Ticket to Munnar feat. Neelakurinji

Ever since a Facebook friend of mine had posted an article on Neelakurinji blooms in Munnar, I was waiting to see it live. I had read articles on the Valley of flowers and the Tulip-gardens of the north, but when I saw that such a phenomenon happens in the south, that too once in 12 years, I jumped from my chair and started planning for the trip. It was just the month of June and the blooming was expected to be seen between August to October. Though the Kerala tourism boasted of hosting the travelers for the blooming, there were no signs of precise information.
After a long search on the internet, I planned to switch to Airbnb since it would be a better experience having a host who might be interested in traveling too. One of the host Raiyaan, was quick enough to point me towards the Eravikulam National Park website and also suggested some more places that I can include in my itinerary. After a little more research, I planned to visit the Kalaripayattu Show which was the second main destination of my trip. Made my bookings for stay at Raiyaan’s home who agreed to help with getting a scooter as well for the travel. My bus journey bookings were done too for 30th August and 2nd September with a detailed plan for each day.
But the time had different plans. Majority of Kerala was struck by untimely floods towards the end of August which caused a lasting impact on the state. I had to cancel my plans and lost quite a bit of money on the booking. It was almost a month since then and just when was furious about missing out, a tiny window of opportunity opened and I got a weekend’s time to travel to Munnar. Since I already knew what I needed, I did my booking quickly, this time choosing a small hotel in heart of the town and entry to the National Park on Sunday 30th morning.

There was half a day to plan the itinerary and pack my bags. This was one of my first trip where I had no clue of how my days will go and surprisingly  I had made peace with it. The next few hours passed by quickly and I slept peacefully in the last seat of Greenline travels as the bus zoomed towards Munnar.

Day 1

It was 7:30 in the morning when the bus operator asked us to board to another mini-bus. We had stopped at Theni village overlooking the Shola forest. I managed to get a window seat excited about getting to see the beauty of nature from close. After a 10 minutes stop at a small hotel for refreshments, our journey started en route Munnar.

The gigantic mountains were playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds which created an out of the world scene. The long yet mesmerizing journey continued as our bus moved on the thin road carved on the edge of the mountains and we were finally at the border of Kerala. From here the geography changed completely starting with a welcoming tea estate. Next, we passed between the cardamom and spices plantation and then the well-known place called Gap Road. The place earlier was a tourist hotspot which would give a bird’s eye view of the tea estates, but now due to road widening all I could see was the entire area covered in mist and the road in front of me packed with a huge line of vehicles stuck in a roadblock.
The next destination on our way to Munnar was the Lock-Heart. The place had mostly the hills covered with lush green tea plants and small waterfalls trying to make its way between them. This was almost the constant scene on either side till we reached Munnar. I had plans of visiting Lock-Heart again, but the bus operator suggested me to skip as it would end up eating more time.

It was 10:30 AM when I reached Maunnar and the owner at SMM cottage had agreed for an early check-in. He even helped me get a scooter for my travel and I was all set to explore within half an hour.

There are 4 directions which have places to explore. One was towards the Lock-Heart which I decided to skip since most of it I had seen and captured while I was on the bus. The next one which is opposite to Lock-Heart is towards the Eravikulam Park scheduled for my second day at Munnar. I had two more sides to explore and Mattupetty was my first pick.

Riding a two-wheeler on hairpin curves covered with a canopy was a pleasant experience and the cold breeze was giving all the energy I need for the day. The first spot was called the Photo-Point where people stop by to get a picture clicked with tea gardens in the background. I had not had anything for the breakfast and decided to go with Maggie there as it was the craving of the moment.

Since I was not much of a fan of elephant-rides, I decided to skip the Elephant-park which was next. After continuing for about 3 kilometers, I had reached the Mattupetty Dam. Surprisingly there was no security personnel near the dam which would be otherwise. This made it easier to capture good pictures of water gushing out from the dam gate. I had missed this opportunity during my Manali trip.

Mattupetty Dam

Mattupetty was the last spot according to my plan. But I had ample time in hand and decided to continue ahead. The forest was getting more denser now and there was a place where I saw people curiously looking at something. When I stopped by, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were about 5 elephants which were grazing at about 100 meters away. Our presence seemed to be not disturbing them as they continued doing what they did. There are 3 such places on this route called elephant viewpoints where there are more chances of spotting elephants and other wild animals.

Three more places on the route ahead were echo-point, shooting-spot, and Kundaly lake. These three places have a huge range of mountains in the background with a picturesque view. The Echo-point facilitates boat-rides in the river as well. I covered these places quickly and headed back to the Munnar town.

Sun was behind the dark clouds when I reached back Munnar at 2 and it started to rain while I was having my lunch. I had anticipated this from the forecast but was lucky enough to cover one stretch without any issues. The Kathakali and Kalaripayattu shows were scheduled to start at 5 PM at Punarjani Traditional Village. There were two spots to cover before I reached there. Unfortunately, when I reached the first one i.e. the Pothamedu viewpoint, it rained heavily again. This was the sign to skip the rest of the plan and head straight to Punarjani which was about 7 km towards Chittirapuram. Due to heavy rains, I took about 1.5 hours to reach while taking continuous pit-stops. The route had water flowing on the road in many places and there were signs of mini landslides in the past, giving it an eerie feel. A pair of rain-proof jacket helped me stick to the timeline and I was half an hour early to the show totally in a drenched state.

I was 5 minutes late to the make-up session of Kathakali and couldn’t get a chance to click pictures while artists painted their face with makeup. After lighting the lamp, the Kathakali show started with an initial introduction to the art. An actor in the costume of a lady showed the 9 different expressions also known as Navarasa. We were spellbound to see each of the expression coming to life even without uttering a single word and just following the beats made by Chende (a traditional drum).

