reach the camp site. Going down all the way was worth it. The most beautiful campsites of all, Ming Thatch didn’t disappoint us and after seeing this, we had no mood to trek up to Sar Pass. The camp leader was cool, but strict too.

A view from Ming Thatch comp site.

A view from Ming Thatch comp site.

He gave us all the freedom in the campsite to move around but gave us enough instructions that we were not to deviate from. It was windy there, and I had to finally wear my fleece jacket.

Ming Thatch, at 11,200ft from sea level, was the most beautiful camp site of all others throughout the Sar Pass trek.

Ming Thatch, at 11,200ft from sea level, was the most beautiful camp site of all others throughout the Sar Pass trek.

After the beverages routine, we were elated to hear that we were to leave Ming Thatch camp by 11:00am next morning as the trek to Nagaru was easy and only of 8km to reach 12,500ft altitude. That meant we could wake up late. We woke by 6:00am anyway.

I want my unicorn...

I want my unicorn…

On the day of our trek to Nagaru nothing special happened except hailstorm when we found shelter at the lunch point. This delayed our 3hrs trek to Nagaru. Once the rain stopped, we resumed our trek again only to find slippery rocks. There is a phrase in Kannada “jeeva baayige bandha haage aaithu”, which means “life was about to pop out of the mouth”, nowhere near to “taking my breath away.” Maybe literally because if my feet slipped and lost grip in my hands too, then I would have reached a better place, higher than the altitude at which Sar Pass is located. Somehow, with the help of our guides, we reached the camp site of Nagaru by 2:30pm. Here the beverage routine was same, but we had to finish dinner by 6pm and be asleep by 7:00pm to wake up by 2:30am next morning. Why? Because after sunrise, snow would start melting and it would be risky to trek at such altitudes.

Gods descended on Earth!

Gods descended on Earth!

Trekkers might slip on the melting snow and tumble down to the valley where he/she may or may not be found, let alone intact. The hailstones of the storm in the noon had not melted due to drop in the temperature after rain and had left enough snow for us.

Spotlight

Spotlight

Where we were able to manage with one or two layers of clothes earlier, in Nagaru we had to wear three or four layers of clothes to keep ourselves warm. With ears stuffed with cotton and covered with a balaclava.

From Nagaru camp

From Nagaru camp

The view from Nagaru is exotic. It looked like the light rays beamed on one patch after another of the mountains as the gates to heaven opened and the gods would descend any moment.

Beautiful Nagaru

Beautiful Nagaru

The serene ambience of Nagaru was simply mind-blowing. Another thing about this camp is if in every other camp, we got plenty of water for at least to wash our face and limbs, and for toilet purpose as each camp crew had arranged water supply from the nearest water source no matter how far it was, in Nagaru our water source was the heap of snow that would melt and get collected by the camp crew. After 4:00pm, the snow would stop melting, so we were informed to take water for drinking first and later for everything else. So, here you will need wet or dry tissues as per your preferences. Also, it is so windy high up there that the toilet tents keep flapping and flying every time the winds are strong. Back to taking pictures, since there was no light pollution due to lack of electricity, Tejas was able to click pictures of the multitude of stars clearly visible in the night sky at 2:30am.

Sunset at Nagaru camp.

Sunset at Nagaru camp.

By the time we woke up, the white coloured dog was found sleeping next to Smitha who was sleeping next to me. Poor thing had entered our tent to find refuge from the harsh cold Himalayan climate.

Neele neele ambar par chaand jab aaye

Neele neele ambar par chaand jab aaye

I was already fed up of masaladar food and chose to skip both breakfast and lunch on the day we were to reach Sar Pass. Altitude special. By 4am we were on our way to Sar Pass, thanking the camp leader for the hospitality and shooing us out of the camp. Unlike other days when we had only one or two guides with us, on that particular day, we had 4 guides trekking along with us, helping us by making way for us through ice that had formed in the safe paths. I guess, it was 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning when we reached Sar Pass.

The beginning of Sar Pass

The beginning of Sar Pass

I threw my bag somewhere and was sprawled in that heavenly bliss, with Apollo shining brightly on us, telling us to make haste before snow melts, but we just wouldn’t listen. We had to take pictures; pictures of the place that was so divine, so mesmerising that would etch its name on our mind to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Serene

Serene

13,800ft was not a joke for many of us. We were humbled in front of Mother Nature who could have swallowed us then and there without living any trace.

Ekla Chalo Re

Ekla Chalo Re

We stomped on snow, slid on every surface covered with snow and too numerous pictures enough to satiate our desires and nauseate our relatives who would see them back home. Just too many.

Move on

Move on

But who cares? Not us. We wanted more. More of the Sun, more of the snow, more of the water that could trickle down and more of every tiny thing that brought us till there. Even the dog that was hopping mad somewhere camouflaged in snow. The moment of realisation dawns that you are more than you are and lesser than you think when you look up from the front camera at the mountains surrounding you. Have you ever wondered that arms might protrude out from the walls of the hills and just embrace you if you hopefully stood there for long enough? I wish that was true, but life moves on. Just like we had to measure Sar Pass one step at a time. When we stopped for tea on a flat surface near a vendor’s tent, we took some time off to have snow fight. I never knew it would be so tiring! This was not a pain in the neck or ass. This was pain in the heels and toes due to trying and finding grip on snow. You just follow the guide who is breaking ice like an axe-murderer, and you find yourself walking on the slopes of a snow-clad hill, somewhere on the edge, to look to your left and say “I want to go back home at least to tell tales about Sar Pass.” To top this, our guides were sliding and skiing randomly around us. I was like are they motivating us or what? There we were sometimes falling deep into the loose snow and sometimes not finding enough grip to walk ahead, and these guys were acting like Happy Feet platoon. Then I was like I better be the White Witch from the Chronicle of Narnia with a wooden stick in my hand for her magic spear. I dare say my friends to be the monsters with me. They are so going to kill me when they read this. Or we all could be elves of Santa Claus! Yay! Nay! Anyway, we must have appeared like specks on pristine snow from up above. Thankfully, it didn’t rain at that time. After an ascent again, our four guides bid adieu to us by handing over our responsibility to other two people of YHAI who were waiting for us at the sliding point. Yes, you read that right. The main attraction of Sar Pass is to slide down the mountain. The slide distance must have been about one kilometre, not more than that. We had to sit down, lean back on our backpacks, lift both legs together and we were good to go sliding down. We were apprehensive about sliding in the beginning. But after that, we were trying to slide down from anywhere and everywhere. We wished to slide down to Biskeri Thatch camp, but there was not enough snow. We had to simply walk to our camp at 11,000ft from the sea level. We had walked for about 7hrs and 9km. Some of us fell sick after reaching Biskeri Thatch. Nausea, headache, stomach ache, fever and so on due to a sudden drop in altitude and lack of sleep. Some recovered, but some decided to go back to Kasol base camp directly from there next day. Biskeri Thatch camp was next to a waterfall, and we found puppies there too, which pestered the white coloured dog that successfully came down from Sar Pass along with us. It drizzled that evening. The clouds were heavy just like our hearts as the trek neared its end.

A view from our Biskeri Thatch camp

A view from our Biskeri Thatch camp

The routine beverages and food followed. We all turned ourselves in safe and sound.

Biskeri Thatch

Biskeri Thatch

It was 4am, and I was wobbling out of our tent. Thanks to YHAI food, it didn’t even allow me to sleep well. I am in a hurry to go to the loo and I see all the horses huddled together and staring at me. They looked like old matrons standing together talking about me. I should probably stop imagining. Eventually, everybody woke up and was done with their morning rituals. We started out together, but at midway we all turned towards Bhandak Thatch camp and few of us turned towards Kasol directly. Goodbye times came thrice. Once there and again when some of the Bhandak Thatch people too chose to save time and rush to their next destinations. We stayed back, and we stayed back for good. Bhandak Thatch at 8000ft above the sea level is the next beautiful camp after Ming Thatch. We had a good time there. Supreeth, Harsha and me singing random songs in an awesome way, but we had no audience. You just have to believe us. The group had become small. We finally got to know the names of the people whoever were left behind. We had fun in our own way. Smitha and Sriharsha even danced to entertain us! Sucheta was fast asleep and Vinayaka never sang even then. We all were there, yes we were. Come next morning and we all would be literally on our own way, because on our last day that is from Bhandak Thatch to Barshaini, we were not to have any guide with us. Oh, I might just go weep in a corner and come back to finish writing this travelogue, but then we all should listen to this marvellous song called Home by Phillip Phillip. Home is such a beautiful word, thing and feeling. Where was home?

Bhandak Thatch was home.

Bhandak Thatch was home.

Home is where the heart is. It is up to you.

No, ours were not colourful.

No, ours were not colourful.

No packed lunch. Complete descent. We were given directions to reach Barshaini from where we were to get into a bus that would take us to Kasol. We walked through the jungle and through Kalga and Pulga villages. A dam construction was going on in Barshaini. Sriharsha, Smitha, Anju and I took a shortcut and we reached near the bus stop of Barshaini. Tejas was there before us. Few others left by a bus and we chose to wait for the other four. It was the end of our trek.

Barshaini

Barshaini

The white coloured dog was lingering around us. Sriharsha fed it a pack of biscuits.

Barshaini, Kalga and Pulga

Barshaini, Kalga and Pulga

Others soon joined us. The only thing left to do was to go to Kasol base camp to collect our luggage and certificates and check-out from there.

Civilization hits with dam construction in Barshaini.

Civilization hits with dam construction in Barshaini.

Things that you need to take on this trek

  • A good 50-60lt backpack.
  • Good pair of waterproof, ankle-high shoes.
  • Water bottle.
  • A plate or lunchbox to have food.
  • Mug, if at all you need it.
  • A pair of full-sleeved quick dry shirt and pant.
  • An extra pair just in case.
  • A pair of thermalwear.
  • A pair of fleece jacket and pant.
  • A down jacket.
  • Two pairs of woollen socks.
  • Three pairs of cotton socks.
  • A pair of waterproof gloves.
  • A pair of woollen gloves.
  • Sun-hat
  • Rain-proof jacket and pant
  • Rain-cover for your backpack.
  • Innerwear as much as you are comfortable with.
  • Sunscreen lotion.
  • Wet wipes (don’t mind, but you can use wet wipes for both top and bottom, and they won’t make your skin parched).
  • Other toiletries.

You can travel to Kasol from New Delhi or Chandigarh. You get plenty of buses, both private-run and Government operated. Don’t forget to take extra batteries for your camera.

Auroville

Back to the Bay

Pondicherry or Puducherry fondly referred to as Pondi, is a good place to be, in fact, exquisite, and has very nice and helpful people if you ignore a few. We had fixated our long due gal-pal trip destination on this most famous leisure heaven on the shores of Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry is easily accessible from Chennai and Bengaluru. Anisha, Harinakshi and I had made our itinerary clear. One of the criteria was “no temple and no church visits.” We have nothing against them; we were disinterested in them. So, you won’t get to read about temples and churches in my blog. Anyway, I don’t think people go there to pray. Welcome to the cheap booze and food nest! Welcome to India’s Eastern counterpart of Goa! Welcome to the French capital of India!

We had breakfast at PeepIn Bakery and Restaurants. The speciality of Pondicherry is you will find many bakeries that serve good food and have a place to sit and eat. We ordered Classic Chicken burgers and Chicken Sandwiches to eat along with lime juice and coffee to drink.

Classic Chicken Burger at PeepIn in Pondicherry

Classic Chicken Burger at PeepIn in Pondicherry

After filling our fuel tanks, we hired two two-wheelers and filled their fuel tanks too. Commuting by auto-rickshaws in Pondicherry is expensive as auto drivers will loot you in broad daylight. Commuting by local bus service is a nightmare. You better hire a two-wheeler, four-wheeler or bicycle. The best option is a road trip by your own vehicle to Pondicherry. We were lucky to get our hands on the last two two-wheelers in the rental shop on that Good Friday weekend.

On the morning of day one, we headed towards Auroville. It is about 15km from the city centre of Pondicherry. Google Maps doesn’t work well in Auroville, so heads up. A township that hosts people of various nationalities, Auroville restricts nobody looking for peace, spirituality and soul-searching. It propagates no religion, so we were happy being there. Founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, a French lady referred to as the Mother by followers, residents of Auroville lead their day-to-day lives there based on the principles of Sri Aurobindo. The concept is to house people of different nationalities in peace and harmony. Of course, Auroville is also infamous for various reasons, but you don’t get to see them there as those reasons created no problem for anybody in and out of this township. You get the whole history or get to see the making of Auroville in a video, of 15-20 minutes duration, at the Visitor Centre.

Auroville Visitors Centre

Auroville Visitors Centre

All the tourists or those who want to stay and register for any course or activity there, have to report at the Visitor Centre. This is the commercial hub of the township where you find a cafe, restaurant, boutiques, booking and registration centres. I even found a bookshop here.

Bookshop at Auroville Visitors Centre

Bookshop at Auroville Visitors Centre

Me happy-happy! You can find shops that sell handmade products of expensive as well as affordable prices, pleasing everyone. But Auroville emphasises on basic necessities by providing restrooms there. I mean seriously! There are many public places where tourists and travellers have to control peeing and pooping, squirming in their spots unable to find decent toilets.

After watching the introductory video of Auroville, we got free passes to go to the viewing point of Matrimandir, the famed golden globe meditation and yoga hall, hidden from the eyes of the people who are too busy to even take a break.

