12 in 12

I was meaning to update this blog with my travel diary posts but somehow I never seem to get myself around to doing so.

After I started working full time, I decided to use my earnings and start travelling solo. I set myself the target of covering 12 new places before 2015 ends. Its July now and I’ve finished 4 such trips. The first one was to Hampi and though it began as a solo trip, it ended up differently. Next was Kochi, to visit the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. I was not disappointed and this was my first truly solo trip. March saw me travelling to Jaipur to witness the wedding of two of my friends; Amrita and Roshan. I cancelled my Gokarna trip towards the end of March at the last minute but I intend to visit it later this year. The end of April had been set aside for a trip to the North thanks to the bridge holiday of Labour Day. I decided to head to Kasol and once there proceeded higher to Kheerganga. It was the most ambitious trip by far and ridden with uncertainties. That trip also dipped a lot into my finances and I had to skip the next month trip in order to recover.

My next trip is this week and this time I am heading to Pune.

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A little off course…

It was May and I badly needed a break hence we planned a last minute impulsive getaway to Mahabalipuram(Mamallapuram) over a weekend. The trip was unplanned and people were few but the fun was good. All we did was eat and after starving through most of April I really needed it. The trip may have been too short but then frankly it was not the best time in the year to visit.

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We stayed at the Lakshmi Guesthouse, where we were assured that we would get bakcup power for our AC room. We visited the Le Yogi for Breakfast(Crepes were had with a mug of good tea) and then headed to Seashore Restaurant and Shanti Cafe for a *long* lunch. The beach air was just what I needed and I ended up exhausted and slept prior to dinner. Dinner at Anand’s Moonraker’s was not as good as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps this was a lesson never to go for anything other than the real Moonraker’s. Next day’s breakfast was at Nautilus and that was because the Gecko Cafe was closed. Unfortunately as it was off season, there was no bacon anywhere.

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Its definitely one of my favourite getaway spots. This was I think my third visit and I bought a well read copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods back as a memory of it.

Ko Da Gu!

A not so last minute trip to ‘the Scotland of India’ was planned and executed this last weekend. In just a couple of days, we somehow managed to get rooms booked in a homestay and our bus tickets to and fro. We had a limited amount of time so we planned the itinerary to cover the most of the visit places.

Day 1 was rainy and we were drenched by the end of it. We visited Talacauvery, Abbey Falls and Raja’s Seat. The Evening ended with us warming ourself at Pause, the unwind cafe.

Day 2 was surprisingly sunny and after morning problems of waking up and getting ready, we were finally on our way to the Dubbare Elephant camp. This was followed by us visiting the Namdroling Monastery. This trip wanted me to learn more about buddhism. Finally it was time to go home and we caught our Volvo back to Bangalore.

If any of you are planning a visit, do try booking a cab from Bangalore or perhaps opt for this kstdc plan.

Pondy Polama!

My Visit to Pondicherry!

We left around 1pm but it was only around 150 that we caught a bus for Pondy. We gave up waiting for the AC volvo and boarded the deluxe one. The cost for the one way trip varies from Rs. 55-150 from Thiruvanmiyur. This trip was planned last minute i.e., in 2-3 days hence we had trouble getting accomodation and had to settle with Anandham Residency instead of a guesthouse which we had wanted. We chose Anandham because it was priced at Rs 1250 for a double AC room and charged Rs 300 for an extra bed. They also provided complimentary breakfast.

We reached Pondicherry around 5pm and were at the hotel easily. We dumped out bags and were set to explore. We found our way to Mission Street which was deceptively named as Cathedral Street on our map. Lucky our hotel was about 4 blocks away. Next we rented our two wheelers. We got 1 Star City, 1 Activa, 1 Access 125 and 1 Scooty Pep Teen2.

And we were off to our first destination eventhough along the way people got lost on the way to re-fuel. I got to ride the Access 125 after the re-fuel as i was one of those eligible riders around. So Chunnambar Backwaters it was as scheduled by our tour planner Nievu, although i had already said it was too late for that. So we headed out of Pondy as this is a good 8 kms away on Cuddalore Highway. Finding the place is not easy and you might just overshoot this place like we did. Naturally, it was closed. A bystander told us to come back the next day after 8:30am.

We headed back to Pondy. Interesting events that occured during this were, the unlicensed riders taking a fall and after half a kilometre being stopped by policemen. The Promenade was next on the list. The Promenade is a 1.5km stretch of beachfront. Vehicles are not allowed here and its a Walker’s paradise. we parked our vehicles on the side roads and went walking. It was past 8pm by then and it was a lot crowded. Not surprising, it being a Sunday and all. We hung around a bit, clicking pictures and soon it was 9pm after we had a small snack.