And then to put these emotions to life, I was called on the stage as a volunteer. She (this would be apt for the role that he was playing) first says that I look good, but I am skinny. She thinks that I don’t eat much. She serves me food with 4 dishes, makes me eat it till I lick the fingers conveying that it was delicious. Makes me wash my hands and then return. The entire act was done only using signs and expressions. I hesitated initially, but the crowd was cheering me to participate.

Following this was enacting of a story with two female and one male character. Each of the girls would try to make the guy fall in love with them by praising about themselves and the man. Though I couldn’t follow the story completely, I could understand that it was no different from any story that I might have seen or heard. In the end, the man ends up rejecting both of them.

The next being Kalaripayattu was a treat to the eyes. As the experienced performers fought with swords and daggers, we could see the sparks come out every time they attacked each other. They showed various stunts using bamboo-sticks, swords and rings lit with flames. They even asked about 4 volunteers to stand next to each other and could jump over them.

While all this was happening, there was a continuous downpour of rain which made me worried about reaching back to the hotel. However, the weather was calm when I traveled back and it was 8:30 PM when I reached the hotel after dinner. I was continuously praying for the rain to stop and didn’t realize when I fell into deep sleep.

Day 2

Finally, the day for which I have been waiting for months had arrived. I got ready quickly and left for Eravikulam at 7 in the morning. The roads were empty and the mist blocked most of the view. Though the temperature was bone-chilling, it still felt pleasant for a change. When I reached the Eravikulam National park at 7:30, there were about 30 people ready for the Kurinji tour. I had booked my slot of 9 AM, but they allowed me in the immediate batch. Meanwhile, I also saw that there was Kurinji Trails Trek which sounded interesting. My plan was to complete the tour and then come back and participate in the trek.

A mini-van with a capacity of about 20 members left for the Rajamala hills. The journey was short which passed through the tea estates. I got the first glimpse of the Neelakurinji flowers when the bus started to climb the Rajamala hill.

The plants started to increase in numbers as we moved up. We were at a checkpoint after which there was a kilometer long road which led to the topmost accessible point on the hill. To my disappointment, the amount of blooming was not as much as it was shown in the images, however seeing a flower that blooms once in 12 years had made the trip a worth.  I explored the place quickly and captured some good pictures from the top of the hill and headed back to the park entrance in a bus.

The ticket to Neelakurinji trails trek costed me Rs. 750/-. Nikhil, Sulthan, Asha and myself along with our guide Arun started our trek at 9 AM sharp. Arun briefed about the trek that it is an 8 KM long walk that usually takes 2 hours to complete. We would be entering the forest and also pass by a waterfall on our way. He also told that the trails are slippery and filled with Leeches. I was the only one in the team to have a poker face since I wasn’t prepared for both. I mentally prepared myself for the worst.
Our journey’s first 1km stretch was through the tea plantations. Arun was giving us a lot of information about the place. Most of the land in Munnar is taken on lease by the joint venture of Tata and Kannan Devan for a period of 100 years. There are more than 30 estates each with a manager who will be provided with a personal bungalow, vehicle and every facility for a lavish lifestyle. However, the day-wage workers would get meager pays.

As we walked ahead, I saw something crawling over my feet. Leech !! I couldn’t bear the sight of it trying to suck the blood, but I was helpless. More I stopped to remove them, even more would get time to start crawling on. At a point, I chose to ignore while two of them continued to drink blood from between my toe. Our first checkpoint had arrived. We were below the Erachipara falls. Sulathan and Nikhil didn’t waste time in taking a dip in the water while Asha was busy talking to Arun to get information on flora and fauna. I admired her interest in knowing every tiny detail.

 Till we reached the end of the trek which was to the top of Rajamala hill I had visited earlier that day, Arun helped us spot different types of flowers and plants. We even saw a flower(kurinji) that blooms in once in 3 and 7 years. 

We were in half minds to go till top of the hill unless we could get a chance to see the rare Neelagiri Thar. Arun was quick in calling his colleague and helped us see them which were just few meters away. Our trek was finally complete with 5 Leech-bites on my feet. We had seen everything we wanted to take back as a memory from Munnar. It was already 2 PM and I had to rush to the hotel. It was time to bid them farewell.

Though I couldn’t cover any other places after Eravikulam, my SRS bus went through the same route giving me a sneak-peak of what I had missed. I continued to admire the beauty of Munnar sitting at the window seat till the sun went down on the west. I had finally checked-off Neelakurinji from my bucket list.

Ticket to Tirupati

We might have often heard the saying that “you go to a place when the place calls you!”, this was true for me in case of Tirupati. About two years ago, when I had planned the trip to Tirupati with family, viral-fever had appeared as Murphy’s Law and made me cancel my trip. Now after two years,  I had got a chance again and my preparations had started well in advance.
The first thing about the Tirupati trip is to make sure you can visit the Balaji (Venkateswara) temple located at Tirumala hills. One needs to either book the special entry tickets in advance through online booking or climb the steps uphill(more information on this later) to join the special queue called Divya-Darshana, or simply join the big queue for free darshan(visit) at the entrance of the temple.
Since this was my first visit, 6019277944 helped me with all my FAQs. My tickets for the temple visit was scheduled for 2 PM to accommodate for any unplanned circumstances. Though I could directly go with that ticket, the thought of trying to reach the temple by footsteps had thrilled me. There were two ways to go by steps namely Alipiri and Srivari. The former has about 3550 steps and latter has 2388. Despite having had all the energy and excitement, Srivari Mettu (steps) was my choice for this visit. Based on Venkatesh’s suggestion, I opted to travel by train instead of the bus. This had worked out economically and cost me just ₹450 for travel. The return journey had a confirmed ticket and rest of my days till 9th August went in waiting for the onward ticket to get confirmed from RAC55.