On the way to Matrimandir in Auroville

On the way to Matrimandir in Auroville

To onlookers, Matrimandir appears to be majestic orb covered with many small golden orbs. It is more like a mother ship. If you stand at the viewing point, you won’t understand its significance and will probably just end up taking a lot of pictures trying to perfect your selfies. This is why the authorities there insist on you watching the introductory video before going to Matrimandir. It is said that soil from 124 nations and the then 23 states of India were brought and placed in a marble urn, still present near Matrimandir, during the foundation ceremony. This was a unique concept, nevertheless symbolised the idea of world peace. Matrimandir is about a kilometre from the Visitor Centre. After returning to the Visitor Centre, we had chapatis with vegetables and hummus along with a cold chocolate drink at a cafe.

Cold chocolate at a cafe in Auroville

Cold chocolate at a cafe in Auroville

Chapati with hummus at a cafe in Auroville

Chapati with hummus at a cafe in Auroville

Since we spent morning and noon at Auroville, we headed towards French colony, known as White Town, to enjoy the evening breeze at Mahatma Gandhi Beach.

Mahatma Gandhi Beach in Pondicherry

Mahatma Gandhi Beach in Pondicherry

As namesake, M G Road is found there. Pondicherry Museum, Raj Nivas, Lighthouse, French War Memorial and Mahatma Gandhi Memorial are all near M G Beach and in the White Town. We strolled on the beach and later went for dinner. This area has French architectural houses and probably some Anglo Indians still residing here. Maybe that is the reason it is called as French Colony. Since the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial is present there, the adjacent beach is called Mahatma Gandhi Beach.

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Pondicherry

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Pondicherry

Raj Nivas is the residence of Pondicherry’s Lieutenant Governor. Pondicherry is a Union Territory of India, thanks to French for finally disowning is officially. French War Memorial is a perfect dedication.

French War Memorial in Pondicherry

French War Memorial in Pondicherry

For dinner, we went to The Road MotoPub on De Bussy Street in White Town. It is a motorbike theme pub where sometimes live music is played. The pub’s manager accommodated us at the rooftop seating. Food and drinks tasted awesome. My taste buds are still tingling remembering those delicacies. Price is neither cheap not expensive; moderately priced food but the wait time is just too long. We had fish tawa fry and squid rings in white sauce.

Tawa fish fry at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

Tawa fish fry at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

Squid rings in white sauce at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

Squid rings in white sauce at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

I had Cosmopolitan with a rice-chicken combo, which was absolutely delicious, but I have forgotten the name.

Cosmopolitan at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

Cosmopolitan at The Road MotoPub, Pondicherry

Delicious chicken dish at The Road MotoPub in Pondicherry

Delicious chicken dish at The Road MotoPub in Pondicherry

On the morning of day two, we had a late breakfast of pongal, puri and doses at The New Ariya Bhavan, and drifting towards Paradise Beach.

Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

This famed beach is about 6km from the main town of Pondicherry. That boat ride in Chunnambar backwaters is hyped ridiculously. If you have kids with you, who are pestering you saying “momma, dadda, boat-boat” only then opt for it. Going to that island by boat is nonsensical as the island is always crowded and you can hardly see the sand on its shores. Instead of the island, opt for the calm Paradise Beach on the other side, by the coconut grove. You can spend all your time sitting there or playing in the surprisingly clear water, and nobody will bother you, except for the heat.

Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

Also, no what-the-fuck priced restaurants on this side of the beach, so no worries. Here we found Paradise Coastline Resort, which is actually a food serving shack.

Paradise Coastline Resort at Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

Paradise Coastline Resort at Paradise Beach in Pondicherry

I would really recommend relaxing and having lunch here instead of setting foot on that commercialised island of sorts. Good ambience and calmness helped us to relax for the first time on this vacation. The menu doesn’t have much, but whatever they serve is damn good. The owner of this place even got fresh prawns for us, cleaned it and served us Prawn 65. We had good and satisfying Piña Colada with masala fish fries and seafood penne. We had no mood to budge from there and sat there for about three hours.

Piña Colada at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Piña Colada at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Masala fish fry at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Masala fish fry at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Seafood penne at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Seafood penne at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Prawn 65 at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Prawn 65 at Paradise Coastline Resort, Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

From Paradise Beach, we went to check on Arikamedu, an archeologically important place because this was Greek and Roman trading place back in BCE eras. Not much to see there as the whole thing is in ruins, more than before it was discovered.

Arikamedu in Pondicherry

Arikamedu in Pondicherry

By the time we reached back the White Town, it was evening, and we wanted to go to a restaurant by name Rendezvous. Why this one specifically? Because we had read and heard a lot of good things about it. Also, we had missed out on getting a spot there on the previous night, so we were hell-bent on going there that evening. There’s no reserving of tables; only first come-first served basis. Run by an Indian couple, Rendezvous is a roof top restaurant and is perfect for a romantic evening.

Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Rendezvous opens at 6:30pm and has a happy cocktail hour up to 7:30pm, i.e. buy one cocktail and get another one free. After 7:30pm, cover charges of Rs.1000 would apply per head. We went in at sharp 6:30pm and the owners informed us that since we were one of the first customers for the evening, cover charges would be waived off us even if we sat there post 7:30pm. Yippe! We had first ordered one Screw Driver and one more came along with that. Harinakshi ordered Chocolate Baileys that looked yummy, so Anisha and I ordered for three more Chocolate Baileys. They came in the eatable chocolate shot “cups”.

Chocolate Baileys at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Chocolate Baileys at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

You can say we ordered them more for the chocolate than for the shots. We drank our cocktails with golden deep fried calamari, prawn fries and shredded fish stir-fried with grated coconut.

Golden deep fried calamari and prawn fries at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Golden deep fried calamari and prawn fries at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Shredded fish stir-fired with grated coconut

Shredded fish stir-fired with grated coconut

For the main course, Harinakshi and I had chicken sizzlers and Anisha had her favourite Mangalorean fish curry with rice sumptuously.

Chicken sizzler at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

Chicken sizzler at Rendezvous in Pondicherry

They not only have a good ambience but also serve drinks and food in the way they are to be served with little delay. The best part is they have live music too, and the restaurant owners encourage you to take up karaoke if you want to meddle with the mic. Since we were not inebriated, after dinner we made our way back to the Mahatma Gandhi Beach, which was almost secluded by around 10:30pm. We sat at the beach for a long time until we felt we should head back to our hotel room.

On the morning of our last day of the trip, we checked out of our hotel rooms and had breakfast at Daily Bread. A few years ago, Daily Bread used to be where PeepIn was. We didn’t know where it was relocated. Harinakshi spotted Daily Bread when we were out shopping in White Town in the evening of our first day there. I have always been obsessed the chicken cotton blue served there, but it wasn’t on the breakfast menu. We sufficed ourselves with omelettes and toasts.

Omelette at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

Omelette at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

I had minced meat grilled sandwich and French crepe with grated coconut along with hot chocolate.

Minced meat grilled sandwich and French Crepe with grated coconut at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

Minced meat grilled sandwich and French Crepe with grated coconut at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

Hot chocolate at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

Hot chocolate at Daily Bread in Pondicherry

I wanted to eat more, but we were running short of time. We returned out vehicles to the rental shop and hired an auto-rickshaw to go to New Bus Stand of Pondicherry.

It was a 100km bus ride from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram, previously known as Mamallapuram. We were exhausted by the time we even boarded the bus, so we all dozed off in turns. I had an inkling from my experiences from past trip that our bus might not go into the town of Mahabalipuram and drop us off at the highway. The same thing happened. As soon as we got down from the bus, an auto-rickshaw stopped behind us. Its driver said he will show us all the main places of Mahabalipuram and drop us off at the Shore Temple in the end, all for Rs.450/- Since we didn’t have enough time to explore the place by foot, we took this guy’s services.

Our driver-guide took us first to the Five Rathas. Here, you have to buy a ticket costing you Rs.10/- and this would get you any entry to the Shore temple as well. Supposed to resemble chariots, these carvings out of monolithic rocks are dedicated to Pandavas but have nothing to do with them or with Mahabharatha.

The Five Rathas at Mahabalipuram

The Five Rathas at Mahabalipuram

According to our guide, Pallavas, the rulers of this place back then, fancied a background story for every art of theirs. From the Five Rathas, we moved towards the old and the new lighthouses.

An ancient lighthouse of Pallavas, carved out of a huge boulder, stands majestically and must have served its purpose well in the olden days.

Ancient lighthouse at Mahabalipuram

Ancient lighthouse at Mahabalipuram

At Mahabalipuram

At Mahabalipuram

Our guide explained that people of those times burnt logs in the uppermost part so that the ships and boats could see the directions to the harbour or port. If you are wondering about burning logs, then I must specify that back in those days they didn’t have electricity or any other fuel except for wood. This is also an abandoned temple. Next to the old lighthouse is the new lighthouse that was built during colonialism.

New lighthouse at Mahabalipuram

New lighthouse at Mahabalipuram

Huge lamp at New lighthouse in Mahabalipuram

Huge lamp at New lighthouse in Mahabalipuram

You are allowed to go to the top of both the lighthouses. At the top of the new lighthouse, you get to see a gigantic modern lamp. If you go ahead from this new lighthouse, you get to see Mahishasuramardhini cave, which is a room.

In Mahabalipuram, you get to see a huge boulder balanced on a slope. It is called Butter Ball; maybe of Krishna, if the Pallavas were to be asked.

Butter Ball in Mahabalipuram

Butter Ball in Mahabalipuram

Our guide told that once seven elephants tried to move this boulder, but it wouldn’t budge. Nearby, you can find Pancha Pandavas Cave, Arjuna’s Penance and Krishna Mandapam.

In Mahabalipuram

In Mahabalipuram

In Mahabalipuram

In Mahabalipuram

We finally arrived at the Shore Temple. It is said that out of seven, six temples got washed away during Tsunami in 2004. Only one remains, and is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This makes my second trip to a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Anisha. First one was to Hampi. Narasimhavarma I of Pallava dynasty built Five Rathas and Narasimhavarman II built shore temples. There are many more places in Mahabalipuram to see.

As per our guide’s explanation, before Pallavas went on a war, they gave a great sacrifice at this place. Maha means great and Bali means sacrifice. Thus, Mahabalipuram. But there are stories of how it was Bali who founded this place. Anyway, Harinakshi and I had chicken biryani for lunch and Anisha went for a simple vegetarian meal at a small eatery opposite to the Mahabalipuram bus stop. Our bus back to Bengaluru was from Chennai. We left from Mahabalipuram accordingly.

Our bus tickets fare from Bengaluru to Pondicherry Rs.1020/- per head and felt slightly on a higher side for a Non AC sleeper bus by SRS Travels. We had boycotted auto-rickshaws there when it came to commuting in Pondicherry for sightseeing. Rent that we paid was Rs.1050/- per two-wheeler. This amount is the basic, irrespective of whether you take it for one, two or three days. Maybe it will cost more if you hire the vehicle for more than three days. And petrol expenses came to Rs.270/- per vehicle. Breakfast was about Rs.600/- for all three of us together on all three days. At Auroville, we had light lunch, and the bill came for about total Rs.500/-. Dinner at The Road MotoPub and Rendezvous, and lunch at the Paradise Coastline Resort were billed for somewhere between Rs.3000 and Rs.4000 at each place, but all were worth the expenses and time spent together there. Bus fare per head from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram was Rs.100/- and the auto-guidance service in Mahabalipuram was for Rs.450/-. Lunch at Mahabalipuram was about Rs.150/- per head and bus fare from Mahabalipuram to Chennai was about Rs.150/- per head in an air-conditioned bus. Bus fare from Chennai to Bengaluru was Rs.846/- per head and was on the lesser side for an AC sleeper bus by KSRTC.

About where we stayed for day days and two nights in Pondicherry, Hotel Navarathna was a bad one. For a 3 people AC suite, they charged Rs.1450/- per day. Make it twice and we paid that for a neat room, but with a broken AC. Impolite hotel staff made it worse. Since we had planned this trip rather late, this was the only place we could find in the town for that long weekend of Good Friday. Don’t go here. Plan early and book a better hotel. In Mahabalipuram, we didn’t stay. Also, there are better options for restaurants in Mahabalipuram apart from the small eateries. On one of my trip to this place, I had a good lunch at a restaurant called Le Yogi, which is quite near to the Shore temple.

When you are leaving for Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram, don’t bother taking any clothes. Clothes and accessories are damn cheap, though of good quality, and you could buy all your requirements there rather than carrying a backpack from your home sweet home. Whatever you need to buy or eat and drink, and hire vehicles, go to Mission Street in White Town. Just carry a lot of sunscreen lotion with you.

Travelling with your best friends is always a beautiful thing to do. I have been on trips with random people and have been on a solo trip too. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. But travelling with BFFs is a dream and a process that brings you all even closer than before though you bicker a lot. If you are planning to go to these places, then happy de-tanning in advance.

Bandaje Arbi

Bend It Like Bandaje Arbi

When I sat at the edge of Bandaje Arbi, I knew my heart would sing. I thought it might spontaneously sing “Hold me now, I am six feet from the edge” from Creed’s One Last Breath considering the plunge of about 200 feet from where I sat, but I was less than six feet from the edge, dangling my feet down for a wild creeper to miraculously wrap itself around me.