We had read online that this place called ‘That’s Y Food’ is supposed to be one of the best places to eat at, so we hunted for it. After a lot of hunting on Mission Street we found that the restaurant was no more and the one that had replaced it had closed its kitchen. Now Pondy is a small town that means restaurants and other eating out places are closed by 10:30pm and we were running out of places to eat at. In the end, we decided to choose ‘CKS’ as it was open. Ordered a veg. burger combo for myself. Satisfying. We headed back to our Hotel.

After a good night’s sleep, it was morning again and after waking people up and having that yummy complimentary breakfast and a quick re-fuel, we were off to Auroville. Auroville is a good 10kms away our info told us but those long straight roads make you wonder if its really 10kms. We just kept going on and on. Finally we were there. We parked at the Vistor’s Centre and strolled around. Visited the boutiques. I bought a Rope Bag and Apple Butter Cookies. Next we headed to the Matrimandir but we came to know that we needed the entry passes to enter the compound. So as the pass distribution would resume after lunch break at 2pm, we decided to skip it. We headed back to the Cheese factory. Midway, the girls took a detour to shop and i waited at The Bakery with Girish. I had a Quiche and a Pizza, that was to be my lunch. Most of us had a snack at that point except our Vegetarian(@nievu) and the Cheese Intolerant(Faris) 😉

Back we went to hunt for the Cheese factory, and after many wrong turns and double backs, me, shwetha and girish were the last to arrive. Sadly we came to know that they wont show us around. We need to inform prior to coming. So that was sad. So after our bad luck that day, we hit the road but stopped at the first open restaurant. It was GoodMan’s, and i say the food was Good. The Seafood was more affordable than in Chennai and quite tasty. Late afternoon we headed back to Checkout from the Hotel.

The journey back went well except two vehicles overshot the hotel and finally ended up back at the hotel after quite a ride. With our luggage now on our bags, we headed out to Chunnambar. We knew the way by heart by now. Actually we knew quite a lot of Pondy by heart. This time it was my turn to overshoot the destination. The rest were worried as i didnt pick their calls either. But i made it back and somehow hopped into the last boat ride of the day. It was a relaxing sunset boat ride on the river and it made us realise that our trip was coming to an end. These barely two days were a lot of fun. We headed back to Pondicherry hunting for a place to eat dinner. After much searching, we found La Terrasse. The food was awesome! Thanks to @anahgem for the recommend. Somehow we made it to the vehicle shop minutes before 9pm. There we had a minor disagreement about the damage to the Scooty Pep+. We ended up coughing up Rs700 as a fine. With that out of the way, we headed to the Express Bus Stop to perhaps catch the last Volvo out of Pondicherry that night.

At 10pm, the bus arrived and we settled into our seats for the ride home. It was a memorable trip. Wish i could do it all over again.

What we didnt do right: Find out about hiring two wheelers. Check if Tourist sites are open during your visits. Many of the museums seem to be closed on Mondays. Call and book visits for places like the ‘Le Ferme’ Cheese Factory.

What you should do: Find out details about places of visit, their timings, charges, etc. Know that restaurants close early. Keep a map handy. Rent a vehicle.

What we would want to do next time: Visit the museums and roam the city. Visit Matrimandir. Visit the beaches. Scuba diving, Surfing also on the list, Have french food.

Refer this list for more details about Pondy!

7 Things About Chennai

Share Auto Life

Things have Changed. Circumstances forced this move to Chennai. Its been a month here so far and the schedule is hectic. I have just got down to blogging again. For people who do visit to check my blog posts, Geekd.in would be the place i would tend to update more often.

So how has Chennai been so far? Not entirely unfriendly. I knew that Language was to be a problem and Water too. We dropped by in October to find a place to stay at Ambattur as our ILP centre was close by. We ended up with a small room in Annanagar West Extn., after a wild 3 days which saw us roaming around in marshy areas finding something that sounds like ‘Abhinjyam Stage 1’ Flats in Mogappair West at night and Going to the MMM Hospital to get Bottled water at 11pm. Lot of New experiences definitely. But then every one of us who came here had their own list to share.

So back in November, we left Mangalore on 31st. Around 32 of us travelled in Train to Chennai. That was the beginning of our Adventure. Arriving at Chennai for the third time in 2 years , i had grown accustomed to some of the things. And we learnt more along the way in the past one month.