Journey to Tirumala Hills
Waiting.. Waiting.. Waiting..

After all the requests from co-passengers to exchange the seats, I had managed to get a lower-birth and slept peacefully unaware of the total change of plans I need to face the next day. 5 AM in the morning, the phone rang soon after my regular Alarm. It was a wake-up call from my mom who also asked me to skip my plans of going at 2 PM slot. She suggested me to finish the darshan as soon I as complete climbing the steps. There were announcements that the darshan for the next 6 days would be canceled due to some ceremony at the temple. The train was still about 20 KM away from Tirupati and I had to rework on all the plans.
Since I had to visit the temple directly, I had to manage to take bath at the railway station leaving my bag outside without anyone to have an eye on it. Luckily things were safe at the station and even the bathrooms were moderately clean.

Place where Srivari Mettu starts

The Srivari steps are located in a village called Srinivasamangapuram about 26 KM from Tirupati railway station and can be reached from a direct city bus. The journey was a bit slow and the bus took about an hour to reach. I was at the starting point at around 7:45 AM totally excited to reach the top by foot.

It is best not to count them unless you are close to the end

First, few hundred steps went smooth and then the tiredness kicked in. To add to that, the speakers were announcing that the darshan is suspended till 16th August, making me totally confused about what do I do once I reach the top. There were no tickets given for the people climbing footsteps on that day and my only hope was the 2 PM slot I had reserved. It took me about  75 minutes to climb 2388 steps.

Almost there

There was a sense of accomplishment when I reached the top, thanks to all vendors of water, nimbu-sharbat, fruits who boosted my energy throughout. I had to now choose between either joining the rest of my team members who had arrived from my hometown the previous day or to go ahead and complete darshan from the free darshan (also called as Sarva-darshan) queue.

Tirumala Venkateswara Temple

A volunteer there suggested me to go ahead with the Sarva-darshan since there were fewer people that day and asked me to deposit my backpack while I complete the darshan. Thanks to (478) 988-3719, I could stuff all my belonging in a single bag including my footwear. As I went ahead in the queue, I had realized my mistake. The Sarva-darshan depends on the time-slot and mine was allotted for 9 PM. All my belongings including my cell phone were deposited in the luggage counter and the only thing I could possibly do was to exit from the queue and wait in the luggage collection counter for them to arrive. It took about an hour for the luggage to transfer to the collection counter and the volunteer there was kind enough to inform me as soon as they arrived. I had made up my mind to not have any more adventures for the day and to go ahead with the 2 PM slot since the same was still available. I was allowed to enter the queue from the special ticket entry an hour earlier. The time flew quickly as we moved ahead in the queue chanting “Govinda Govinda”. All the stress from the day vanished when I saw the Idol of god Venkateswara. It was a mixed emotion of happiness and relief to be at that moment after two long years of wait. As the saying goes “Right place at the right time”, the darshan was smooth with lesser crowd due to the ceremony in the temple.

Thanks to Kashi Mutt Tirumala, I could have a peaceful stay for two days at a walkable distance from the Venkateswara temple. Nothing can be more exciting than finding homely food in an unknown town while you try to figure out things. There are very few private hotels in Tirumala. The accommodation is provided mostly by Mutts which are managed by various communities. There is also a guest house managed by the Tirumala Temple which can be booked from their official website. Temple had restrictions on carrying mobile phones and I had to capture the moments in my brain instead of a 32GB card in my phone most of the time. There are also strict guidelines on attire to enter the temple.

Padmavati Temple

On the second day evening, we descended from Tirumala to visit Padmavati temple. Goddess Padmavati is believed to be an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi who was married to Lord Venkateswara. The Padmavati temple is smaller compared to the Venkateswara temple but has the same glory. The visit to Tirumala temple is incomplete without the darshan of Padmavati. We got lucky again due to the lesser crowd and managed to complete the darshan within few minutes.

I bid adieu to my team after we had a quick visit to the temple in Srinivasamangapura where I had started ascending my steps. I was an hour early to the station and waiting for the train was more tiring than climbings the steps to hills. I had finally accomplished the long pending dream.

Our crew

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Though during my 9052821129 and Mysore visit I had seen Ramanagar on the way, I could never make up my mind to visit. All I could see was just the huge boulders. Recently when I was trying to look for places around, few articles showed that the Legend….. (wait for it) … dary, the legendary movie Sholay was shot in Ramanagara. The Ramgadh of the Sholay was today’s Ramanagara. I also came to know that the place where most of the movie was captured was called Ramadevara betta now a Vulture Sanctuary. It is the only vulture sanctuary in India. So the place was decided, but I had a little more time in hand. I planned to take a look at the SRS hill which can then connect me to Kanakapura road.

The day had arrived and I left at 6 in the morning. I had kept my backpack light since there was a lot of hill-climbing to be done. Was not fully awake since the caffeine had not entered the blood-stream yet. What more can be a good start for the day than the Bisi Bidadi Thatte Idli? The place Bidadi is quite famous for its unique melt-in-mouth Thatte Idli. These are slightly bigger in size and traditionally cooked in plates(Thatte). I got a recommendation for Shree Renukamba Bidadi Thatte Idli, but the location on the map was quite confusing. I Just stopped at Shashi Thatte Idli and ordered a Double Idli Vada. The sight of melting butter on hot steaming Idli was a treat to the eyes and the taste was heavenly. Half a cup of coffee gave me the energy to continue my journey.