Almost there, huh?

Almost there, huh?

That’s when my heart sang Phillip Phillips’ Home which soothed my tired mind along with the mild summer roar and the splash of the waterfall. Why wouldn’t my heart sing that song? I felt more at home and it was so peaceful there, away from work. You would probably understand what I mean if you were there sitting beside me and listening to these songs. When I looked down from where I perched, I couldn’t help wondering about where I would hit first if I was to fall down from there? Would I fall on the canopy of the jungle on the banks of the stream that continues from the waterfalls or would I fall flat and splat on the rocks, and maybe my blood would say cheers? Yes, my thoughts would have sounded crazy enough if it was not for Hemanth, a fellow trekker, who came down to sit with me and echo my thoughts. I had already missed the sunrise, but wasn’t ready to miss the rest of the view.

Early morning view from the Bandaje Arbi

Early morning view from the Bandaje Arbi

When we started the trek from Bandaje village passing through the fringing estates of coastal commodities, a good lady confirmed the presence of water at the top. Her assurance was more than enough for me to keep drinking enough water to keep myself hydrated and not carry too much of water. You never know when the steep changes and when the private estates turn into forest area.

Starting point of Bandaje Arbi trek

Starting point of Bandaje Arbi trek

You just keep going and realise you need to stop when the trek organiser asks to stop. That’s what Sharath did. His intention was to group trekkers into two and trek again, but as and when we went ahead, we regrouped and re-regrouped as per our convenience, and let Sharath throw his hands in air in exasperation. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Because, we all made it to the peak and to the camping site. Trekking through the thick jungle under the canopy, with elephant dung here and there, was not exhausting. This situation turned barbaric as soon as we entered the grasslands. First of all, no trees to stop and rest in their shade. Last of all, forest fire burnt all the grass that had probably turned into hay. Trees that were randomly clawed by big cats gave way to raven coloured land sprinkled with soil.

One of the trees that was freshly clawed by a big cat

One of the trees that was freshly clawed by a big cat

But we had to keep going. For all we knew, there was water at the top for sure, but we were also sure not to get the easy place for camping. Why? Because we started somewhat late and there were about forty people already on that mountain ahead of us as per RFO’s information. Oh yeah, you have to pay trek fee at the base before entering the forest area.

When at the grasslands, you take a curve at a certain point on the trail and you see Bandaje Arbi for the first time on the trek.

First look of Bandaje Arbi

First look of Bandaje Arbi

I had seen Bandaje Arbi from far while returning from another trek a few months ago. On one side you get to see the beauty, and on the other side, you realise you still have a long way to go. To all those who want to know the difficulty level of this trek, I would say moderate to difficult, but if you are going during summer, it is effing gruesome. It felt like I was trekking for the first time in my life. I had to remind myself of a lesson that I learnt from my first trek. When you have come so far and not feeling like ascending anymore, you have only two options. One, to stay where you are and you can’t obviously stay midway. Two, go back. If you have enough energy to go back why not use the same to go ahead? We slogged to the peak to find the early birds already camped there. So, we heroically went down the valley using the rope which was secured down the way by even more heroic trek organisers of Alpha Trekkateers Club. Thus, even after reaching late, we got to camp beside the waterfall.

We camped here

We camped here

Somehow, I felt like Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. Don’t ask me why. We pitched tents and cooked dinner. We said good night, and I dozed off.

Our group chilling at the Bandaje waterfall

Our group chilling at the Bandaje waterfall

I reluctantly got up from where I was majestically seated and got going. All of twenty-three of us had breakfast that was cooked there, decamped and started to find the means to an end of this trek.

Camping site

Camping site

Meanwhile, many of us had taken a nap on the boulders in the shade of the trees. After the initial reluctance, we had no way but to go to Ballalarayana Durga.

Ballalarayana Durga

Ballalarayana Durga

Supposed to be fort back then and now a barn, and a disappointment. Not much of the fort left there. It was all downhill from there, literally, and descent isn’t as easy as it seems to be.

Downhill views were good

Downhill views were good

If you are wearing shoes, your toes curl up. If you are wearing floaters, try to keep your mind from not thinking about what would happen if the straps tear. Also, not to forget the grassland torture in the summer heat. Durgadahalli village was our trek’s end point. But the route to that village was confusing. It turned out that there is a spot for rappelling where we didn’t want to go. The routes to Durgadahalli and rappelling spot go together and can be misleading. Shouting each other’s names back and forth, all of us safely made it to the jungle and to the end point of the trek.

Rappelling spot

Rappelling spot

Sometimes you to get confused with the trails, especially during descent. Otherwise, you can find your way carefully through the forest. If during and post monsoon, leeches are your worst enemies, then in pre-monsoon or summer, the Sun is your enemy. About 300km from Bangalore, the Bandaje village from where you start your trek, is easily accessible through roadways. That’s the best thing about planning to trek in Karnataka. The total distance of the trek, that is ascent + descent, is about 25-26km.

By the way, Bandaje Arbi doesn’t bend much while plunging, but you would to take a look at her.

P.S. Arbi means waterfall.

Bandaje Arbi

Bandaje Arbi

Dusk and Virupaksha temple

Heritage in a Line: Hampi – Day 1

I had no plans for the New Year eve; this was an intentional decision as I neither wanted random people dancing around me and later watch them puke nor wanted to sacrifice my sleep by staying awake until late night. But I didn’t want to waste Christmas weekend. I sent messages to my friends about a trip to the heritage sites in North Karnataka. As usual, a few of them said no. The remaining ones latched on to the idea of getting out of Bengaluru. Anisha had quit her first ever job and wanted to go out somewhere before joining her next employment. Karthik, like me, always be ready for a trip if he has no plans. Praneetha was back from Netherland and was still in a holiday mood. Since Gaurav was in India, he too came down from Vadodara and joined us on this trip. We planned to visit Hampi, then Badami, Aihole and Pattadkal in three days. For now here, I will tell you about what we saw on one bank of river Tungabhadra on Day 1.

KSRTC has good direct bus services to Hampi from Bangalore. Hampi is an UNESCO world heritage site. If you cannot get a direct bus, then go to Hospet. It is about 14km from Hampi. Fortunately, we got a direct bus and since it was a sleeper one, we had room to stretch our legs and get good sleep. We left by 11:30 pm on the night of 24th December and reached Hampi by 6:30 am next day. We had booked rooms in Ranjana Guesthouse that is very near to Hampi bus stand. From our guesthouse, Virupaksha temple was only 3 minutes walk. You can make it five. After check-in delay, we were ready by 10:30 am. Gaurav joined us half an hour later. As our plan was to roam in Hampi for only one day, we hired an auto rickshaw. Its driver assured us that apart from taking us from one place to another, he would also be our tour guide and explain the prominence of each spot. We made the mistake of hiring a rick. I will tell you why at the end of this travelogue.

Our first stop was at the gigantic monolithic Eduru Basavanna, a statue of a bull, placed in such a way it is facing Lord Virupaksha inside the main temple, though about a kilometre away at the end of Virupaksha Bazaar.

Eduru Basavanna

Eduru Basavanna

We were first introduced to the ruins on the hillock, next to the bull’s statue. We took the stairs going up the hillock and kept going along with a tribe of goats on their way to graze. On top of this hillock are so many ruins of tiny temples wherever you look. There are many incomplete carvings of gods and goddesses too.

One of the numerous small temples

One of the numerous small temples

Incomplete carvings

Incomplete carvings

Gaurav climbed the rocks around and got an aerial view of the surroundings. That’s how we got to know a temple arena behind the hillock. It was of Achyutharaya temple, but we didn’t know. We didn’t want to get down there and run late, so we went back to our rick. Little did we know that we would go to the same temple later.

Achyutharaya temple as seen from the top of the hillock

Achyutharaya temple as seen from the top of the hillock

Our tour guide/driver took us to Kodandarama temple and Yantrodharaka Anjaneya temple.

Yantrodharaka Anjaneya temple

Yantrodharaka Anjaneya temple

We went there a few days after Hanuma Jayanthi, so we could see a rath, a chariot for the procession of god, still outside.

Rath

Rath

This was just the beginning of temples on that bank of river Tungabhadra. To reach here, you have to leave your vehicles behind and take a walk through a small cave. On the way to these temples, we saw an array of strange arrangements of pebbles and stones. They reminded me of Mani stones or prayer stones in Ladakh, but these were nowhere near them.

Stone stacking. Not sure who did it and why.

Stone stacking. Not sure who did it and why.

As we proceeded, our guide told us that when Ravan kidnapped Sita, he had taken his first pit-stop on a boulder on the riverbank. After their short break, while taking off to Lanka again, the open end of Sita’s saree carved a trail on that boulder and it is said that the trail is still there. I wondered if Sita had tied a raker to the end of her saree. It is also said here Lord Rama treacherously assassinated the mighty Vali, the big brother of Sugreeva. There is also a theory that Hampi might have been the Kishkinda in Treta Yuga. In front of these two temples is a triangular area of the river. We were told that during monsoon when the water level rises due to heavy rains, counter currents occur and a huge whirlpool forms right in the middle of the triangular area. Locals call this whirlpool Chakrateertha. Chakra means wheel and Teertha means holy water.

This is where Chakrateertha forms

This is where Chakrateertha forms

Our guide/driver told us that Sri Vidyaranya Swami had prayed to Goddess Bhuvaneshwari Devi to bless the dry lands of Hampi with heavy rains so that people can grow and prosper. The Goddess, pleased with the saint’s prayers, showered not only rain but also precious stones and gems, and the Hakka-Bukka duo took a share of this to find Vijayanagar Empire. From there we walked towards Vijaya Vittala temple.

On the way to Vijaya Vittala temple, we came across Achyutharaya temple.

The abandoned Achyutharaya temple

The abandoned Achyutharaya temple

The abandoned look of it beckoned us. It was then we realised it is the same temple complex we had seen from the top of the hillock in the beginning.

Inside the premises of Achyutharaya temple

Inside the premises of Achyutharaya temple

The actual name of this temple is Tiruvengalanatha temple, but is known to the world as Achyutharaya temple as the area in which this is located was known as Achyutharayapete during the bygone era that was named after a Vijayanagar king, Achyutharaya. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

The main area of Achyutharaya temple

The main area of Achyutharaya temple

I have absolutely no idea what this carving denotes

I have absolutely no idea what this carving denotes

Inscriptions

Inscriptions

Just outside, on the both sides of the avenue leading to this temple, is a market infamous as Sule Bazaar, translated into English as Prostitutes Market. Apparently, this avenue was famous for courtesans of the empire. As time passed, the society termed courtesans as prostitutes and thus the beautifully carved and pillared market, where precious stones were also sold, came to be known as Prostitutes Market. Behind the sequence of pillars is a big man-made pool, with a mantap in the middle which has dried up now. I think courtesans used this pool.

The pool behind Sule Bazaar

The pool behind Sule Bazaar

Considering the structures were intact back then and nothing was visible of the pool, the men of that era must have missed out on a lot… Anyway, there is a small mantapa or hall at the end of this bazaar, which is dedicated to the great poet Purandaradasa.

On our way from Achyutharaya temple to Vijaya Vittala temple, we found a huge banyan tree to whose aerial prop roots small packets or pouches made of clothes in various colours were tied and left hanging.

Kind of freaks out people.

Kind of freaks out people.

It is freaky to look at this display of whatever beliefs they stood for. The path was through a thin jungle and we could find sugarcane juice vendor there too next to the one selling mirchi-mandakki. We ate and drank sumptuously only to move towards the temple with musical pillars. This temple complex is bigger than that of Achyutharaya and more prominent architecturally too, but like the former, this too is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Sabha Mantapa or Gejjala Mantapa or the congregation hall of this temple has numerous pillars, some of which render music of particular notes when tapped with slightly more energy.

Gejjala Mantapa in Vijaya Vittala temple

Gejjala Mantapa in Vijaya Vittala temple

But this hall is now in ruins, might fall down any moment, and a board is put up instructing people to stay away from this structure. But, people refuse to abide by the requests, let alone rules. Tourists want pictures of them in the Sabha Mantapa or Gejjala Mantapa even if they are damaging it. The same situation is that of the famous stone chariot.

The iconic stone chariot of Hampi

The iconic stone chariot of Hampi

People climb all over it to get their profile picture for Facebook without thinking how much they are contributing to the damage of these architectural treats. After exiting this temple complex, another boulevard with markets on either side leads you to a pool called Lokapavani. We skipped it and moved to the next spot after buying kulfis.

Our driver took us to Queen’s Bath. On the way, he showed us a pair of huge boulders, one of them half cut and fallen on the ground. He told us that the pair of boulders was two sisters who were cursed by a saint to become rocks because they bad mouthed about Hampi saying it was a good-for-nothing land and it would never develop. Next, he showed us a line of stone slabs that were carved in the design of plantain leaves and bowls.

Stone slabs carved as plantain leaves and bowls

Stone slabs carved as plantain leaves and bowls

Soldiers and guards used these to have food by sitting in a line. We reached Queen’s Bath almost by evening. As the name suggests, this ancient structure was the place where queen bathed. I wonder how the queen came so far from her palace to bathe here and went back. Queen’s Bath is surrounded by a channel which supplied water to the bath.

