Archive for the ‘ travel ’ Category

Backpacking trip – Day 5 – Cochin

We reached our next stop in our Kerala leg, Ernakulam, at 2:30 in the morning. We were wondering what to do till the dawn. Instead of hiring a room like we had done throughout the trip, we decided to travel around with our bags. While this was going to stress us, we wanted to have a experience of how it feels. After walking in and around the the bus station for an hour or so, we settled down in the waiting room and decided to catch up on some sleep. While it was difficult to sleep sitting in a waiting room we did mamage to get a bit of sleep. Just before the break of dawn, we boarded a local bus and went to Fort Cochin.

Fish auction at Fort Cochin

Fish auction at Fort Cochin

Fish stocked for auction

Fish stocked for auction

MK playing football with the localites

MK playing football with the localites

Fort Cochin is the place where the Portugese had landed in their search for a sea route to India. It has a nice beach and some Chinese nets that the fishermen use to catch fish at the shores. Being early morning the fishermen had just docked and were auctioning their wares. While I had seen fish auction on Discovery Travel & Living, it was the first time I was seeing it live. MK too was pretty excited looking at the fish aution. They had small fish, big fish, huge fish, squids, crabs, prawns, tiger prawns, and other species which I couldn’t identify. After photographing some of the action, we moved on to the beach. We found some people playing football and MK got instantly excited about it. Upon request they took him into the game and for the next 30 minutes MK was pretty much busy with the game. While he didn’t manage to score any goals, he did show some impressive play. We decided to move on with our trip and we took an auto to Mattancherry palace.

Mattancherry palace is also called Dutch palace for the fact that the Dutch had presented this palace to the King of Kochi in 16th century A.D. It was a pretty interesting place to watch but there were not many exibits to see. So we finished quickly and moved on to the Jewish Synagogue. The place is small and doesn’t have any exquisite art like we see in churches or temples across India. We were told that only 5 Jewish families live in the area now. The rest migrated to Israel recently. We were shown a piece of Torah that was written around the time when Jews landed. It was written on sheep skin. We were shown only one page. The guide went on to explain about the rest of the synagogue.

Radar used in INS Dronacharya

Radar used in INS Dronacharya

Torpedos used on board INS Dronacharya

Torpedos used on board INS Dronacharya

Helicopter used by INS Dronacharya

Helicopter used by INS Dronacharya

Navy arm badges

Navy arm badges

Navy shoulder and cap badges

Navy shoulder and cap badges

Navys officer shoulder badges

Navy's officer shoulder badges

Our next stop was INS Dronacharya. We assumed that it was a decomissioned Indian Navy ship. Instead we were told that they have only displayed some of the parts of the decomissioned ship. We got to see the radars, torpedos, missiles and other weponry used on that ship. They also had the uniforms and badges worn by the crew of INS Dronacharya. We were later shown a video on the history of the Indian Navy which was pretty interesting. It dated from world war II time to the recent Kargil war. After talking to the caretakers about the navy we moved on to have our lunch since we were roaming since the wee hours of the morning.

After having a heavy lunch, we did some window shopping at MG Road. From what I have observed any place that is given Gandhi’s name ends becoming the most commercialized place in the town. We now had to come back to the bus station and book tickets for our final destination, Waynad. During lunch we were discussing whether we have to visit Waynad since it is more of an adventure and trekking kind of place and we have had enough nature darshan in the past few years. So we finally decided to skip Waynad and return to Bangalore. After enquiring at the local railway station we found that no AC sleeper seats were available. We returned to the KSRTC bus station and booked tickets for Bangalore. The surprizing fact was that booking was allowed for only Kerala buses within the bus station. For booking Karnataka state buses, we were directed out of the bus stand to a small shop. It felt a bit ironic that even being a single country we are trying to differentiate each other on regional lines. The tickets were booked for 8 PM and we waited for around 3 hours before boarding the bus back home.