Ramadevara Betta

I was at the entry gate at around 7:45 AM and disappointed to see that the gates were still closed. Had seen in one of the blogs that the gates will open only by 9, but I wanted to check instead of directly believing. Now I had no option but to wait. While waiting, I met myelocystocele  who was a content creator for blogs. We had some interesting conversations about blogs, bloggers, content, SEO and then Bitcoins. Upon speaking to the guard there, he gave me some interesting information. First, many scenes from Sholay movie such as the scene were Gabbar cuts the hands of Thakur, the famous water tank scene by Dharmendra were all shot in the vicinity. But all those places are now covered with dense forest. The second was about the vultures. It was sad to know that they were there the previous day and had gone early in the morning in search of food. Now I had all my hopes on the views from hilltop.

I was the first one to enter through the gates after paying a nominal entry fee of ₹25. Upon reaching the foothill, a temple priest there told me that there are 400 steps to reach the top where there is a temple. 400 was not the number I wanted to count, so I just started to climb up. There are many viewpoints on the way which gives a nice view around. It took me about 20 minutes to reach the top where there were two small temples and a Lake. This couldn’t be it. There should be something more, isn’t it? I could still see the hill in front of me, just that the steps weren’t clearly visible. By this time, the other visitors had arrived and all of them were vanishing around a corner. I followed them and found some more steps which climb further up.

While everyone there was busy clicking pictures, I went up ahead to explore. The view from there was much clearer and panoramic. Just when I was about to climb down, I noticed a small trail which finally led to the last climb. The sight was actually scary because it was about 30 steps carved on a rock at almost 80-degree elevation. Though there were supports, I was not ready to climb up all alone. Minnu and his friends were almost near the place by then, and all were excited to make the climb. I left behind few of the heavy items and followed them. As soon as I reached the top, all that I could say was ‘WOW’. I could see many small hills and lush green forest in all around. I would have regretted had I missed this last stretch. After relishing the views, I bid adieu to Minnu and friends and left from there at 11 AM.  All I could hear while climbing down was “How much more to reach the top?”. I did my part by encouraging them to take frequent breaks but not to miss the sight from the top.

Bidadi Thatte Idli

Bidadi Thatte Idli

Steps to climb Ramadevara Betta

Steps to climb Ramadevara Betta

Temple at the hilltop

Temple at the hilltop

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The scary climb

The scary climb

View from hilltop

View from hilltop

SRS Hill

My next destination SRS hill was about 13KM from Ramadevara Betta. SRS or Shree Revana Siddeshwara Hill is a well-known pilgrimage site. It also offers a  great hill climbing experience. As I was approaching closer to the hill, I could see a blue line which was encircling a huge boulder. It was nothing but the walkway made for people to visit the temple on the hilltop. When I reached the foothill, the sight was jaw-dropping. I could see people as young as 8 and as elderly as 60 climbing the hill at the same pace. Not sure if it was from the background they come with or the miracle at the pace, I didn’t see a single tired face there.

The climb was challenging. Here, almost 2/3rd of the steps were carved on the hill and had an average inclination of 60 to 70-degree throughout. The good part was that there were railings throughout for the support and the entire walkway was covered with sheets for shade. There were almost the same amount of steps and I took about 25 minutes to reach the top. The place was a bit crowded since it was a weekend. A bird’s eye view of other small hills and the lakes around from the top almost looked like a dream. I still wonder how people managed to climb before all these supports were installed.

There was two tiny temple-like structure on top. All I could say was “Is that it? there must be something more. Where are all the people whole climbed”. That is when a fellow traveler showed me another path which was descending from the hill in another direction and asked me to visit the temple there.  I was surprised to see a small pond on the top and also a hidden sanctum sanctorum. The temple was packed inside and I took about half an hour to bow down to the diety and come out. The descend back to the foothill was much easier and quicker. Maybe my recent workouts had given me good stamina. I hadn’t experienced any discomfort though I completed visiting both the hills in a single day.

Steps carved on the hill

Steps carved on the hill

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View from the hilltop

View from the hilltop

The pond

The pond

Place where the temple is situated

Place where the temple is situated

Somewhere on my way back to bangalore

Somewhere on my way back to bangalore

The route back from  SRS hill towards Bengaluru was serene. Most of the road passed through paddy fields and farms of mulberry. Ramanagar is known for its sericulture and also called the Silk Town of Karnataka. I could spot many silk-cocoon frames kept in almost every house on the way. I must say, hills in Ramanagara offers a good challenge for those who want to test their stamina while rewarding them with stunning views when they conquer.

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This trip was a quick pilgrimage in the places around Kolara. I had a crew this time of 6 people. Our prime location was Mulabagilu Anjaneya temple. The places around Kolar have their stories knotted to Ramayana, thanks to cousin Shubha for a timely update about all the places. We added Kotilingeshwara, Kurudumale, and Antaragange to the list and it was a perfect itinerary for the day.

Chikka Tirupati

We left at 8 in the morning from Bengaluru. Our first destination close to Sarjapur was Chikka Tirupati. It’s about 30km journey and we reached the temple at around 9. The temple houses a beautiful idol of God Venkataramana and gave a feel of tirupati with the sounds of ‘jargandi jargandi’ at the sanctum sanctorum. We were a bit unlucky since it was the time where they cleaned the idols and we couldn’t see them clearly. With a hope to arrive again, we left for our next location.

Kotilingeshwara

It is about 40km from Chikka Tirupati and can be reached via Bangarpet. The special white paani of Bangarpet was quite famous in Bangalore, but we couldn’t find any on our way via its birthplace.