Queen's Bath

Queen’s Bath

It is also said that this channel provided security to the queen while bathing but I couldn’t see the logic because if you stand outside one of the windows beyond the channel, you can see anybody doing anything inside, let alone her highness scrubbing herself. I hope there were no perverts back then.

Inside the Queen's Bath

Inside the Queen’s Bath

The next arena after Queen’s Bath is the Royal Enclosure. It is no more enclosed, but yes, was certainly back then. There are many things to see here. Our first stop was at Hazara Rama temple. By now, you must have understood that people of Hampi were devotees of Lord Vishnu and his avatars. So, you must be wondering what is special about this temple. I will tell you. I am writing this blog to tell you. Chill. Hazara Rama temple is not as big as Achyutharaya temple or Vijaya Vittala temple but is not jealous of others. Because this temple has scenes from the Ramayan depicted in carvings on its walls, all over the temple. Back then, the public didn’t have access to this temple, and this was exclusive to the royal family.

Hazara Rama temple

Hazara Rama temple

Next within the Royal Enclosure is a huge structure with stairs on all four sides of it. This is called Mahanavami Dibba. Most of the people who are aware of Mysore Dasara celebrations, don’t know that the tradition was adopted and adapted from Dasara celebrations of Vijayanagar Empire, and carried forward. So, the grandeur of Dasara celebrations of Vijayanagar Empire had a segment of it arranged on Mahanavami when dancers performed on and around the Mahanavami Dibba. Dibba means a high platform.

Mahanavami Dibba. You can see Karthik waving from the top of it.

Mahanavami Dibba. You can see Karthik waving from the top of it.

There is one more stepped bath pool, ignored by tourists, within the Royal Enclosure. Unlike Queen’s Bath, this pool still has water.

Pool inside Royal Enclosure

Pool inside Royal Enclosure

Around the pool, you can find aqueducts. It is a speciality of this place according to me because I hardly get to see aqueducts at any historical place.

This is inside an aqueduct, not in between two walls of a fort

This is inside an aqueduct, not in between two walls of a fort

Near to this pool is a secret underground room, which is not a secret anymore. We found not only children but also adults running up and down through the dark entrance of this underground secret room and making a hell of a noise.

The secret underground room

The secret underground room

We exited the Royal Enclosure to enter Zenana Enclosure meant for recreational activities of royal ladies and their sakis. Lotus Mahal is the main attraction of this arena. As the name suggests, the structure is designed to resemble a Lotus flower when you get an aerial view.

Lotus Mahal

Lotus Mahal

Further Lotus Mahal is the Elephant Stable. This structure used to house eleven elephants. A field day reference is an understatement about the work of each person in the Elephant Stable. We drank tender coconut water gazing back and forth at the Elephant Stable and many people sitting and rolling all over the grass lawn in front of it. Praneetha bought a pack of biscuits and we finished it.

Elephant Stable

Elephant Stable

Our next stop was at a place where we had to climb up a small tower to get a better view of the Noblemen’s Quarters on one side and the Mint area and Watch Towers on the other side. Noblemen’s Quarters is where nearest and dearest of the royal family stayed along with the actual noblemen.

Noblemen's Quarters

Noblemen’s Quarters

Mint area was the place where Islamic people minted currencies of that era and they also guarded the area using the Watch Towers also known as Mohammadan Towers.

Mint area and Watch Towers

Mint area and Watch Towers

Further away from the quarters and towers is an underground Shiva temple dedicated to Prasanna Virupaksha. The way this temple is located underground made me wonder if there was any dispute between Shaivas and Vaishnavas of that era.

Prasanna Virupaksha temple

Prasanna Virupaksha temple

In the interiors of this town is a Chandikeshwara temple. This creates a conflict of logics whether this is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. Some people even say it is neither, but a Devi temple. Well, what I actually want to focus here about is a pair of pillars at the entrance of this temple. Just like the musical pillars of Gejjala Mantapa in Vijaya Vittala temple, these two pillars also produce musical notes upon tapping them hard.

Musical pillars at Chandikeshwara temple

Musical pillars at Chandikeshwara temple

To see the famed gigantic monolithic statue of Lakshmi Narasimha or Ugra Narasimha, you have to go a little far. The hands of Narasimha were chopped off at wrists by the Muslim invaders when the empire had backstabbers in the noble positions and weak emperors entitled to the throne only by birth. The actual catalysts for the ruins.

Ugra Narasimha

Ugra Narasimha

Next to the Ugra Narasimha is the Badavi Linga temple. This is a huge Shiv ling, about 3 metres high also carved out of a single rock, just like the Eduru Basavanna and Ugra Narasimha. The Shiv ling is placed inside a chamber and surrounded by water.

Badavi Linga

Badavi Linga

Our driver dropped us at the foothills of Hemakuta and asked us to hike up to witness the sunset.

At the peak of Hemakuta hills

At the peak of Hemakuta hills

There you can find Kadlekalu Ganapati and Sasivekalu Ganapati at the foot, and Jain temples at the peak. I was surprised looking at the way even the back features of the Ganapati were also carved! They didn’t even ignore the bums… By then we had decided that the people of Vijayanagar Empire were all stone carving prodigies and the emperors back then must have announced anybody can claim a boulder and start carving if they don’t have anything else to do. Everywhere you look there are ruins. If you descend from the Hemakuta hills to the other side, you will reach Virupaksha temple’s entrance, the main temple of Hampi dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Virupaksha temple on the other side of Hemakuta hill

Virupaksha temple on the other side of Hemakuta hill

Unlike other temples mentioned earlier, this is the only one not damaged by Muslim invasions and devotees throng here to perform rituals and pray as all that is done only in this temple here. By the time we reached inside, we had only an hour before the closing time, so we made haste. There are paintings on the temple’s ceiling depicting mythological stories.

Paintings on the ceiling of Virupaksha temple

Paintings on the ceiling of Virupaksha temple

This temple even has a house-elephant! Only Virupaksha knows how well the temple authorities are treating this elephant.

You know, it is an elephant

You know, it is an elephant

Coming out of the temple, we realised we were hungry and tired, but not exhausted. We searched and reached a restaurant called Mango Tree that has quite a good reputation in the town as well as outside. Serves only veg food, if you consider egg as veg too, and no alcoholic drinks. We kept on ordering, our orders kept on coming in and we neatly licked off the plates and our fingers. There were egg pakoras, masala papads, rice, noodles, rotis, naans, kulchas, paneer masala, veg kofta, spring rolls, Mango Tree special pizza and what not. We ordered and ate too much for five people. Oh, there were lime juice and masala soda orders too! I was busy grabbing and eating everything and couldn’t take pictures of our dinner. Anyway, that was us on Day One of our heritage sites trip in North Karnataka.

Now about travelling within Hampi, don’t bother hiring an auto rickshaw just because the driver claims to take you around for 30km or odd and show you all places only for Rs.1600. Don’t fall prey for that trick. The total number of kilometres won’t sum up to thirty and the driver, no matter who he is, won’t properly show and explain anything about any place. He will make money living you feeling meh in this historical town. Instead, you can hire bicycles or motorbikes and freely roam around at your will.

Breakfast is same almost everywhere in Hampi. It might cost you somewhere around Rs.80 per head if you prefer heavy breakfast. We skipped lunch as we were drinking and munching on snacks on the move. Dinner was glorious! For all the things we drank and ate mentioned earlier, we paid Rs.1500/-

You can consider that our total expenses on the first day for food, commute, entry tickets (nominal entry fees everywhere) and miscellaneous, was about Rs.3400/- Apart from this, we had booked budget rooms which came to about Rs.2200/- You can say Rs.1100 per head on day one.

This is only about our first day. I will write about our second day when we crossed the river and went to the other side in my next travelogue soon.

Vijayadashami Celebrations in Kanyakumari

My First Solo Trip: Kanyakumari – Madurai – Rameshwaram – Dhanushkodi

Every time my friends and I had to go on a trip, we planned extensively. When I say we, it actually was me checking starting from bus tickets to hotel room bookings to places to see. On top of this haggling, I had to take dates from everybody when they would be free for that particular trip and accommodate them. Basically, I was fed up and said “to eff with you all” and decided to go on my first solo trip for three days. Thankfully, it was Dasara holidays. So I didn’t have to negotiate with my manager to take leaves. I booked tickets and hotel rooms for myself, all for myself. On the evening of my 28th birthday, I left from Bangalore to Kanyakumari. IRCTC upgraded my ticket from 3A to 2A without any extra charges, thanks to the option they provide on their portal. Berths were comfortable. I had never ever found myself asleep by 8 pm in my life till then. With the sheer reason of no mobile network and nothing better to do on the train that evening, I dozed off early.

I woke up next morning to passengers bustling in and out at every station. I happened to see outside when my train slowed down in Valliyur, Tamilnadu and witnessed a beautiful view. It looked like a large blanket of cloud stuck at the top of a bald hill surrounded by windmills.

Hill-Hugging Clouds in Valliyur, Tamilnadu, India

Hill-Hugging Clouds in Valliyur, Tamilnadu, India

The cloud was not able to even go around the hill, just stuck there. There was still a lot of time left to reach Nagercoil junction, so I went back to my seat and started reading a book. After unaccounted hours, the train stopped at Nagercoil junction and people fell out onto the platform. I enquired with the station master for a bus to Kanyakumari and he directed me to a bus stop just outside the railway station telling there were frequent buses to and fro there. As said by the station master, I got a bus soon and it was a short journey from there to my destination. I must say the bus fares in Tamilnadu are cheaper than in Karnataka. I felt like I could save a lot more by travelling in that state of India.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue in the middle of the sea

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue in the middle of the sea

The bus stopped just metres away from the beach. Hopping down from the bus, I had to first find a good restaurant to have breakfast. After finding one, I had sumptuous onion uthappam and masala vada. Convinced that I was full, I started towards the beach to find a way to the ferry dock to go to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It was a pleasant walk in the curved pedestrian path by the beach that takes you from the cluster of local petty shops to the lane that leads to the ticket counter for the ferry. There was already a long line for tickets, so I walked to the end of the line only to walk for a good one kilometre. I stood in the line for two hours and listened to random tourists talking around me. I was astounded to see such a large number of Bengalis there at that time because for them their Durga Puja is more prominent than anything else. Anyway, it is their wish. By the time I reached the main gates of the building that housed the ferry ticket counter, it was already 11:30 am. That’s when I saw a board hanging from the gate. It read “Due to the closure of Vivekananda Rock Memorial for Vijayadashami festival, the sale of ferry tickets will be closed by 12:00 pm 22.10.2015.”

3

My My Time Flies

That day was Vijayadashami and I panicked. Half an hour left for the closing of the ticket counter and still half a kilometre to reach there. I guess people ahead of me had the same thoughts and they started moving faster. It was five minutes to 12 pm when I bought my ticket and rushed into the dock only to see that it was just a continuation of the same line. Anyway, the dock was beautiful from the inside; painted in pastel colours and with floral patterned ventilators and marble floors.

Ferry Dock

Ferry Dock

We were given life jackets. The tourism department has to up their game by at least providing life jackets that are intact and serve their purpose. I was shocked to see the condition of them. Somehow, we boarded the ferry which was no less than a stampede and set off to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Once I reached the dock on the rock, I had to pay entry fee there again to go to the top.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Contrary to the name of the rock, it doesn’t only house the memorial, but also houses a shrine Sri Padaparai Mandapam.

Sri Padaparai Mandapam

Sri Padaparai Mandapam

It is just opposite to the memorial. You will have about one hour time on the rock to see the whole place. You can also spend some time meditating in the tranquil meditation hall beneath the Vivekananda Rock Memorial; that doesn’t mean it is under the sea. Next to the rock is the gigantic Thiruvalluvar statue.

Thiruvalluvar Statue

Thiruvalluvar Statue

Our ferry didn’t take us to his feet due to high tides issue. So, after strolling around Swami Vivekananda, I boarded the ferry again with other tourists to go back to the mainland.

From the ferry dock, I happened to pass in front of Bhagavathi Amman temple. It was Vijayadashami and the temple was so crowded that I didn’t dare to step inside it. I must say I missed being a witness to the renowned big diamond nose ring of the goddess. When I came out of that lane, people were preparing for the Vijayadashami procession. A group was dressed in costumes of gods and goddesses.

Isn't he scary?

Isn’t he scary?

People dressed as gods and goddesses

People dressed as gods and goddesses

There were teams ready with their range of percussion instruments. They were dancing and playing the instruments in sync, in rhythm. It was amazing to watch them move around.

Percussion Team

Percussion Team

I heard a fellow saying that all the teams would perform for kilometres together and reach Maghadanapuram where a fair was set and where the Ramayan would be performed. After clicking selfies with all the teams, I walked for about five kilometres to Our Lady of Ransom Church. I laughed at the usage of ransom. My bad. When I reached the lane of the church, I was surprised to see such a big area free from all disturbances in front of the church. I can say that the whole lane is a playground.

Our Lady of Ransom Church

Our Lady of Ransom Church

I walked into the church. There were people praying. I didn’t pry on their conversations with god. I sat in the last row and actually felt like taking a nap there because I didn’t have anything else to do until sunset and I was not yet hungry. After an hour, I went out from there. The procession that had started from Bhagawathi Amman temple had by then reached near the church. I took more pictures and had lunch in a restaurant nearby. After that, I freshened up again to wait for the evening.