(Additional photos available @ Flickr)

Advertisements

Backpacking trip – Day 4 – Trivandrum

After successfully finishing our Tamilnadu leg we were now starting with our Kerala leg. We reached Trivandrum at 12:00 in the night. After some negotiation with the auto drivers, one of them took us to a nearby hotel called Aishwarya Lodge. After a long and refreshing sleep we freshened up and went to Padmanabha Swamy temple. I must tell, this temple has the biggest fleece scam of all the temples I’ve seen. As soon as we entered we were asked to hire Dhotis. As anywhere in Kerala, any man entering the temple must be wearing a dhoti. As soon as we entered, they thrust a basket of flowers, bananas and coconut and demanded 30 bucks. According to them it was mandatory to offer them. At the next enterance we were thrust a tray full of small oil containers and we were asked to pay 20 bucks for it. And the guy who was manning the lamp where the oil was supposed to be poured demanded another 10 bucks. I was already starting to get pissed at the blatant fleecing when another guy demanded 10 more bucks for letting us visit the gopuram. He didn’t allow anyone to go ahead without visiting the gopuram. I had already lost my mind on this. I somehow controlled myself, since I didn’t want to create a scene in the temple. After having a look at the diety we moved on. On our way out, we visited the royal museum next to the temple. While 2/3rd of it is still getting renovated the part we saw was pretty amazing. They had put wall sized paintings of the King greeting the Dutch when they landed in India and so on and so forth. One exibit that caught my eye was the crystal throne. It was a huge one, completely made of crystal.

One of the places top on our list was the Raja Ravi Varma’s art gallery. We took a local bus to reach the place. There are totally three museums in that premisis. While the biggest is called Chitra gallery, Ravi varma’s gallery is a small building located in a corner. The entrance is same as that of a zoo in the neighbourhood. Looking at the paintings is a delight to the eye. Anyone who admires Da-Vinci’s paintings must have a look at Ravi Varma’s paintings. The notable ones are “Ravana kidnaping Sita” and “Damayanti and the Swan”. The amount of detail that he has captured is mind boggling! While I was dumbfounded by the art, I felt sad about the way they are being maintained. Given these precious pieces of art, in many areas, there is nobody to keep an eye on people touching them. Also there is no protection whatsoever for them. They are just kept open to the incoming wind and dust. When enquired one official said that since these are oil paintings they will catch fungus if they put glass on it. They said they use a varied set of brushes to clean the dust and grime off these paintings every week. I was damn surprised at the ignorance of the officials towards such exquisite pieces. When exiting the museum, I wanted to take a photo of the building for myblog. The cop guarding the place acted rather stubborn telling that photography, even of the building will attract penalty and legal action. Being already pissed at the state of the paintings, I decided not to argue with them and just left. We hadn’t yet planned which place we will visit next. So we decided to go to the bus station, enquire about the available buses and plan there about out next stop. On the way we saw a railway repair garage (the railway station is next to the bus station). Being software guys, we had never seen what goes into a railway coach. We were a bit reluctant about asking the engineers to give us a tour. But we decided to atleast go have a look. While all the mechanics were staring at us, we approached the station engineer and introduced ourselves. We told him that being software engineers we were curious about how the Indian Railways builds and maintains it’s coaches. After verifying some of our credentials (for security purposes) he did explain a bit about the coaches but was pretty discrete about the information he gave (understandable given the security requirements of the country). After taking a few pictures with the mechanics we went to the bus station and booked tickets to Cochin. We visited Indian Coffee house, had snacks and returned to the lodge. We packed our luggage and left for the bus station.

Workers doing maintenance

Workers working on the coach

Wheels disassembled

Wheels disassembled

MK with coach workers

MK with coach workers

Me with coach workers

Me with coach workers

Backpacking trip – Day 3 – Kutralam

Me @ Old Kutralam falls

Me at Old Kutralam falls

MK at Old Kutralam falls

MK at Old Kutralam falls

To reach our next destination, Kutralam, we had to travel for nearly half a day. So we got up early, got ready and boarded a bus to Madurai. It was a 4 hour long journey. At Madurai, we boarded another bus to Kutralam. From what we saw online, we found that Kutralam is pretty near to Madurai. But the buses that go to Kutralam travel a much longer route. So instead of 2 hours, we ended up travelling for nearly 6 hours. We reached Kutralam at around 4:00 PM and decided to first visit the old Kutralam falls since the transport options to that place were less. After a quick visit, we went the main attraction – The Five falls. We had a refreshing bath and to top it up, had some hot chill bajjis. A local vendor who wanted to sell us some dry fruits started talking to MK. He offered to sell something he called as “Neogara”, which according to him was the local Viagra. In his words “if you use this sir, yours will work like a bullet!”… we just couldn’t control our laughter. That guy was pretty serious in marketting his wares! After sharing some more lighter moments, we took a auto to Tenkasi. One of MK’s friends had suggested that we buy some Thirunalveli halwa at Tenkasi. It is a sweet delicacy that is made of ghee and jaggery. We were planning to have it as our dinner on our way to Trivandrum.