The Kotilingeshwara temple was famous after it was shot in Shree Manjunatha movie. I wished to visit the place ever since I had watched the movie and it literally houses thousands of Shiva Linga. Sadly the place is highly commercialized. Make sure to set aside at least two hours for this place since there is a fixed path inside the premises for the devotees. There is no exit before you visit all the smaller temples inside and the place gets very much crowded on the weekends. The best attraction of the place is the 108ft tall Shiva Linga which reminds us how small we are in this world.

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They are countless

They are countless

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The 108 feet tall Shivalinga

The 108 feet tall Shivalinga

Mulabagilu

We had a sumptuous meal at Sree Saravana Bhavana on the Bangalore-Tirupati highway and headed next to Mulabagilu Anjaneya temple.

Legend says that after Kurukshetra war, Arjuna went on a pilgrimage and installed the idol in this place. We were at the temple by 2:30 in the noon and waited for a while for the doors to open. A place called Avani which is 10km from here is believed to be the birthplace of Lava-Kusha. We couldn’t visit the place due to the time constraints.

Kurudumale (Koodumale)

Kurudumale is about 10km from Mulabagilu and has a beautiful idol of God Ganapati. The idol is 13ft tall and carved with a single stone. The idol is believed to be very old and the temple around it was built during the Vijayanagara dynasty.

We usually don’t ask for the rains during the travel, but our feet were already burnt by the heated stone flooring in all the temples we had visited in the day. Maybe God heard our prayers and it drizzled a little when we reached Kurudumale. The journey was much pleasant from here onwards.

Adjacent to the Ganesha temple is Someshwara temple which is believed to be built much earlier. The walls have beautiful carvings on them. It has a mixture of two styles by the architects Jakanachari and Dankanachari built during the Chola dynasty. The temple is built without a foundation.

Someshwara Temple

Someshwara Temple

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Beautiful hill behind the Ganesha Temple

Beautiful hill behind the Ganesha Temple

Antaraganage

This was our last location for the day. This place is on a hilltop and has steps to reach the temple. It has a small stream of water that continuously flows to the pond which then flows downhill. We were exhausted by the time we climbed all the steps and disappointed to see that the pond was dried. But the stream still flowed continuously unaffected by the weather around. One can spot some beautiful butterflies apart from the monkeys which are huge in number. The place is also famous as a trekking spot and for cave exploration which I am planning to set aside for the visit here.

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Its a long long walk

Its a long long walk

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The stream

The stream

We bid farewell to Kolar and headed back to Bengaluru humming some old movie songs on the way.

Our crew

P.S:
1. All of us on the team were Aam-Aadmi(Mango People). Though we spotted many farms throughout our journey, we didn’t find a single vendor since the fruits weren’t ripe yet. Pick the best time if you are mango lover too.
2. Special thanks to cousin Madhusudan who made sure we had a comfortable journey with his amazing driving skills.

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Lepakshi has been appearing as one of the frequent suggestions every time I look for places to visit around Bangalore. The unique naaga-linga structure had caught my attention easily. I wanted to see it for real. Also, as usual, I started to look for places on the way to plan my day better.

The Hyderabad highway was the best pick for my journey towards Lepakshi. I decided to take the state highway via. Doddaballapur while returning and visit Vidurashwatha on the way. This place is known for witnessing an incident similar to Jallianwala Bagh. Also, if my time calculations matched, I wanted to have my lunch at the Ghati Subramanya Temple which is a slight diversion from my return route. The biggest challenge now was the vehicle. I own an Activa and definitely, it’s not suited for such a long journey. This means I need to travel at a moderate speed taking a breaks at regular intervals. But I wanted to take this one risk to avoid postponing my plan further.

Finally, the day was here and I started at sharp 6 AM to make sure there is ample time to spend at places and to accommodate any Murphy’s law. The only thing I had missed to be prepared was the tire pressure of my vehicle. This had kept me under pressure for most of my journey. Almost 90% of the journey towards Lepakshi was smooth due to the flawless national highway and I ensured to stop for every 40KM to take a break.

Lepakshi

Lepaksha is situated very close to the Karnataka and Andhra border. After about 3.5 hours of journey, the first thing I spotted was the Jatayu theme park. This actually didn’t pop in the Google maps when I had searched earlier and unfortunately, it was closed. The place is in close vicinity to Jatayu Moksha Ghat and could be a new inclusion to the place. The next place to visit right opposite to the Jatayu Theme park is the Nandi. The place is well maintained by the authorities. The spectacular statue of Nandi is caved on a single rock.
About few meters ahead from Nandi is the Veerabhadra Temple which was the destination of the day. The entire temple structure is marvelous and built completely with stone. There was not a single inch without the carvings and each pillar had their own story to tell. After admiring the architectural beauty of the temple, I was finally in front of the Naaga Linga. It was exactly as it looked in the pictures and I was spellbound for a while looking at the mammoth sized structure only to be distracted by everyone else around me trying to take pictures with Bahubali pose.

Jatayu Theme Park

Jatayu Theme Park

Nandi

Nandi

Pillar with minute details

Pillar with minute details

Pillars with life-sized carvings

Pillars with life-sized carvings

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu

Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu

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Symmetrically placed pillars

Symmetrically placed pillars

Naaga Linga

Naaga Linga

Naaga Linga

Naaga Linga


I met few travelers there who suggested me to visit Bhairsagar Lake which houses plenty of migrating birds. The well known Penukonda fort is also at a close vicinity, but due to constraints in my timings and the resources, I planned to save these places for my next trip.