Part of Vijayadashami Procession

Part of Vijayadashami Procession

Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari is not so well-known to people who are from out-of-town. It is like a small museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. You can either spend the evening there or go to the beach. It is said that the sunset is beautiful in Kanyakumari and whoever visits this place should not miss this natural event. I tried to find a good place to view the sunset from the Gandhi Mandapam, but it was so packed with tourists who were also looking for a place to seat themselves. So I had no other choice than going to the beach. I found a neat small rock at the beach and perched myself there to go on clicking the sunset in burst mode.

Sunset in Kanyakumari

Sunset in Kanyakumari

Also, don’t miss the light effects on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue in the evening.

Evening View of Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

Evening View of Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

From there I took a rick to go to Magadhanapuram to witness the end of the Dasara celebrations.

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay until they burnt Ravan as I had to go back to Nagercoil junction and board a train that was to take me to Madurai. I bought an ice cream for myself and left the celebrations to the locals.

I hopped off the train in Madurai very early next morning. I had breakfast at one of the numerous eateries just outside the railway station and walked to the centuries-old famed Madurai Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple. Oops! It is a temple complex! Did you ask why? You will know as and when you read further. The grandeur of Meenakshi temple is hidden behind the crowded dingy buildings around it. You don’t get to see from far. You will only see it when you enter its lane. Before reaching there, I just knew it is a well-known religious place. It was only when I neared one of the “towers” of the temple that I realized how wrong I was about its stature. While I stood gazing at the South Tower, all of a sudden an elephant walked in front of me with its mahout.

Elephant with its mahout

Elephant with its mahout

It belonged to the goddess. Wishing it a very good morning, I kept my backpack and camera at the security counter and walked into the temple. Carrying camera inside the temple premises is prohibited. I had my One Plus One that captures beautiful pictures, so I didn’t fret. People need to revise their rules.

There was a really long line to see the goddess, Meenakshi Amman. Groups of ladies, chaperoned by one or two male family members for namesake, dominated the scene inside the temple. Just when I thought that I might get the Devi’s darshan soon enough, the line stopped moving and an announcement was made that we will get to see the goddess only after one hour. I tried my best to tune out the other kind of femme fatal around me and observed my surroundings. If you ignore the slight suffocation inside the temple complex due to not much ventilation, the ceiling in the hallway and walls are marvellously painted in traditional colours that will bring out its old world charms. Since it was just after the end of Navaratri, the arrangements of dolls were not moved yet and I could see their collection. The temple authorities had arranged the traditional dolls in the passage in such a way that from the beginning of the hallway till the entrance of the goddess’s garbhagudi for devotees to see. It consisted not only of tiny dolls but also life-size statues that required their own stalls for display. Some of the arrangements were meant to tell segments of mythological stories related to Meenakshi Amman. With all these observations, one hour easily flew by and our line started to move forward again. Dasara decorations were still not removed from the interior walls and we had to kind of wade through it to see the goddess. With the chants going on and temple bells ringing on together, the goddess appeared to be in her complete glory. Visible only in the light of the numerous oil lamps lit around her, she looked golden. I am an agnostic, so I cannot force myself to simply praise the grandeur unnecessarily.

Kalyani inside Meenakshi Amman temple complex in Madurai

Kalyani inside Meenakshi Amman temple complex in Madurai

After Devi’s darshan, since Sundareshwarar shrine was not accessible to devotees that day, I reached the kalyani where so many people, most of them were not devotees but couples, were sitting and enjoying the tranquillity. From where I was sitting, I could see three of the four towers. So I set off to see all the towers one by one from proximity. If you ask the locals, they will tell you that there are four towers to the Meenakshi Amman temple complex. What they mean to say is there are four major towers. Once you take a tour of the complex, you will realize that there are two sets of towers; first set in the outer perimeter and the second set in the inner perimeter.

Outer tower and inner tower

Outer tower and inner tower

Within the outer perimeter are the pathways and inner perimeter. Inside the inner perimeter are the temples, pond and the centuries-old marketplace. Yes, there is a full-fledged market inside the temple complex. Also, don’t miss Hall of Thousand Pillars there. This temple was originally built by Pandians, but the credit for its current look goes to Nayaks.

Marketplace inside Madurai temple complex

Marketplace inside Madurai temple complex

After strolling for another half an hour there, I came out to take a bus to Rameshwaram. Yes, I took a bus to Rameshwaram. I know I should have taken a train for the sea view, but since its schedule didn’t match mine, I took a bus. It wasn’t that bad. I crossed the famed Pamban Bridge to reach the Pamban island and enter Rameshwaram.

Pamban Bridge

Pamban Bridge

It was already evening when I reached this ancient town, so I reached my hotel room and quietly sank in my bed to call it a day.

Early next morning, I left for Dhanushkodi along with a Malayali family that stayed in the same hotel as mine. They were a family of five; father, mother, son, daughter-in-law and a grandson. I didn’t want to hire a separate vehicle only for myself, so I had requested the hotel receptionist to make Dhanushkodi trip arrangements for me along with a family who would willingly accommodate me. This family, unlike random strangers, was not pestering and didn’t ask me any personal question like how many children my parents have, whether I live in rented house or own house and so on. They didn’t even ask me why I was travelling alone! I was just happy to take this short trip along with them. The government is making a proper road to the tip of Dhanushkodi and will be completed by sometime in the year 2016. So as of now, tourists have to hire jeeps to visit the Ghost Town. Drivers of these jeeps know their way through the shallow waters by the shore, so it is better you hire them than experiment on your own.

Shallow waters at the Dhanushkodi shore

Shallow waters at the Dhanushkodi shore

Once prosperous town situated at the South-Easter part of India, Dhanushkodi was destroyed by a cyclone beyond repair. Not much could thrive on these shores later and since then has been called a Ghost Town. But it is not totally abandoned as locals are trying to make money from the tourists. How? By building a random temple there too. The main attraction here is the broken railway tracks. Just kidding! The glamour of this town is the ruins of an old church which is hauntingly beautiful. You won’t feel like moving away from it.

Church of the Ghost Town

Church of the Ghost Town

Hauntingly beautiful!

Hauntingly beautiful!

Apart from this, you will also see a floating stone that is supposedly used in the making of legendary Ram Sethu that once connected India with Sri Lanka. Feel free to read Ramayan to know more. This floating stone is caged in a sufficiently big container. So, you can poke it and see for yourself that it simply won’t drown.

Floating stone of Rama Sethu

Floating stone of Rama Sethu

After roaming around in the vicinity, we drove back towards Rameshwaram. On the way, our driver stopped at yet another temple. At the sea in front of this temple, people were performing rituals to a block of stone fixed inside the waters. When I asked one of the devotees what was the speciality of this particular worshipping place, she said this is the place where Ram Sethu was built. I was shocked! I mean, how stupid can people be to believe and spread such things? Ram Sethu is at the tip of Dhanushkodi. These people were blindly praying a random stone. Thankfully, our driver called out to us to leave and I left that female without giving a piece of my mind.

After returning to the town of Rameshwaram, I went to the Ramanathaswamy temple. I didn’t have a pleasant experience from here. I can say that. It was raining by then and roads were waterlogged. You can’t see where you are stepping. Local authorities have made this pilgrim place a disappointment. When you make a rule that you cannot wear footwear into the temple, then you should arrange for a place where devotees and tourists can leave their footwear till they come out of the temple. The government should develop this historical place which also has mythological importance if it wants to keep the local economy thriving. It is not only the outsides of the temple but also the insides. There are 22 holy wells from which temple-appointed people draw water and pour on people who go and stand in front of them. These drenched people leave a water trail wherever they go within the temple and make the whole premises wet and muddy. All these 22 wells are not in an order, so you will find people lost looking for the next temple. Securities there are also not much helpful. The chaos inside the temple, which is supposed to be a holy peaceful place, takes a toll on you. At least, it took a toll on me. I left the temple immediately without bothering to see the god. I was fed up of the place.

I went back to my hotel room, rested there for a long time. When time was up, I checked out of my room and went to have lunch at Daiwik hotel. They had a vegetarian buffet spread for only Rs.500 and was about to close at 3 pm. I went in at 2:55 pm. Once inside, they wouldn’t throw me out before I finished my lunch, so I ate slowly and peacefully. Just a few metres away from this hotel is the main bus stop of Rameshwaram. After lunch, I went there and spent my time listening to music till the clock struck 6 pm. My bus to Bangalore came. I caught a last glimpse of the view from the Pamban Bridge and again slept early.

Boats call it a day

Boats call it a day

Before I tell you where I stayed, I would like to tell you it is not easy to find a hotel room for a single female traveller. Whatever maybe the reason, it seems like these hotel owners would rather leave a woman looking for a place to stay on the roads than give a room in their premises. I was lucky enough to find a place to stay after too many calls from Bangalore to Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram. In Kanyakumari, I stayed at Ferdin Homestay which you will find on your left-hand side when you walk up the lane from Gandhi Mandapam. The hotel is clean and cosy. Since I am not finding its website link, I will be sharing its manager, Mr. P George’s contact number here. His number is +919865823026. In Rameshwaram, I stayed at Hotel Harish. This is again a neat and comfortable. Both the hotels are single-women-friendly.

This whole trip did not cost me much. Train and sleeper bus tickets together cost about Rs.2500. It all depends on your comfort level. I need to stretch my legs and sleep well even while travelling. If you are fine with sitting and travelling and sleeping, then you can opt accordingly and that will cost you lesser than what I have mentioned. The hotel rooms where I stayed were of the “affordable” range since I couldn’t get TNSTDC rooms; 12 pm check in to 12 pm check out type and were about Rs.1200 each for 24 hours. Since the choice of food is up to you, the food cost also depends on you. For me, it didn’t go more than Rs.300 per day. Including entry fee, ferry fee and misc expenses, my total trip cost didn’t go beyond Rs.6000/-.

About the travel, I booked train and bus tickets as soon as bookings opened. Prior planning as always good as long as you don’t intend to hitchhike. You can always change your plans about which place to see after reaching the destination, but you need a destination to begin with.

Charmadi Ghat Trek: Eri Kallu to Ermayi

When I opened my eyes on the morning of 4th of July, we were still in our vehicle parked outside a hotel in Charmadi. When I turned to my right, I saw Lavanya trying to wake up. She was the first person I spoke to when I reached the pick-up point on previous night at Shantala Silk House, Bangalore. Just a moment’s thought of Shantala Silk House brought back the waiting period before departing form Bangalore.

I get butterflies in my stomach before going on any trip. Even now, even after so many trips and treks I have been on with varying comforts. Not that I am scared of going on a trip with total strangers, but it is the excitement of going to a new place every time. So there I was, at around 10:00pm on 3rd July, initiating a conversation with Lavanya for the first time in this group asking about whether a tent is required at the place we are going to or not. She was talking to Prithayan when I interrupted their conversation. Santosh and Sunantha were standing next to us with Vijay, Chakravarthy, Jitendra and Devendra laughing and talking little away from us. Harsha, the organizer of this trek from Bangalore Ascenders, arrived soon after. We were waiting for two others. Pooja joined us very late and the last person didn’t turn up. When Harsha called him up to check where he was, that person casually told that he thought we were to depart on the net day! What the hell! Had he not checked the circular that was mailed to every trek participant in the group? Well, it was Friday night and I guess he was happily high with his friends in some pub giving lame reasons for not joining us even after paying for the trek. Then I got to know that Gopi, a friend of Sunantha and Santosh, would be joining us on the way instead of that lame guy. And then we all started from Bangalore towards Charmadi. We all were tired. We all dozed off except the ones sitting in the front seats as high beam lights from the vehicles coming from the opposite side were keeping them awake. That means our driver had company.

After a short flashback early in the morning, I got down from our vehicle to brush my teeth and freshen up at the hotel. Hotel’s staff were still cleaning its premises and unloading their groceries by the time we were all ready for breakfast.

Empty hotel early in the morning

Empty hotel early in the morning

Since they had not even started cooking yet, we went to another hotel on the highway in search of food to quieten our tummies. After gorging on doses, Mangalore buns and idli-vada-chutney-sambar combo, we waited for our trek guide to arrive. We even got our lunch packed and braced ourselves to wait for our guide.

It so happened that the same day was the last day to submit mandatory documents to get government ration card and our guide had gone to the taluk office with his family to take care of this business. We waited in front a tea stall which had not yet opened up. We sat on the steps leading to the stall as the stray dogs still rolled on the moist ground in early morning sunlight. And we watched them for a long time after formally introducing each other.

Waiting for our guide

Waiting for our guide

We hoped it rained before our guide arrived and stopped before we started our trek, but it started to drizzle when our guide arrived and didn’t last long or convert into a heavy downpour later. A white coloured, almost impoverished stray dog joined us when we started. We thought it would leave once the ascent started, but we had mistaken it. Later I got to know that dog has trekked to the peak of Eri Kallu in Charmadi Ghat more than I have ever trekked all my life till date!

At the beginning of our trek

At the beginning of our trek

With our socks pulled up and vigilant for leeches, we entered the forest range. With ascent came heaving and “are we there yet” questions. To those who couldn’t keep up with the group, we told them the grassland was just beyond those farthest trees and when they somehow reached there, then further from there. When someone still didn’t want to budge, we told them that the leeches will latch on to them if they stood at the same spot for a long time, which is true; those slimy, squiggly, long, blind, blood sucking bastards who oscillated in their place sensing us and moving as if sexily beckoning us. They even latched on to our canine companion, who was fondly named as Mani by Sunantha. Mani would go with her, Santosh and Gopi leaving rest of us. Sweating profusely in the humid conditions, we reached the first clearing and had lunch there. We didn’t just mindlessly trek till there. We saw a baby pit viper and a very fluffy caterpillar which I can’t categorize.