After buying the halwa we boarded a KSRTC (Kerala State… not Karnataka State!) bus to Trivandrum. The bus was a pretty old Ashok Leyland bus. All the way the bus was shaking crazily, more violently than a wet dog. Given the tiring day we had, we slept for almost the entire trip even with lots of its parts rattling!

Backpacking trip – Day 2 – Rameswaram

After a great start to our backpacking trip, our next destination in the list was Rameswaram. When we enquired at Pomdicherry, we were told that the best way to get to Rameswaram is to go to Tanjore and take a bus from there to Rameswaram. The estimated time of travel was around 10 hours. Since there were no direct buses to Tanjore at that time, we were told that the alternate option was to go to Kumbakonam and take a direct bus to Rameswaram. After checking out the bus schedules we had to board a bus to Chidambaram first, and then take a bus to Kubmbakonam. With no seats available, we had to travel standing for almost 2 hours. After reaching Chidambaram, we took a bus to Kumbakonam which took another couple of hours. When we reached Kumbakonam we found that we had just missed the last bus to Rameswaram. The only option was now to go to Tanjore to board a bus to Rameswaram. Overall this added some 5 more hours to our travel. Having no other option, we boarded the bus to Tanjore and then took the bus to Rameswaram. We had left at around 4 in the evening and by the time we reached our destination, it was 7:30 in the morning. We had travelled for more than 15 hours.

Nagarajan, the autorickshaw guy

Nagarajan, the auto guy

Railway line next to Pamban bridge

Railway line next to Pamban bridge

Compared to Pondicherry, Rameswaram was a tad bit better in terms of local transport. We hired an auto and asked him to take us to some affordable hotel. He took us to a place called “Alankar lodge” which was decent enough for it’s price. The auto guy gave us his phone number and asked us to call him in case we needed any local transport later. After the long bus journey, we decided to have a quick nap before freshening up. We woke up at around 8:30, had a quick brush and bath and decided to go for the 22 well snanam that the temple offered. Being a weekday we expected the crowd to be less. To our surprise there was a huge crowd, mostly old couples from north India who were on a piligrimage. We had to wade our way through to get to each well. We finished up with it fast, had a darshan of the diety and came back to our room.

Me waiting for 4x4 vehicle to take us to the tip

Me waiting for 4x4 vehicle to take us to the tip

MK on top of the 4x4 vehicle

MK on top of the 4x4 vehicle

After changing clothes, we headed to our next big destination, Dhanuskodi. Dhanuskodi is supposed to be the place from where Lord Ram had shot his first arrow to Srilanka. We took a local transport to the navy outpost from where we had to take a 4×4 vehicle that would take us to the tip of Dhanuskodi. Last time when I visited, it took some 30 minutes to reack there. But this time the cab driver took us to a half way point and told us that this is all he could drive to since it was not possible to drive further. It was February when I visited last time and I was surprised with how they could change the itenerary so soon. After some heated debate with the driver we decided that come what may, we are not going to return without visiting the tip of Dhanuskodi. We paid the driver and told others in the group that we are walking from there. After a brief walk when we turned back, we found that the group too was following us. When we enquired they said that they too wanted to visit the tip and th edriver was debating against driving them to that place. Seeing that the group was with us now, I explained them how it as when I visited in February. Given this information, the group decided that until and unless they are not taken till the tip they are not going to pay the driver. Seeing this the driver had to agree or loose some 2000 bucks. At that moment I realized how will and determination can change everything. It reminded me of what Mahatma Gandhi had done during our fight for independence. While I had heard lots of analysis about why Gandhi’s approach was so powerful I had never grasped the complete idea of non-cooperation. I must say, at that moment I did feel a bit like Gandhi. 🙂 After reaching the tip of Dhanuskodi, we spent some time admiring the serenity, calmness and the peaceful atmosphere. We returned to the navy outpost after an hour or so and took a auto back to Rameswaram.

Road taking us to the tip

Road taking us to the tip

Old Dhanuskodi town... devasted during 60s storm

Old Dhanuskodi town

The tip

The tip

A old boat pushed ashore

A old boat pushed ashore

The Saadhus at Rameswaram

The Saadhus at Rameswaram

By the time we reached the lodge, we were completely exhausted and decided to have another nap. Some 2 hours later we got up and called the auto guy who had given us his number. He took us around Rameswaram. We visited a few places like Ramarpadam (Rama’s foot) and a lake where Sita had supposedly bathed when she was in Rameswaram. We happened to meet a few saadhus from north India at a Hanuman temple. We had a brief chat with them about their experiences and their suggestions for mortals like us. It was a pretty interesting conversation. According to them, mother is the only parent that one has to respect the most. They said that god is the father who provides the seed while mother is the one who carries the child in her womb for 9 months before it can be born. The mother feeds the baby by transforming her blood into milk. Hence all children must worship their mother as they worship god. Any harm done to the mother is as good as harming the gods. Even if the mother doesn’t take good enough care of the child the mere act of her carrying the baby for 9 months and feeding it and caring for it is good enough for her to be treated like god for the rest of her life. Being a pantheist, it was interesting to learn their point of view. After a few more discussions we came back to our lodge. We had dinner and slept early since we badly needed proper sleep.