Vidurashwatha

The next place in the list was Vidurashwatha, which is about 33KM from Lepakshi. I took the road towards Hindupura and then a diversion to the state highway to Bangalore. I was at an hour deviation from my planned timings, but things were still in control. It was around 12:00 PM when I reached Vidurashwatha. The monument of freedom fighters and the famous Ashwathanarayana temple are next to each other. The place was a witness to the brutal killing of 32 freedom fighters and a monument has been built in the honor of them. Veera Saudha situated in the vicinity has a photo gallery which speaks the story of the struggles which led to the independence.
Ashwathanarayana temple has more than a thousand idols of god Naaga and has hundreds of devotees visiting every day. The temple also houses the Ashwatha tree which was believed to be planted in the times of Mahabharata. The tree collapsed a few years ago and now has a part of it which is worshipped by the people.

Freedom fighter's memorial

Freedom fighter's memorial

Naaga idols in the temple premises

Naaga idols in the temple premises

Things were fine when I left Vidurashwatha and I had to reach Ghati Subramanya Temple which was around 50KM from there. Murphy’s Law happened and it started raining. The breeze was so strong that I had difficulties controlling my two-wheeler. After 15 minutes, it was manageable drizzles and I decided to skip Ghati Subramanya and head straight to Bangalore. When I reached the diversion towards the temple, the rain had already stopped and I chose to take a chance here and continue with my original plans of visiting the temple. It was overcrowded there, but I managed to get the gimps of god and have a sumptuous meal at the temple. Rice, sambar, and buttermilk were all I needed after the long tiring journey. The jaggery-poha payasam was an added bonus.

It drizzled again while I traveled towards Bangalore but the experience was still pleasing.

P.S:
1. Do not travel in a two-wheeler like Active for more than 200KM at a stretch in a single day. It does cause back pain. Now I know 😛
2. The May and June month is a heaven to jackfruit lovers and you can spot plenty of vendors throughout the journey.

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It was a dream trip plan for a special day. I wanted to celebrate my birthday with a unique experience. Pondy + scuba-diving was a perfect combination.

With my experience from Rajasthan trip, the hostel was the best accommodation for a solo trip. I got a good deal at Villa Olivia for my two-day stay. I was also in conversation with Amy who was helping me to plan my itinerary with all the do’s and don’ts. Now the wait was for the day to arrive.

Pondy

Reaching pondy was a smooth journey because of the travel on a sleeper bus and I was at pondy by 7 AM as expected. I had to wait for almost an hour to get into the hostel where I met Samuel (Sam). Our stay was a small house on the second floor where I was sharing my room with two other people. I even got a scooter for myself for just 300/- a day. I met Sue, Adrian and Baz there who were sharing their experience from their stay at Pondicherry which continued till we got our beds allotted.

It was already midday when I was at the Rock Beach for a brunch which is just about a kilometer away from the hostel. I settled for a Burger and went on to explore the French Colony. First on the list was the French Memorial followed by the Gandhi statue which was on the right opposite side. It was already 12 by then and I couldn’t visit Aurobindo Ashram since it was closed. Next was the French Museum which was nothing but a huge collection of books inside a French mansion. It’s not really worth a visit if one is not interested in just the books. But the Pondicherry Historical Museum didn’t disappoint me. It was worth watching all the artifacts recovered from the excavation done at Arikamedu and other areas surrounding Pondicherry.

Without wasting much time, I had to now head to the Temple Adventures to get some lessons for my Dive. The instructor Kailash was friendly and patient enough to help me understand the hand signal to be used and various techniques such as removing and using back the regulator and clearing the eye goggles. Breathing inside water using my mouth was really uncomfortable initially and I was very nervous for the next day since I would be inside water for longer time.

I still had some time on hand and the next destination was Paradise Beach. This is one such beach with fine white sand where one can spend all day. Though there was a ferry that can take me to the beach, I choose to ride by scooter which took me to the same beach at a distant shore. The feel was just amazing sitting on the seashore and admiring the waves that rush towards the sand.

When I reached back to the hostel, Joelle was the new member there and we all had our part of experiences to share from the day. Adrian was leaving to Madhurai that night and he wanted to explore the French colony. I accompanied him on the walk through the French colony where we tasted some local Masala Puri, watched few classical dance performances and explored the market. He was happy like a kid when we saw an elephant in the temple nearby and it blessed him in return for a One rupee coin. The next day was big for me since it was my Birthday. I also met Lensie before I ended the day.

Villa Olivia

Villa Olivia

Gandhi Statue

Gandhi Statue

French war memorial

French war memorial

Rock Beach

Rock Beach

Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach

with Adrian and Baz

with Adrian and Baz

with Sam

with Sam

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The next day I was at Temple Adventures by 6:30 AM. I realized there that it’s not only 2, but there are 6 people to dive from our boat 007. Two siblings from Delhi and a couple from Andhra. One of the dive instructors reiterated the safety signals and also introduced us to the captain and other crew members. We were also shown some pictures of fishes that we might spot. So our boat left to the ocean with all equipment loaded and the journey had a feel of riding the Columbus from the amusement park. One can feel uneasy if they have motion sickness and necessary precautions must be taken. After half an hour of the boat ride, we reached dive spot. Pondicherry doesn’t have a natural reef and Temple Adventures had created one so that we can enjoy the marine life. The water in the dive spot was crystal clear. I was the second in turn to go in the water. When I took the first plunge and went deep into the water with my instructor Danny, my right ear was not getting equalized for the pressure and my confidence was already low. I didn’t give up, and the second dive went smooth. I was a little nervous initially, but then I was surprised by the way I was breathing inside water with proper rhythm. This time I consciously equalized the ear pressure to spend maximum time inside water. The views inside were breathtaking and could spot various groups of fishes such as Lionfish and Banner Fish among the other 8. I was at the depth of 12m for 28 minutes which was the best birthday gift I could give to myself. I had finally checked Scuba Dive from my bucket list. The overall scuba activity took around 3 hours.