I hereby name it Fluffy the caterpillar

I hereby name it Fluffy the caterpillar

Baby pit viper

Baby pit viper

If you can find the living being in this picture

If you can find the living being in this picture

We rested there for a while looking at the peak of Eri Kallu which was partially hidden behind the clouds in the middle of the day. Lunch was good and we were good to go.

Eri Kallu peak

Eri Kallu peak

With heavy tummies we started towards the peak of Eri Kallu. Since the distance between the clearing and the peak was not much as per the measuring scale of a trekker and looked clear enough from far. It was only as and when we neared the peak that we realized that there is no single path to reach the summit and the guide was walking way ahead of us as if we would fly ourselves along with him. The rocks embedded beneath the clusters of grass and some being wobbly made it difficult for us to get a proper foothold as the ascent became steeper. Lavanya was heard arguing about the angle of the mountain slope, whether it is 45° or 60°. To me, it didn’t make a difference as we had reached the peak.

There are two sides of the Eri Kallu peak. The first side you reach when you trek is a gigantic boulder which looks like a left mug shot of a grumpy old man.

Grumpy old man of Eri Kallu

Grumpy old man of Eri Kallu

I got mobile network there and immediately received an image of fog covered hillocks from my friend Raghavendra. In return I sent him an image of fog covered boulder in front of me.

At the peak

At the peak

Later we laughed our asses off when we got to know that we were in the neighbouring mountain ranges; he was in Kudremukha and I was in Charmadi. We passed some time there looking around, looking down at the village from where we started our trek, even a dam somewhere far from us with Netravati River flowing through it. Then we saw a low passage at the brink of another boulder. This passage leads to the other side of Eri Kallu peak and you have to almost crawl through this passage.

Passage to other side

Passage to other side

While we were crawling, it started to rain. We had left our backpacks at the spot where we had had lunch and I had left my camera in my backpack there and had only taken my One Plus One to the peak which is good enough. When it rained, I lost hope on my camera. The other side of the Eri Kallu peak looks like the curved part of a sickle. Though it is fascinating, a single slip of foot will send you tumbling down the slopes to either reach the highway or not. Lavanya, Harsha and Pooja didn’t reach there though. They had peacefully dozed off in a clearing on the way to the peak. After clicking more pictures there, we decided to start downhill so that we could reach the village at the foot of the hill before nightfall.

Unlike much treaded trek trails of Kumara Parvatha or Kodachadri, one cannot find a trail to Eri Kallu at all, neither uphill nor downhill. It is very easy to get lost here. I still wonder what our guide thought about us. He used to get way ahead of us and made it difficult for us to find way up to him. In the process, we got divided into small groups and some of us were perpetually getting lost. While finding way, I stepped on a loose stone, lost balance, fell face forward on a rock and hit my forehead and palm to the sharp edge. Later I found myself pacifying others around me and telling them that I was fine and not feeling dizzy. From there, my backpack was carried by Devendra all the way to the village. We had picked our backpacks on our way down and I found that my camera was safe. The best part of getting lost on the way down was Mani the dog finding the lost members and showing them the way to reunite with others! Truly, Mani was an example of a dog’s loyalty.

By identifying leeches clinging to each other’s legs and flicking them off us often, we some reached a hotel in the village. There we got to know that our resting place for that night, the premises of a temple in the village, has been given for camping of PWD workers who were helping out with the widening of the highway in that mountain range. With some good thinking on spot, Harsha decided to take us to Shree Kshetra Dharmasthala for ever-delicious dinner at the Sri Manjunatha Swamy temple and managed to get two rooms, one for girls and one for boys, in one of the lodges there. We freshened up and dozed off as soon as possible. Our tired bodies provided dreamless blissful sleep.

Next day, we went to Ujire for breakfast and from there our previous day’s guide’s father took us to Ermayi falls.

Ermayi Waterfall

Ermayi Waterfall

Eri Kallu’s Ermayi falls, which is two-tiered and about 4 kilometre walk interior from the highway. The water fall forms a small pool in front of it before flowing further. Pool is deep where the water falls and shallow away from that point, so it is convenient to play in water there. When I stepped into water, tiny fingerlings, or maybe those fishes grow only up to that size, started pecking on a dried leech bite on my foot. I was told by my mother years ago that fishes feed on the dead matter on your body when you relax in streams for some time. Prithayan, Pooja, Devendra and Chakravarthy swam to the rock behind the water fall and back, and rest of us swam in the intermediate area of the pool. Just when we were about to leave from there, a group of drunk men reached there and behaved not so nicely. They were already drunk, but had brought a chiller full of beer with them. Lavanya made a point out loud that the local guides should not bring such people to tourist and picnic spots. After that, we walked back to the highway.

When we reached the highway, our van was not at the spot where Harsha had asked the driver to park. We thought he might have parked a little ahead or down the road from there and looked for it, but in vain. Harsha had left his cell phone in the van itself so we couldn’t even call the driver. Then Devendra remembered that he had left one of his two mobiles on the dashboard of the van and called his number, but the driver neither picked the call nor disconnected it. We all had even left our wallets in the van thinking we wouldn’t need money at the Ermayi Waterfalls. After waiting for a long time, Jitendra offered to go looking for the driver and van in Ujire hoping that he might be there having lunch. Harsha had forty rupees on him and he gave all of it to Jitendra and he left to Ujire. 9While we waited there on the sides of the road, some of us ate relentlessly and some shared stories of their life back in city. After so many attempts at communicating with Jitendra, we finally got to know that he found our driver and van, and was coming back. It turned out that the driver was getting a minor service for the van so that there won’t be any problem for our night journey back to Bangalore. Well, after such a suspense-filled tense time, we moved towards Alekan waterfalls.

Alekan Waterfall

Alekan Waterfall

You might have passed by Alekan waterfalls while travelling from Charmadi to Kottigehara. This waterfall is in the valley next to the road and gets its name from the Alekan Estate above the road. There is one steep path down to the base of the Alekan waterfall and everybody ventured down to see it from as near as possible, except I and Lavanya as we stayed back by the roadside with our guide of the day, sitting on the high curbs of the road with our legs dangling down to the valley. We, still away from the waterfall could understand when it started raining, but our group near the waterfall couldn’t understand whether it was rain or water droplets splattering from the waterfall! We bought corn cobs from a street vendor and got into our van and rushed to Kottigehara to drop our guide there.

Kottigehara is a junction which connects to Dharmasthala, Belur, Mudigere, Kalasa, Horanadu, Sringeri, Agumbe and Bangalore. Apart from this reason why people actually stop at this junction is to have yummy neeru dose and tenginakaayi chutney (coconut chutney).

Neeru dose-tenginakaayi chutney-sambar

Neeru dose-tenginakaayi chutney-sambar

We had sumptuous of neeru dose in a hotel and good lemon soda at a random stall. The lady at the shop was telling us about how her toddler son comes to help her only when there are bunch of absolute strangers at the shop so that he can see them at close proximity. Before we could dive into another hotel for more neeru dose, we started towards Bangalore.

We had good dinner at a dhaba on the way to Bangalore. We dozed off after singing random songs and woke up at 3am on Monday in Bangalore. I had told Harsha that I would finish writing about this Charmadi ghat trek to Eri Kallu in 15 days. Reminiscing about the previous two days, I zoomed towards my home in an Ola cab.

Ladakh: A Prologue

We were scheduled to leave from Bangalore by evening of 21st Jan 2015 for New Delhi from where we were to board a flight to Leh in the early hours next day. We were mighty excited to go on the fabulous Chadar trek – the frozen river trek – famed internationally. This trip was organized by Travel My Routes, a trip and treks organizing venture run by one of my friends. But on 17th we were informed that Chadar trek has been cancelled for the year due to landslide in the Zanskar region which had led to blockage of the river, formation of a wide lake and evacuation of the inhabitants by Indian Army. We were of course disappointed; saying we were not disappointed would be an earnest lie. In the face of this, the tour operator gave us the following options as per his convenience and asked to choose any one of them:

  • Sham Valley trek, which can be done in any season.
  • Only 50% refund of our trip fee since he had invested a lot to arrange our trip already (yeah, that’s what he told us).
  • Stok Kangri trek in June.
  • Markha Valley Trek in July.

I was supposed to go on Chadar trek with twenty-four people and out of twenty-four I knew only six people. As Chadar trek was not one of the options, five people chose to go on Stok Kangri trek which is one of the toughest treks in the world and all those five were out of the six people I knew in that group. My friend Supreeth, the one remaining, knew almost everybody in that left over group and I knew only him. We decided to go ahead with others to Ladakh on Sham Valley Trek as we had never been to Ladakh before.

*Kindly spare me from your opinions if you have taken the English meaning of sham and kindly forgive me for not being able to give you the native meaning of the same.

All nineteen of us were not traveling to Leh together. We were divided into several groups and individuals and reached New Delhi at different hours though we reached Leh at about the same time. On 20th, Supreeth was informed that our flight from Bangalore was delayed and would reach New Delhi only after our scheduled flight from New Delhi to Leh would have departed. It made no sense at all. Since he was busy, he asked me to call and request to reschedule our Bangalore-New Delhi flight and I was informed that the most feasible one would make us wait for seven hours in New Delhi airport. I said “Oh, well, what the hell” and promptly asked the Jet Connect customer care executive to advance us to the feasible one without consulting Supreeth who was later grumbling for a long time that he had to take extra half a day off.

It so happens that I and my friend cannot keep our mouths shut for a decent duration of time and can go on blabbering about anything and anybody. We made fun of a long bearded guy at Bangalore airport, we made fun of a middle-aged female sitting next to Supreeth on flight and we made fun of many other people whose description if I give here they might find me and kill me. Taken style – Liam Neeson. Once we reached New Delhi airport, we found our fellow trekkers one after another. Initially, people had a discussion of going out of the airport and roam around New Delhi at mid night. I, on the other hand, left them to take the lead and found solace in a bookstore inside the airport. They voted against going out and pulled me out of my paradise. We thought we will “sit and sleep” in the butt-numbing cold steel chairs arranged in a single file in the waiting lounge of the airport. Most of us couldn’t even take a nap. I, being a person who is perfectly capable of developing narcolepsy whenever necessary, wore my down jacket the other way around, covered my face with its hood and dozed off. Every now and then I was awakened by the joining of other fellow trekkers. Finally I woke up to find a charging point for my cell phone. I and Supreeth went around in search of a suitable charging point and in the process saw few more of our fellow trekkers who had dozed off on the other part of the airport.

*Note to New Delhi airport officials: You have lousy cell phone charging points.

By the time we boarded our flight to Leh, we had found all our fellow trekkers. Then too, we were divided into groups and flew to Leh separately. Our flight was delayed by two hours due to dense fog that gripped New Delhi and refused to budge. In order to pacify disgruntled passengers, the indolent air hostess provided us with early breakfast. Somehow, air traffic people gave a green signal to our pilot to take off and we flew to Leh. As soon as we entered the mountain range, our flight became turbulent and was wobbling in mid-air. Supreeth, seated next to me, was petrified that we would go down dying and there I was excited, clapping and laughing again at inappropriate time. Snow covered mountain ranges of LadakhWhen I looked out of the windows, I was greeted by the mountain ranges of Ladakh with their body covered with snow making them look like black forest cake covered with icing! Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, LehOur flight’s awesome pilot finally got us landed safe and sound at Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport which is allowed for public utility only for four to five hours in the morning after which it is only for the utility of the militia. Partial map of LadakhWhile we were waiting for our backpacks, our eyes hovered over Ladakh’s map hung on one of the walls of Leh airport and I found something interesting; a place named Skyu which is located near Stok Kangri. Then I started saying “Skyu you” to Supreeth and it just went on for a long time. After landing in Leh, we finally and officially met everyone in our group and drove away in cabs to our rooms booked for our stay in the town till we went on trek and after coming back.

A view from my hotel roomWhen we reached our lodgings in Bimla guesthouse, we were told that there were only three rooms available there, so only six people could stay there. Since we were six females in the group, we all stayed there. All the men moved to neighbouring lodges, Dolma and Indus guesthouse, where rooms were arranged for them. Our bellboy at Bimla guesthouse, Dhangiri Bom, was very courteous and helpful (guys in our group think that he is helpful only to girls.) Heaters, either electric or gas, are a must in rooms and houses there, else you will be shivering and soon freezing; we were of course provided with heaters. After we settled in, we were given hot water to freshen up and were asked to use it immediately else water would cool down. After everyone got ready, we went to a small eatery called Punjabi Dhaba in Leh market for lunch. They had only limited items ready and for rest we were to give order. So, we went ahead with what was ready. We binge on Chole-Bature and Dosas. We were eating like pigs from our plates and others plates too. It is true that drop in temperature makes humans hungry.

5. Name of a shop in LehAfter lunch, we were shown around the Leh market if anybody wanted to buy anything. Market there is full of shops selling trinkets, woollen clothing or Kesar and dry fruits. Since I had taken necessary things for the trip from Bangalore, I didn’t buy anything though I was tempted to buy a pair of cute gloves knitted in woollen and these gloves would form a flip-cap over the fingers. Shops in Ladakh have uncommon names that sometimes make me laugh.