1. One of the basic things we were confused about were bus journeys. The Buses had fares which were completely indecipherable with respect to bus type and distance covered. Finally i was enlightened to the fact that the bus fares are ruled by the bus boards. The White board buses are the cheapest and the Blue the costliest (i think). Also a M prefixed to the bus means you get charged 1 buck extra. Travel is cheap here in Chennai. This link helps us at times. Rab.in.

2. Food didn’t turn out to be a problem although the notorious white rice is everywhere. Never try Non-Indian food at Vegetarian hotels no matter how good they are supposed to be. Had a bad experience ordering American Chopsuey at Saravana Bhavan. But i Found their tea heavenly and its pricing (Rs 16) too.

3. Language was and still is a problem. Thanks to Karthik and Rathan, i can survive with my limited knowledge of Tamil. Broken English is a great help at times.

4. We discovered Share Autos as a more viable option over the meterless autos any day. There were lots who got looted by rickshaws. Travel can be dangerous too. We had a ride where the driver thought he was playing ‘Grand Theft Share Auto’. He broke a lot of those so-called traffic rules. But then not many people in Chennai seem to stick to them. I’ve had many close shaves trying to cross the road here.

5. Chennai has freaky weather patterns. Cyclone one day, Sunny the next. I Caught a cold thanks to that and had sore throat thanks to the water. Bathing is horrible due to the salt water and feels almost redundant.

6. Chennai has an English Radio Channel, Chennai Live! 104.8 fm It plays good music and glad i discovered it. i Bought a new Nokia 5030 to manage my new Chennai number and this was a pleasant surprise.

7. Diwali in Chennai is like being in a WarZone. People just burst crackers left and right, On the road and near vehicles. Scary stuff. And deafening too.