My next and the last destination for the day was Auroville. Joelle had agreed to accompany me. I met Milosh at the hostel where we had q quick conversation about his visit to Esha Yoga center. It was noon when we reached Auroville. I was already sure that I will not get a chance to go inside Matri Mandir and I have to be satisfied with the view from the viewpoint. The story of why and how the Auroville was built was very inspiring and I could see the living example of Karma Yoga. After having a sumptuous meal at the Auroville cafe, we started our 1 km walk to the Matri Mandir viewpoint. Joelle was sharing her travel and trek experiences throughout the walk. The view of Matri Mandir was mesmerizing when it shined from the reflected sunlight. With a hope to get in someday, we returned back to the hostel.

As usual, all of us at the hostel had something interesting to share and I was proud while showing my dive certificate. I met Elfie who was back to Pondicherry after a short trek nearby. Sam mentioned about the Himalayan Salted Caramel ice cream that he had tasted at GMT. So Elfie, Joelle and I decided to take a walk towards the Rock Beach to taste the ice cream and have a mini celebration for my Birthday. A chilled cone of ice cream and a walk on the seashore was a perfect end to the day.

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Kanchipuram

This came as a surprise for me. I had an additional day in hand and I was headed towards Chennai. After hearing a lot about the Kanchi Kamakshi temple from few years, I had made up my mind to visit it since it was anyways towards the direction of Chennai.

It was almost the closing time when I reached the temple and felt accomplished when I was able to get the darshan of Kamakshi Amma.  There was no direct bus to Kanchipuram and had to travel first to Tindivanam before catching a Bus to Kanchi. I was already very hungry and at the same time very disappointed since I missed the lunch at the temple.

I had ample amount of time in hand and I decided to explore the town for few more temples. I visited Kachabeshwar, Ekambareshwar and Kailasanathar temples which were all at a distance of 500 meters from each other. The Ekambareshwar temple had a gigantic gopuram but was late to get an entry to have a look inside. Kailasanathar temple was an architectural beauty. Each wall was sculpted and was singing the tales from the mythological stories. I bought a silk saree for my mother before bidding farewell to Kanchipuram.

Kamakshi Temple

Kamakshi Temple

Vasanta Mantapam at Kamakshi Temple

Vasanta Mantapam at Kamakshi Temple

Kachabeshwara Temple

Kachabeshwara Temple

Ekambareshwar Temple

Ekambareshwar Temple

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Kailasanatha Temple

Kailasanatha Temple

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With an amazing 3 days solo trip, I had made many new friends and learned the art of trusting others and self.

P.S: My amazing hostel mates:

  1. Samuel: He was from France. His aim is to work as much as he can save for the travel. Be in a single place for long and learn the culture there. When I asked him for the secret, he showed me helpx.net to explore
  2. Baz: He was from England. He is in search of his truth and observing the Indian culture closely.
  3. Adrian: He was from Germany. He had two weeks in his hand to explore south India. He was an enthusiastic Scuba Diver and was a great company to have long conversations.
  4. Joelle: She was from Switzerland. She had done a professional course on Zen Shiatsu and was in search of inspiration to start a center to provide Zen Shiatsu to people.
  5. Lenzie: She was from Ireland. She was a little short tempered but I was amazed by some of her travel stories.
  6. Milosh: He was from Poland. It was inspiring to see him practice yoga with discipline and interest. He even had good taste in music.
  7. Elfie: She was from France. She was fun to talk to and also had a great amount of patience for people.

Ticket to Mysore

Mysore has been one of those places which I dreamt of visiting after hearing a lot about its weather and culture.

I had to force myself to go alone for this trip since most of my close circle had already visited Mysore. One fine day, I just sat with my laptop and started to list the places that I can look around. TripAdvisor was a great help indeed. So my itinerary included the following places:

  1. Railway Museum
  2. Ambavilas Palace
  3. Wax Museum
  4. Sand Museum
  5. Chamundi Hills
  6. Bonsai gardens at Avadhoota Datta Peetham

I wanted this to be a slightly different experience. I chose to go by train and use a printed map instead of Google.

August 20th Morning 6 AM I started my expedition. To my disappointment, the metro service was not available until 8:30 AM on Sunday and I had to opt for an auto-rickshaw to reach the railway station. My other time-plan was intact and I boarded the 7 AM local to Mysore as expected. The journey is about 3hours and the ticket fare is dirt-cheap.

I was welcomed by the hot and Fragrant Madur Vade on my way and I didn’t leave any chance to take a bite while sipping a hot cup of coffee.

Maddur Vada

As per the plan, I visited the Railway Museum and saw some amazing collection of rail engines and relevant artifacts. Referring to the printed map was a bit tedious initially, but the little Gulliver me was more confident to conquer this huge city of Mysore.

After enjoying a delicious breakfast, I decided to take a walk to Ambavilas Palace. The journey was quite long, but the experience was pleasant since there were hardly any vehicles on the way. I was mesmerized when I had the first look at the gigantic Ambavilas Palace. The first part was the house where the royal family once stayed. The huge collection of paintings had a life-like finish which was catching everyone’s attention. The palace is an architectural beauty by itself. Huge halls, detailed paintings, wooden artifacts, tall pillars were giving it the royal look it deserved.

Without waiting further, I took an auto-rickshaw to Wax-museum. To my disappointment, the place was more of an exhibition of musical instruments instead of the detailed wax statues. However one of the staff mentioned that all the wax statues are made by a single person and he is more passionate towards collecting the musical instruments.

The sand museum is just a 10 minutes walk from the wax museum. Though not made of sand completely, the sculptures here had an innovative theme. The models there varied from religion to Disney creatures.