Two of us had a wonderful idea that people drop inhibitions when they are high and bought booze for everyone and that helped everyone in getting to know each other. It was truly a noble deed. When we got high, but still could stand on our own, we all danced to some Bollywood music with Satya swirling torch above us to give disco lights effect. Thus, swaying mindlessly, we all became friends.

Sindhu GhatNext day was meant for sightseeing. We were taken to Sindhu Ghat where River Sindhu flows and is quite accessible at this point.Sindhu Ghat After clicking innumerable photos there, we moved towards Shey Palace where I saw a monastery for the first time in my life. Outside Shey PalaceGoing up the hillock where Shey Palace and further up from there itself a small trek for us. Prayer flags above Shey PalaceBy the time I reached the top where prayer flags were fluttering, I had already thrown away my down jacket. View of the surrounding village from the top of Shey PalaceAfter watching the serene landscape around there, we got down and walked towards our van. Some of us had decided not to reach the prayer flags and gone to a frozen lake opposite Shey Palace. When we saw what they were doing, we went down running to them!Frozen lake opposite to Shey Palace

Ducks on the frozen lake opposite Shey PalaceI was apprehensive to even step on the frozen lake. After the initial trepidation, I found myself sliding, skidding and dancing on it! Whattey fun! At one point of time, about ten of us were standing together and I was shit scared that ice will break under our feet and we all will go down. Then came along five ducks; one white and four grey.White beauty They too posed along with us and soon quacked away. After making sure that we had sufficient number of photos of this frozen lake as well, we moved towards Thiksey monastery.

Monks playing football outside Thiksey monasteryAs we neared Thiksey monastery, we could see monks playing football among them. Passing by them, we walked into the monastery. Buddha's statue at Thiksey monasteryAfter “checking out” one of the biggest Buddha statues in Ladakh, we clicked more pictures all over the monastery. One of us reminded that army museum called Hall of Fame would close by 5:30 and we all rushed to “check it out” too.

Hall of Fame, a tribute to our brave soldiers and martyrs in Ladakh and a gentle reminder to all Indian citizens what our soldiers are going through every day to protect us and our country. When you read about them and what conditions they are subjected to, you can feel blood racing through your system even in those sub-zero temperatures. All these things reminded me of a review that I had read about a book called The Himalayan Blunder by Brigadier John Dalvi. Hall of Fame also gives you details about Ladakh’s demography, flora and fauna. War memorial at Hall of FameBehind this museum is a war memorial where you won’t be surprised if you feel your eyes welling up. After few of us bought souvenirs at the museum-owned shop, we practically raced to Shanti Stupa.

Shanti StupaShanti Stupa is a peace memorial built to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. It is white circular granary-like building situated on a hillock. As usual, I and Supreeth were making fun of that also by calling it Shanti Thuppa (Thuppa means ghee in Kannada). We also managed to disturb a couple trying to get their picture clicked before sunset. After realizing that we won’t be able to get anymore pictures, we decided to go back to our lodgings.

I honestly don’t remember where I ate when, but I remember what all I ate! There is of course Punjabi Dhaba. In the same lane there was a restaurant that is supposed to be a Kashmiri restaurant, but didn’t have any Kashmiri dish on their menu. Just ate the same roti, naan and curry which I would get in Bengaluru too. There was a Tibetan restaurant where only I, Supreeth and three more people went to have breakfast on the morning of the day we left for Sham Valley trek. There we ordered momos which were served steaming hot along with some kind of ultra-spicy chutney. We also order for coffee there which was disappointingly watery. After dinner, we returned to our lodgings to discuss about next day plans and play Mafia.

I used to be a person who hated playing Mafia from the bottom of my heart. I mean, what kind of game is it? One god forsaken person will play God and chooses among the players to be villagers, cop, doctor, mafia and so on. Oh, God! I can’t explain this game. Kindly ask Google for the rules and the game boils down to identify Mafia members and save others. Well, I wanted to play a card game called bluff and everyone else opted to play Mafia. So, I opted to play Devil. Buhuhahaha! When people started discussing who’s who, I was irritating Satya, who was playing God, and was giving out hints to others. I even got rebuked for that and I told Satya “God is gube” (gube means owl in Kannada). No offense to all god-fearing people out there reading this blog. For unknown reasons, they refused to take my hints and made mistakes. After sometime, even Supreeth got bored and joined me in irritating Satya. Mission accomplished!

Next morning after breakfast, we left for Likir from where our Sham Valley trek was to start. On the way we saw an even bigger frozen lake on which people were practising ice skating. Till then, I used to think it happened only in Canada. It brought back memories of the movie Raising Helen in which a team of pastors play ice hockey with Queen’s We Will Rock You playing in the background. Ice hockey on frozen lakeJust as I was thinking this, I actually sighted a team practising ice hockey in a separate area on the same lake. We lost our minds soon enough, freaked out, slipped, slid, glided, twisted and turned like authentic lunatics brought from a place where it is not just cold enough to freeze. After an hour or so, our trek guide Mr.Stanjin (about whose name we made a lot of adult remarks) asked us to get back into our van as it was getting late for us to reach Likir.

Sindhu-Zanskar sangamWe passed by the point where river Sindhu (also known as Indus) unites with river Zanskar. How shall I describe this place to you? It looks like a painter’s palette with dunes of white, brown and blue colours running down with excess water. After breaking ourselves free from the spell of this beauty, we stopped at Nimmo village to have lunch at one of the eateries there. Hot and spicy momos and thukpa; perfect combo for that climate. Later we were transported to the point where the region of Likir starts.

After being dropped off by our van at this starting point, our guide walked us through troughs and crests in that chilling desert. Not steep; just like an evening walk. As we walked, the heat from within was enough along with down jackets and thermal wear to ward off the chill. After walking for a kilometre or so, people lagged one behind the other despite reminding about nearing dusk. When we were about to enter Likir village, our guide pointed towards a hillock and told us that he can take us to Likir monastery if we wish to go there. Since we were up for anything, we said yes for that too. So, our guide asked us to start walking fast to reach the monastery before closing time. For some time people walked faster only to slow down to take pictures again. I am a kind of person who will not take pictures anywhere and everywhere, so I kept walking ahead with our guide while our men and hengasarapalya (this is what I used to call the other five women in the group; only Supreeth knew till date) slowed down badly. What hengasarapalya means in Kannada is women’s village. Why I suddenly termed them on the whole like that, I don’t know. Anyway, by the time I and our guide reached the monastery, others were still climbing up.

Likir monasteryAt the peak we saw a gigantic Buddha statue, gold-plated, with the Sun almost set in the background. Can you imagine the sheen around it? Well, by the time we went around the monastery and came out of it everything was dark and how we stomped downhill I don’t know. I just remember that some of us slipped on the ice that had formed on some of the steps. After dropping us at the beginning of Likir, cook and helpers had gone into the village to pitch tents and prepare food for us. Since night had started its duty, our guide called his crew and asked to bring the van to the foothill and asked us to keep walking. Thus, we walked not only to the foothill, but up to the village junction from where our van took us to our tents where with delicious and sumptuous food we marked the end of our first day on Sham Valley trek.

In the morning I saw Srivardhan scampering around to charge his cell phone. After some time, I removed his cell phone and put mine to charge. He didn’t know what I did. The best things about mornings there were not only good bowel movements, but also frost that had formed on us while we were asleep and us standing with our bums to the campfire. After freshening up and breakfast, we moved towards Yangthang.

On the way to YangthangWith previous day’s experience, I had understood that I would stay warm as long as I would be moving, so I ditched my down jacket and trekked comfortably wearing a fleece jacket. Satya broke the camera lens of his cell phone and was like what the hell… By the time we had covered half distance between Likir and Yangthang, Srivardhan had given up. It had been almost two years since he had trekked or done anything physically excruciating and he was strained. He took his own time to reach the end point of second day’s trek from where we were again picked by our van to the place where our tents were pitched. And man….that place was mind-blowing!

Second day’s camping site in Yangthang was on the bank of a stream which was frozen half way. We reached there by noon and Srivardhan dozed off soon enough. I and Supreeth were as usual chattering some nonsense when Deepika, Satya and Satish joined us. We started playing bluff in one of the tents till evening. Fed up of playing, we came out to find everybody asleep in their tents and only Soumya and Lakshmi sitting next to the stream. Finding where the ice is hard enough to walk on, we crossed the stream to the other side only after clicking pictures in between (Lakshmi has not shared those pictures yet, even after four months since this trip. Even Keerthana has not shared). We took more pictures on the other side of the stream too. When we saw that others were waking up and it was getting dark too, we tried to go back to the campfire, but saw Srivardhan coming towards us. He announced that he was wearing 8 layers of clothes and had only stepped of his tent to get a picture of him standing with snow cupped in his palms. After fulfilling his wish, we headed back to campfire where others had already huddled. Not knowing what to do, Deepika asked Supreeth to sing and he sang all the songs that I had managed to detest. After dinner, we played dumb charades. I was so sleepy that I couldn’t even guess Inglorious Bastards. I don’t even know how I reached my tent and dozed off. I only remember waking up to one of the crew members greeting us with chai.

Every morning we had to defrost ourselves at the campfire. After breakfast we prepared ourselves to move towards Hemis when, out of nowhere, an old lady appeared with all smiles. We were told that Jullay means Hello in Ladakhi language, so we said Jullay to her as well. Later we got to know from our guide that she is the owner of the land by the stream on which we had camped the previous night. She was there to collect rent from us for a night’s camping. It is a lucrative business in Ladakh to rent out properties to tourists to make money, which is not bad at all. Well, our path towards Hemis was tar road in the beginning and later turned into mud roads. It was a good trek on the third day too. My doodle on snowI trekked easily by stopping here and there doodling on patches of snow. Pugmark of Snow LeopardWe even came across pugmarks of Snow Leopards, but we were unfortunate enough to not see them in real. We passed through mounts of variable sizes and one such mount caught my sight. Modaka GuddaIt was exactly in the shape of Modaka, a sweet usually offered to Lord Ganesh and eaten by devotees. Thus, I named it Modaka Gudda (means a hillock that looks like modaka.) Then we descended into Hemis village.On the way to Hemis

I absolutely love the gullies of Hemis! They are brown walled and narrow through which one yak at a time can pass in one direction. I mean these gullies were cute! Yes, gullies were cute! Our camping site for that night was an open ground and this time we had company. There were two other groups that had camped in that ground near us. Our crew was still preparing for evening snacks and dinner for night, so we started playing games that were long forgotten since childhood. On a vast patch of slippery snow, we formed two teams and played lagori (a game famous in rural parts of India which requires one team to stack flat pebbles and other team to stop them.) After we got fed up of lagori, we played Kho Kho. The best part of this was to watch Venky dodge the chaser of the opposite team. It was like he ran, flew and rolled on the snow-covered ground all at the same time! It was a treat to watch him! I don’t remember who won the game, but we all were exhausted and sloshed. Our guide told he would take us to Hemis monastery. By then, I and Supreeth were so damn tired of seeing so many monasteries that we simply opted out of that excursion and chose to play card games in a tent; me, Supreeth, Satya, Satish and Srivardhan. When people returned from Hemis monastery, Deepika came in to tell us that they sighted a fox, but stayed back to play Donkey with us. Then came in Keshava and Lakshmi. So, that makes eight people in a 3-people-tent along with three huge backpacks. Supreeth got a wonderful idea of making poker chips out of paper that Satish had in his bag. And things just got rolling. We successfully played umpteen number of poker games before the lighting of the campfire was announced. Our crew had brought locally prepared liquor called Chhaang along with them which was offered to us too and we didn’t refuse to take it. It was tangy, light and didn’t kick in at all. At the same time, one of the other two groups there played loud music. What else could we ask for to commemorate the last night on this Sham Valley trek? But our crew had baked a cake for us to mark the last night. We were touched. We know not how they baked such a delicious cake without an oven in that open ground of Hemis village, but we thanked them for this gesture. That night we played mafia again, all of us this time. And the worst part is Satya always chose me to be a mafia member! And everybody could easily guess. Cheater! After this game, our guide informed us that we all had to wear down jackets and sunglasses for next day as we would be going to higher altitudes on our way to Ang. With this instruction, we got into our tents. That night, I packed myself with a fleece jacket, down jacket and two sleeping bags. Oxygen level had already gone down and it was suffocating too to sleep packed like that. Somehow I dozed off only to wake up with frost layer on everything and everybody.

Our last day of Sham Valley trek saw us defrosting ourselves again, freshen up, eat sumptuous breakfast, pack and leave. It was slightly uncomfortable to trek wearing a down jacket. That day while trying to run, the loop of my one shoe lace got stuck with the lace hook of another shoes and I fell smack down on the snow. I did get hurt at the hip-joint as that was what hit the ground first, but I could trek ahead without any problem. Of all the four days of trekking, last day’s was difficult comparatively as it was all uphill. Keshava, who had got Quechua as his nickname by then, was the first one to end our trek at Ang. He didn’t lose his pace and ended the trek without getting exhausted. It was only noon when we reached Ang and were damn hungry. So our crew prepared chai and soupy Maggi noodles for us. While they were preparing this, some of us were busy clicking pictures with Ladakhi kids who had popped out of their homes to see us. Supreeth is not fond of Maggi and refused to eat it, so I took two servings plus his share too! Hot soupy Maggi noodles amidst frost covered mountain ranges. Yummmm! After we were done eating and drinking, we were taken back to Leh in the van marking the completion of Sham Valley trek.