More News from Chennai soon.
Image Courtesy: Deepsan

My Travel Diaries: Mission Kashmir

We reached New Delhi early the next morning at 2am. We were transferred to a local hotel because our flight was at 11am the next day. While unloading our bags from the bus into the hotel we were introduced to greasy delhi policemen. They were telling the bus driver that he couldn’t park there. And this was at 2 A.M. ! They took a Rs. 50 bribe and were on their way. One of the operators present there commented that ‘Give a Cop a Rs. 50 note and he’ll be willing to look the other way no matter what we were transporting’. No wonder India has the highest number of terrorist attacks. We were staying at Karol Bagh which due to the renovation for the Commonwealth Games 2010 was all dug up. As i write this post the CWG is marred in controversy. Early next morning at around 9am we were off to the airport. The last time i had been here was almost 4 years back and that time too we had barely stayed for long.
So we were on our flight to Srinagar. Everyone was apprehensive about this segment of the trip because there has been recent unrest in the valley and currently it has a curfew status. So well we were just hoping for the best! We landed as per schedule and after loading our bags we were off to our hotel. Now the hotel was named Hotel Goldenfinger. Reminds you of that Bond film no? Owned by a fan nonetheless. With that tacky name i was not sure what to expect and i wasn’t let down. It looked like shit from the outside but luckily the inside was better. Well you see ever since the perennial state of terror that the state is in, the influx of tourists is decreasing. This ‘Heaven on Earth’ is struggling to survive. The pollution levels are rising. It was a reminder to us that we were back in India after our sojourn abroad. Truly, A rude awakening.
After settling down ( the rooms were decent and even had flat screen TV’s which we hadn’t got even abroad) the plan was that we go to Dal Lake in the evening. The local shopping area was not safe to visit because of the terror threat. There was still curfew you know but its different from the one we are familiar with. There its a way of life. We actually find people moving about normally. We are only reminded about the situation when we see couple of policemen/military police posted every 100 metres. That s a really high level of security!
Evenings at Dal Lake seem to be a family affair. There were lot of people about and everyone seemed to be having fun. We went for the traditional shikara ride. Only 4 fit in one so i decided to go with the guys separate from my family. I think it cost us Rs 75 each. Decent for an hour ride around Dal Lake. We were shown places around. We had a grad old man as our boatman and he kept rambling about places like the vegetable garden, location of the movie scene where Hrithik Roshan shot for Mission Kashmir, etc. We munched on Corn and moong dal. You see, Dal Lake is a city in itself. There are boats which function as shops. These ‘shops’ swarm around you showcasing their wares and trying to cajole you into buying something from them. That s how we ended up with the corn. We told the other merchants to go away because with 4 guys in the boat there was no chance of us buying any jewellery 😀 Each boat has a cut involved in every sale made. Thats why they even take you near certain shops. People have to survive despite circumstances. We visited a Kashmir Handicrafts showroom on one of the boathouses. My parents later bought a blanket which we later found out was cheaper in the city (by about Rs.500) 😛 but hey thats how tourists luck is.
So we were back to the room and not much else was left to do. We played cards to pass the time. I learnt a lot of new games and it was fun time with those guys: Karan, Kishan, Sandeep, Shodan and Harsh.
Many people complained about the amount of leisure time we had in Kashmir. There really wasn’t much to do. The next day we set out early at 8am to be able to get out of the city before any trouble breaks out. We were going to visit Pahalgam. Its a grassland at a height where the sheep graze and during winter functions as a skiing slope. It was beautiful. We rode up on horses but the climb down was one adrenaline pumped experience. It really is something looking down steep slopes as your steed negotiates his/her way down. We had tea on top and also met some Army men with whom we posed for pictures. These Great men who live for the country deserve respect. We climbed down for lunch next to the river that flowed along the highway. On the way here we were subjected to security checking on the roads. It was the peak season of the Amarnath Yatra. There were a lot of pilgrims travelling. We dipped our feet into the ice cool waters of the river for a bit before we trudged uphill to a nearby temple where we were stranded at because it rained. After this we were on our way back to the hotel. Thus ended day 2 at Srinagar.
Day 3 at Srinagar: There was some feast of importance that day and the curfew was relaxed. So when we went out to our destination that day we were met with traffic. Our destination this time was the resort rich area of Gulmarg. Gulmarg is famous for movie scenes and the skiing slopes. Its also has ice/snow nearly all round the year. Basically there are two levels at Gulmarg. Each of which is accessible by using a Gondola(Cable Car). The fee is expensive but the service is good too. I think it cost us Rs 400 to the first level each and Rs 500 was the amount to the second level. The Levels are at quite a height compared to the base where the cable cars start off. Earlier this trip was to be made on horses until the government stepped in and installed these French made cable cars. This causes loss of employment for the horse owners but it prevents the tourists from being fleeced. I recommend you visit such places with a tour guide. Almost everyone opted only for the first level. I was interested in going to level 2 but going alone is no fun. At Level 1, we were told that if we opted for horses they would take us to a waterfall and also show us snow. We agreed. So we mounted horses again. The trip this time was longer and even though we were on steady ground i couldn’t take may pictures unlike at Pahalgam. The reason being it was drizzling. At the end point the horse keepers pointed out to a glacier like place which was still frozen. We decided to climb up. This is not something recommended for people who have altitude sickness. The air at this altitude is quite thin and many people find it tough to breathe. We guys however persevered on climbing along the sides of the glacier. The path was not clear; our footing uncertain. Somehow we made it to a certain height where mist covered us so that we could barely see ahead of us. It was time to go back. We posed for pictures and also played with the snow. Coming down was again another story.. The lack of a path accompanied with the slipperiness from the stones being wet was a dangerous way to climb down. I slipped at one place and hurt my finger on a stone before i regained balance. The fact was that i was wearing sandals and not shoes to climb. It started raining more heavily as we set out back to Level 1 cable car station. I hid the camera in my jacket to keep it safe. The next 20 minutes were the most boring and cold moments i have ever felt. Me and the tour guide, Mr. Ratnakar were the last ones on the trail and we couldn’t see anyone ahead of us. By the time we got back things looked messy. People were wet and cold. Somehow we made it to the bottom, walked more than a kilometre to our vans and were off. The rain made us change our plans. Lunch was shifted to a hotel further down the slope where i also had tea post lunch to warm me up. We also visited an apple farm and ate apples and walnuts! These walnuts were tasty! Back to the room and card games.
The last day at Srinagar was our Garden tour day. We visited the High security Shankaracharya temple on Sulaiman Hill. No cameras or cellphones are allowed. You have to leave your bags in your vehicle and climb the 200 odd steps to the temple. The gardens we visited were Mughal Gardens, Shalimar gardens and Nishat Gardens. There is not much to see in Gardens. But for a shutterbug it presents a lot of opportunity. We visited a carpet weaving factory that day and the work of the artisans amazed me. I bought a papier maché egg with some intricate paint work. With Nishat gardens, the last leg of our tour was done. We had lunch there before heading back.
We left Srinagar the next morning at 11am. Goodbye to The Valley. I am not sure if i am visit this place again or if it even would be possible in the future 😦
Our connecting flight at Delhi was at 5:50pm. There was some problem and we were delayed quite a bit. It was past 6:30 when we eventually had lift off. However there wasn’t much of a delay in our arrival time. We reached around 9pm at Bangalore and headed to my cousin’s house for the night. Sadly the journey had come to an end. I was back Home.

Coming up: Collages of Malyasia, Singapore and Kashmir.