Since my plan was in such a way that the places were connected, I just had to come out of the Sand Museum and catch a bus to Chamundi Temple since I was already in the foothill. The ticket cost is nominal and the Volvo service by RTC makes the journey smooth. I was right on time for the pooja at the Chamundi Temple followed by a sumptuous meal. One can get a spectacular view of the city from the hilltop and the weather was just right after a small drizzle.

I decided to get down the hill by footsteps where I can visit the famous Nandi statue and reach to the other side of the city where my last destination was located.

The Avadhoota Datta Peetham is about a Kilometer from the foothills of Chamundi where the steps begin. The Bonsai garden here was to be open at 3:30 PM. The collection of trees there were just amazing and one of the watchmen over there was kind enough to take me around.

They suggested me to have a look at Shuka Vana a parrot Sanctuary which was the right opposite. Though this was not in my initial plan, I didn’t regret the visit to a home of Parrots and Macaw. Both the Bonsai garden and Shuka Vana have a nominal entry fee and worth a visit when in Mysore. They even have a museum called Vishwam which has a huge collection of interesting artifacts.

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Mysore was a memorable experience indeed!

31 minutes on Namma Metro

Here is my first-hand experience of NammaMetro on the first day after the launch of the complete reach 1. To my disappointment, the gates were open for public only from evening 4 PM, but it didn’t stop me from giving it a shot for a one way trip from Indiranagar to Jayanagar.

I am one of those travelers who makes use of both Green & Purple lines for my journey with an interchange at Majestic metro station. For my luck, it was less crowded from Indiranagar to Majestic since it is the route available for long and saw the most co-passengers at the Majestic station who wanted to try the newly opened Green line. The metro was welcomed by hundreds of flashes and countless smiles who were relieved of the traffic hassles.

My journey started at 5:30 PM from Indiranagar station which is just a 5-minute walk from my work 4167515722. I was excited about this for almost a month and had my metro card ready almost a week before. The fare-chart showed ₹38 to Jayanagar station. Got my seat in the first coach after boarding the metro from the 2nd platform and it took 16 minutes for me to reach Majestic station. The metro to Jayanagar was leaving from the 4th platform which dropped me off at the Jayanagar station at sharp 6:01 PM.

The canopy on green-line makes it a best fit for the name and the 15% concession for using the metro card came as a surprise when I saw ₹32.3 being deducted while exiting. 31 minutes from Indiranagar to Jayanagar is a boon for any commuter and kudos to NammaMetro team for this amazing gift to citizens of Bengaluru.

Quick tips:

  • Catch the last coach from Indiranagar if you are traveling to Jayanagar, since the way to platform 4 at Majestic station is towards the end of the platform
  • Get a metro card which can save your time standing in queue for token and grab the 15% discount on each travel
  • You can top-up the card online, making it a complete cashless travel

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Every soul needs a trip, a solo trip. It’s just to find the endless possibilities.  One such trip I had been was to Channapatna.

It was one of those days where I just had to stop my brain from its routine and explore something different. “How about a visit to a vineyard ?” said the inner me. Ok! I am a teetotaler, and this was a really unusual experience.

To my luck, found the Heritage Vineyard near Channapatna which was also the city of toys. I prepared my checklist with the following:

  1. Wine Tour at Heritage vineyard
  2. Grape Stomping
  3. Visit Jaaanapada Loka

My journey on April 16th started at 7:00 AM. It was a 72km ride to Heritage Vineyard. The sight of various toy shops was a pleasant view. The first town Bidadi soon after Bangalore is famous for its Thatte-Idli. I had planned to skip this one and try a millet-dosa since I am not a big fan of Idli.

The vineyard was welcoming and I was the first one to be there. Got my tickets for the wine tour and grape stomping. The tour guide had a lot of interesting facts to share about the variety of grapes, the concept of wine tasting. The factory was smaller than expected and it was not operational since it was a Sunday.  He showed the complete set of stages where first the grapes are first washed, crushed (with the stem), fermented with a controlled temperature and finally bottled. I got to taste around 5 variety of wines including the ones made from pineapple and berries. The stomping experience was fun. I’m sure it’s not an experience for a solo traveler though.

This entire activity of stamping had made me damn hungry. I picked up some famous wooden toys from Chennapatna as a souvenir and left in search of a tummylicious food. Kamat Upachar near Ramnagar was the best choice with North Karnata Rotti Meals.

The next destination was the Jaanapada Loka where a variety of artifacts were exhibited related folk arts of various parts of Karnataka. It’s a must visit place if you are on the way to Chennapatna. Haven’t seen such a beautiful representation of information and culture before.

Overall, a doable trip for anyone with a day in hand and to pack some memories to munch in the future!

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When I heard about this 100+ year old tree ( some say it is more than 300), it reminded me of the  ‘Three-eyed Ravan” from GOT!

It was Sunday morning when I packed my backpack to visit this giant tree.

Around a 30km journey from Bangalore and around 9km off Mysore road.

The main tree is actually dead and the roots are spread in more than an acre of ground.608-793-4415

Despite not being a professional rider, I could keep up good speeds on the NICE road. Took around 60 minutes for me to reach there.

Once you exit from Mysore road, the road keeps your eyes busy with the nursery of colorful plants on both sides till the destination.

The place is well maintained and one can visit any time of the day. If you are a bird-watcher, early mornings are the best sights. Rest of the day, you can be happy watching the monkeys!! They are smart here, so beware.

Picked-up a plant on my way from the nursery as a souvenir.

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Another place on the route ahead is Machanbele Dam. A must see place if you enjoy scenic views. Though one cannot go near water, you can enjoy views of the massive collection of water and ‘Savanadurga’ in the background!

Overall, a short getaway from Bengaluru with a fulfilling experience of nature!