With only two days left in Ladakh, we wanted to make most of it. Magnetic HillAfter the morning rituals, we started our second session of sightseeing with Magnetic Hill. This is what Magnetic Hill doesIt is said that Magnetic Hill has the capability of pulling a small vehicle towards it and the same was written on the road in front of the hill. After clicking pictures there too, we moved towards Lamayuru. MoonlandOn the way, we passed through Moonland. When we asked for an explanation why it is called as Moonland, our driver told us that the terrain of that area looked like that of Moon! We were dumbfounded by this answer. Anyway, we mindlessly clicked pictures there as well and proceeded to Lamayuru to see yet another monastery.

Lamayuru monasteryLamayuru’s monastery is said to be one of the oldest gompas (monasteries) in Ladakh. When we were taken on a tour of this monastery, we saw different types of fruits placed in front of each idol of the monks as an offering for them. Upon seeing grapes among the fruits, Deepika plucked one grape fruit and popped it into her mouth saying it is prasad (an offering to god/goddess which is later eaten by devotees) for us! I still laugh about it. Frozen waterfall on the way to LamayuruOn our way back from Lamayuru, we found a frozen waterfall on the side of the highway. Had we gone on the Chadar trek, then on the last day we would have passed by a gigantic frozen waterfall. Since we had lost that opportunity, we lost our minds when we saw this version of frozen waterfall. We posed relentlessly in front of it. Deepika, Supreeth and Satya even fell down while trying to climb it. Further from there we again stopped at a point to walk down to a bridge on Leh-Srinagar highway. A view from the bridge on Leh-Srinagar highwayView from that bridge is spectacular. You get to see how aqua blue colour actually looks. On our way back to Leh, we visited Pathar Sahib Gurudwara. Being agnostic, I cannot really comment about their devotion, but anyone can learn about hospitality from the Sikhs. After praying, when we were about to leave, we were asked to take chai and snacks. After a little chit-chat with the person in charge there, we went back to our lodgings.

KhardunglaNext day, we left for Khardungla where you will find the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet above the sea level. KhardunglaFurther from Khardungla lies Nubra Valley, where you will find the famous central Asian double humped camels, and Siachen base camp, which is at the Sino-India border. There will always be tight security on the way to Khardungla. North Pullu and South Pullu, where Indian Army is permanently present, form gateways to Khardungla. We, who were already stunned at -12°C, were informed that on the previous night the temperature had dropped to -40°C. We could only imagine how our soldiers tolerated this. Upon reaching Khardungla, we saw a board saying that we should not stay outside for more than 20-25 minutes. We all ran out of our van, clicked pictures everywhere possible and ran back into our van. Soon, Satya and Supreeth announced that they want to pee from the highest motorable road! I was like what kind of wish is this and I still tease Supreeth about this! It is quite possible to doze off at those altitudes due to low oxygen level; I did doze off only to be woken up by Supreeth again and again. Supreeth was obsessed over a random song which caught his attention. We couldn’t identify the language of the song and even the van driver who played that song didn’t know. He was cribbing for that song all the way.

From Khardungla, we went to Alchi gompa. I must tell you, I have seen enough gompas for my whole life already. Anyway, the last gompa to visit was in Alchi where I actually saw Lotsa temple. Yes, you read it right. I was chanting “I saw Lotsa temple” nonstop and it took Venky awhile to understand what I actually meant! Satish bought postcards sold there about Alchi gompa. When we opened them, each of the postcards had a picture of some naked goddess’ painting. Again, we got a reason to make fun of something. From there we went back to Leh for lunch. After lunch, we completed shopping for souvenirs. I and Supreeth bought apricots. We returned to our lodgings to finish packing. SouvenierThat night, Satish told us that each of us will get a postcard as a simple souvenir and everyone must sign in others’ postcard and could even write a message. We all cheerfully wrote for each other. That night, we played mafia again and also bluff. Most of us had flight to Delhi way too early in the wee hours of next morning, yet they were awake till late night; I, Supreeth, Lakshmi and Deepika had the last flight booked from Leh; Satish, Satya and Ashwini stayed back to visit Pangong lake.

Supreeth had not taken a printout of our tickets thinking that he can show the booking mail to airport security guards. When tried to open the mail in his cell phone, it just kept loading and loading. Somehow, we managed to get in and also check in. Just minutes before boarding, we were asked to identify our luggage. It was an extra measure taken at Leh airport to avoid transporting unclaimed luggage, but it could have made us miss our flight. That made me and Supreeth scoot around the airport looking for our baggage! Somehow, we left from Leh. After reaching New Delhi, we didn’t know how to pass time. We got to know that Srivardhan and Purushotham were in another waiting lounge upstairs. Lakshmi and Deepika had told us that their flight to Bengaluru was very late in the night, at about 11:00pm or so. When they went to ask for advancement in their flight, they got to know that Deepika was to fly with us at 4:00pm or so and only Lakshmi had to wait for so long. Leaving Lakshmi alone, I, Supreeth, Deepika and Purushotham boarded our flight with Srivardhan in the next one.

Living with 17 absolute strangers (Supreeth excluded, of course) for 10 days was not a first in my life. But not bathing for 10 days was definitely a first in my life! Even after four months, we all are still in touch, thanks to WhatsApp and Facebook! Supreeth searched and finally found his song that turned out to be in Marathi; song called Mala Ved Laagale Premaache. I don’t know how it would have turned out if we had been on Chadar trek, but I am glad I was on this epic trip. This is just a prologue to my next trip to this heaven on Earth.

Kodaikanal

If you have attended any Indian wedding, you would have seen either an artificial waterfall or water fountain at the entrance of the wedding hall to welcome guests. In the same way, Kodaikanal welcomes you with Silver Cascade waterfalls. Not much to see around it; you can’t go in and play either. You simply have to watch water flow down the layered rocks like flexible columns in intricate patterns that cascade. This renowned hill station in the Dindigul district of Tamilnadu, India, will make you forget your bustling lives in metros. Narrow gullies, numerous thrift shops alternated with lodges and restaurants, and tea estates. Kodaikanal, though has come to commercialize itself, has not lost its small town charm.

Snooze Inn

Snooze Inn

Though our check-in time was at 9am, Mr. Vincent, the manager at Snooze Inn where we had booked a twelve bed dormitory, allowed us to check in by 6:30am just because we reached Kodaikanal way too early. After eleven people scrubbed themselves well enough to look good in the hundreds of pictures to be taken later, we started towards Berijam Lake in the Tempo Traveller we had hired from Bengaluru. On the way we got to know from other tourists that we need a prior permission from the forest department to see the lake as it is situated inside forest area. Since we had another day to spare in Kodaikanal, we decided to get permission and see Berijam Lake next day. As Pillar Rocks and Green Valley View Point were on the way back to town, we decided to see them.

Guna Caves

Guna Caves

On the way to Pillar Rocks, we stopped to see Guna Caves. You need to park your vehicle in the parking lot and walk for about kilometer into the jungle to reach the caves. These caves are not horizontal on the ground going deep into some mountain, but plunge into the Earth. What I mean to say is Guna Caves are deep cracks in that certain area which sometimes appear to be all-consuming pits. Around these caves are trees whose roots are seen above the damp soil surface making tendril-like patterns where one can pose in different postures to get their pictures clicked with many other random people in the background. Yes, too many tourists. The area around Guna Caves is covered with moss which makes wearing footwear with good grip necessary if you want to wander around. You have these pits on one side and the valley on the other.

Area Around Guna Caves

Area Around Guna Caves

Pillar Rocks

Pillar Rocks

After clicking our share of pictures at Guna Caves, we moved towards Pillar Rocks. You can see gigantic yellow coloured rocks standing vertically one behind the other, attached to the neighbouring mountain, and the valley in front of them. You need to stand in the open air corridor opposite to the rocks and see them from far. With absolutely nothing to do there apart from staring at the rocks and the valley, I bought a small container filled with soap water and a loop attached to its lid. At least blowing bubbles is a good time pass.

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

As we had already observed that the valley looks same from every view-point, we gave Caps Fly Valley and Green Valley View Point a miss. We had sumptuous lunch and rushed towards Kodaikanal Lake.

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake is situated in the middle of the town. Surrounded by busy lanes, shops selling homemade chocolates, eucalyptus oil and many other herbal products, and cycle rental shops, you can rent pedaling boats as well as rowing boats from the boat houses at the lake.

Boat House

Boat House

Only one hour was left before closing time of the lake when we reached a boating house. We wanted pedaling boats and that boat house rented out only rowing boats. We went around the lake by walk, for about two kilometers, to another boat house and rented three 4-seater pedaling boats for thirty minutes each. While pedaling, we could drink in the beauty of the hillocks of Nilgiri range around us. It felt like an insanely huge bowl formed by the greenery covered mountains is filled with water and we were tiny specks floating in it.

Ice Cream Time!

Ice Cream Time!

We even bought ice cream cones and candies from a vendor who was selling them inside the premise of the lake without the knowledge of the authorities, but we didn’t throw the covers and sticks into water. Remember, you should never pollute the environment. There was an old tree that grew into the water and every other person wanted to click a picture with it, under it, over it and hanging from it. We spent a lot of time with the tree and by the time we moved away from it, we had only 15 minutes left to pedal the boat for about a kilometer. We knew we would be late, so one of us tactfully said “let’s extend it for half an hour more and make it totally one hour. We will pay for the extra half an hour once we reach the boat house.” Thus, the extra half an hour also got extend to forty five minutes and people were waiting for us to leave so that they could close the lake for the day. They didn’t even ask us to pay for the extra time! Even after boating, we were not satisfied.

Cycling Around Kodaikanal Lake

Cycling Around Kodaikanal Lake

So, we hired bicycles to go around the lake once more. It was twilight already and that didn’t stop us. With all the shops lighting their colourful lights by the lake, the view was mesmerizing. Don’t miss cycling around the lake; it is for about five kilometers perimeter. Don’t race; relish the twilight beauty of the magnanimous Kodaikanal Lake.

Twilight View of Kodaikanal Lake

Twilight View of Kodaikanal Lake

Kothu Parota and Regular Parota

Kothu Parota and Regular Parota

After cycling, we returned to our dormitory only to go out again for dinner. We had Kothu Parota at a nearby restaurant. Did you ask what Kothu Parota is? It is regular parota shredded, mixed with curry of your choice (I ordered Kothu Parota with chicken curry and scrambled eggs) and mashed. A good night’s sleep after traveling is very much necessary to enjoy the next day.

One of us woke up early next morning and got permission for the whole group from the officials at the Forest Department to go to Berijam Lake. Rest of us freshened up and picked him up on the way to the lake. They say that only twenty permissions are given per day, but once we reached the lake we saw there were more than twenty groups with permission from the Forest Department.

Berijam Lake

Berijam Lake

Getting back to the point, I will say Berijam Lake is overrated, that is only if you see the lake alone. The scenery around it is soothing with country-style cottages near it reminding you of the movies Leap Year and The Holiday.

Cottages Around Berijam Lake

Cottages Around Berijam Lake

We jumped from here and there to get pictures clicked; by then it was lunch time. I ordered for 2 chapatis and Chettinad chicken. Authentic Chettinad chicken will be red in colour and slightly moist which can be made into gravy as per preference; it will be spicy too. If your curry does not have any of the characteristics mentioned, then it is simply not Chettinad chicken. Even after eating chapatis and Chettinad chicken I was not satisfied, so ordered chicken biriyani. It was yum! One should never miss chicken biriyani when in Tamilnadu. You will get variety of chicken biriyani in Tamilnadu and each one is as good as the other. Lip smacking!

After lunch, we moved towards Dolphin’s Nose. Not the zenith, but one of the edges of the mountain looks like snout of a Dolphin (not exactly, but yeah….better to be called Dolphin’s Nose than anything else). If you google out Dolphin’s Nose, you will get its location in Ooty, Coonoor and Kodaikanal. I used to think it is in Coonoor until I actually visited it in Kodaikanal.

Dolphin's Nose

Dolphin’s Nose

When we reached the snout, there were two backpackers from mid-East and a British woman at the edge. The mid-Eastern woman was strumming guitar and singing in her native language peacefully. It was quaint watching her. They didn’t seem to be perturbed by our presence. Be careful when trying to get your pictures clicked there as it is pretty dangerous. One poke and you will be straight away sent to visit Hades. After being dare devils by posing at the tip of the snout, we walked back a little only to take a deviation towards Echo Point. I realized my voice is not loud enough as whatever I shouted didn’t sound back, but it worked for my friends. We spent some time there and left at dusk.

Echo Point

Echo Point

On our way back, we stopped at a Government recognized shop to buy homemade chocolates, spices, oils and anything that was on sale; not only for ourselves, but also for friends back home. They make awesome souvenirs and nobody will refuse them. Tired, but jovial and salutary with the excursion, we drifted towards Bengaluru.

Budget: Rs.3000 – 5000/- per head. Depending on the luxury you seek, it may exceed.

Who and when: Anytime good for honeymooners and trekkers. If you are seeking spectacular sceneries, then from August to January would be good. If you just want to beat the summer heat, then February to April. For people like me who want to strike off this place from the List-of-Places-to-Visit, anytime will do. The climate will be chill throughout the year.