We happened to meet a few saadhus from north India at a Hanuman temple. We had a brief chat with them about their experiences and their suggestions for mortals like us. It was a pretty interesting conversation. According to them, mother is the only parent that one has to respect the most. They said that god is the father who provides the seed while mother is the one who carries the child in her womb for 9 months before it can be born. The mother feeds the baby by transforming her blood into milk. Hence all children must worship their mother as they worship god. Any harm done to the mother is as good as harming the gods. Even if the mother doesn’t take good enough care of the child the mere act of her carrying the baby for 9 months and feeding it and caring for it is good enough for her to be treated like god for the rest of her life. Being a pantheist, it was interesting to learn their point of view. After a few more discussions we came back to our lodge. We had dinner and slept early since we badly needed proper sleep.

Backpacking trip – Day 1

Road in front of hotel Felix

Road in front of hotel Felix

Last time I came to this place was in 2006 when me and some of my friends drove down our new bikes for a weekend getaway. This time me and MK decided to start our backpacking trip from the same place, Pondicherry. We got off from the bus at around 5:30 on a bright Sunday morning on the outskirts of the town. Soon there were autos swarming all around us asking whether we were looking for a place to stay or are we planning to visit some places. Compared to Bangalore, the charges they were quoting was exorbitant. We decided to walk and checkout some other auto ahead. Soon, we found another auto guy who was a bit more reasoable and we asked him to find us a cheap lodge since we were just looking for a place to freshen up. He took us to a lodge called “Hotel Felix” which was ready to rent a room for 300 bucks.

Pondicherry town bus stand

Pondicherry town bus stand

MK sipping coffee at bus station

MK sipping coffe

After a quick freshening up we reached the main bus station which was a short walk away from the lodge. Before we started exploring the place, we wanted to first book our tickets to Rameswaram. before. After a long wait, the man at the counter told us that his computer network was not working and we will have to wait another hour before he could issue the tickets. We decided not to waste time and left the counter for a breakfast at a local hotel at the bus station. Since ticket booking was out of the question we took the local transport and reached Auroville in half an hour.

Local bus at pondicherry

Local bus @ Pondicherry

Me, travelling in Pondicherry

Me travelling in Pondicherry

Some of the main sight seeing places are located in and around Auroville. There were no local buses to take us around so we needed some local transport. We first tried negotiating with an autowala. As we had seen in the morning the autowala was asking for a fortune to take us around. We decided to hire a motorbike instead. But first we wanted to finish visiting the beach that was just a stone’s throw away. We had some nice time at the beach, watching kids play in the water, people surfing and a few dolphins swimming around!

Amphitheatre at Deepanam School

Amphitheatre at Deepanam School

Clay models by students

Clay models by students

We now needed a bike to travel around. Being a Sunday many of the shops had already rented out all their bikes. We found a guy who was left with a Hero Honda Splendour for rent. After some slick negotiation from MK we hired the bike for 250 bucks. We set out to visit Matri Mandir which is a meditation centre built in the shape of a sphere. While we were looking at seeing the inside the temple, we unfortunately couldn’t make it before the closing time. So we had a chance to only see the temple from outside. After spending some time enjoying the serenity and calmness of that place, we moved on. On our way back we visited a school that is being run by the ashram called “Deepanam school”. It was a sprawling campus with lots of greenery around, something that is very hard to find nowadays in Bangalore. They have a big amphitheatre with a rather interesting seating setup. Instead of the regular bench format, they have diamond shaped seating which improves visibility for everyone. Later we visited the carpentry and clay modelling centre which had some rather interesting clay models created by children put up for display. By now we were famished and decided to have our lunch at a local pizzeria. We finished the lunch in no time. It was around 2 in the noon now. We decided to wrap up and head back to the hotel. We returned the bike, took our deposit and headed back to the hotel. After having another round of bath (Pondicherry was damn hot that day) we packed our bags and headed to the bus station.