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Friday, July 30, 2010

Ancient Kingdom of Golconda, Near Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

The ancient kingdom of Golconda from the 13th century is today a city in ruins surrounded by a fort that is situated about 15 kilometres from the heart of Hyderabad city in Andhra Pradesh.

A Fort View
Though most of this city is ruins today, the Archaeological society of India have done a marvellous job of maintaining it and thus allowing the tourists to Golconda get a good glimpse into its rich history.

Carvings from multiple cultures
I visited this amazing tourist place sometime last month on a hot and sultry day. Not the ideal conditions to walk and climb through the rocky structures and terrain, but I am guessing that it was the weather that made me appreciate the architecture and the technology of this city even more.

Corridors at Golconda Fort 
The entry ticket cost me about five Indian rupees. As soon as I entered the perimeter, I hired the services of a government recognized tourist guide to help me understand the history better. His services cost me five hundred rupees for a full tour of the city lasting a little less than three hours.

Entering Golconda Fort
The start was not quite so fascinating with my guide helping me get an understanding of the layout of this city. But, as I kept going deeper into the city, its aura kept increasing.

Fortified Pathway inside Golconda Fort, Hyderabad
The most special feature of this fort is a acoustical system that was designed to be a defence technique wherein a hand clap sounded at the fort’s main gates, the grand portico, was heard at the top of the 300 foot high granite hill. I got a live feel of this when my guide asked his counterpart at the security gate below to clap his hands and when he did I was indeed speechless as it felt like a clap that originated just next to me.

Main Door of Golconda Fort
Though, this is the most famous acoustical system in this city, there are  others that deserve a lot of praise too. For example, inside the king’s chambers, one can hear even a whisper that takes place outside his room. This was designed so that he could over hear any plans of killing him.

Mosque at Golconda Fort
The other defence system that drew praise from me is the main durbar. The king would sit on an elevated room and his durbar would sit below. Though, he could see his people and hear them, the people could not attack him as there was no direct line of sight to the king. Thus, a knife aimed at him would hit one of the many crooked walls that separated him and his killer.

Mosque Minar at Golconda Fort
As we all know, today’s Hyderabad and yesteryear’s Golconda is situated in a dry region of our country and that water is a scarce commodity here. But, if you were to look at Golconda’s aqueducts, its water ponds and its water filtering system, then you would say that this city had an advanced water technology system.

Mosque on top of Golconda Fort
Water would flow into pond number 1 from a nearby lake through gravity. Then, they would be pumped into six other water ponds each situated at a higher altitude by slaves and cattle. At each pond, water would then be filtered and would undergo various different treatments. The final result, when the king and the queen bathe, they would receive hot water, cold water, water with rose fragrance, drinking water, etc. Quite un-believable right?

Nandi Rock Structure at Hindu Temple in Golconda Fort 
Coming back to my tour…This fort had at that time a near impregnable defence system with its main gates blocked by huge walls. The entire perimeter of the fort was blocked by high walls and the areas beyond had traps and then there were armed guards.

Ruins of Golconda Fort
The architecture in this city is mostly of the Islamic style, but at some places like the front Bala Hissar Gate, one can see both Hindu and Islamic architecture here. The mosques near the entrance and at the top also retain the architectural magnificence even till date.

Signboard at Golconda Fort 
As you walk towards the highest point on the fort through the steep rock-cut steps, you are awarded with stunning views of the Hyderabad city and the entire vicinity of the fort area.

The ruins form a beautiful view
It was a hot day, but I hardly felt the heat as the entire fort was so well ventilated. The designs are such that cool breeze could reach even the interiors of the fort. This can be seen especially in the King’s durbar, which seems like an air conditioned hall inside.

Work on the walls inside Golconda Fort 
There is a Hindu temple on campus, the Ramdas jail has Hindu gods and goddesses, there were different routes for the royal people and for the ordinary people, the designs are so unique and intricate, the well paved out gardens, and the overall royal look along with all its other features made this visit to Golconda a great experience for me.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Walk through the Agricultural Belt of Havelock Island

How many of you have seen the agricultural belt while going on a vacation to a tropical island? How many of you took the opportunity to explore the green terrain while on a beach holiday? I am guessing that the answer will be a miniscule percentage.


Not that such areas are a tourist attraction, but such green agricultural belts tell us tourists a lot about the local culture and food, while allowing us to admire nature’s beauty.

 
But, in my case, I love to buck the trend and took my rented motorcycle to one remote village on Havelock Island. Only when I reached the end of the road did I find out I was surrounded by the food bowl of Havelock Island.


The entire place wore a fresh green look with palm trees, betel nut trees and coconut trees. The trees beyond were the tall and dense native tropical varieties. As for the food crops, locals grew banana, potato, onions, tomato, egg plant (brinjal), okra (lady’s finger), green chillies and the likes. Surprisingly, a lot of it is exported to the rest of the Andamans and especially betel nut, which is exported to the rest of the world.

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Kalapathar Beach of Havelock Island, Andaman Islands, India

The Kalapathar beach is situated on one corner of Havelock Island. The beach gets its name from the surrounding village, which is Kalapathar Village and the black rocks (known as Kalapathar in Hindi) that adorn the coastline here.


I came across this serene place when I was exploring the entire Havelock Island on my rented motorcycle. I rode with the idea of going till the road goes.


The drive towards the beach looked very much like a marine drive, but with a tropical fragrance to it. There were hardly any people around. All I could see were some stray dogs, which exist in huge numbers across the Havelock Island.

 
The emerald seas, the tropical forests on one side of the road, the kalapathars (black rocks) that decorate the coastline, the silken smooth silver sands and the sheer solitude make this beach a great place to relax. I was very happy that no tourist infrastructure was available here and nature was left as is. But, if you happen to go here, do exercise caution while entering the waters as the locals warn of the sharp rocks and the strong currents beyond.

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Discount Caribbean Cruises

When it comes to planning a vacation, the Caribbean is often considered an excellent choice because of its warm weather and vast amount of beaches. When planning a vacation to the Caribbean, a cruise is highly recommended because it allows you to visit multiple islands. Cruises are reasonably priced and there are many discount cruises available online. Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises are popular and both include different destinations and travel time. By checking the different cruise websites, you should be able to find some great deals online. For example, discountcruises.com has many budget cruises available.

An Eastern Caribbean cruise is a great choice for anybody who wants to spend less time at sea. There are many activities available for those who wish to stay on the ship. Some common destinations for this type of cruise, typically includes the Bahamas, St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten/St. Martin. If you are planning an Eastern Caribbean cruise, you should look for a cruise line that goes to the locations you are interested in visiting.

A Western Caribbean cruise is another option to consider and these may consist of travelling to Costa Maya, Grand Cayman, Havana, or Cozumel. The Western Caribbean ports are further apart and this is the perfect cruise if you would like to spend more time at sea.

When planning a trip, it is best to understand your budget and what you are looking to get out of the cruise. There are many discounted cruise options available and they provide an excellent way relax. If you are unable to afford an expensive vacation, a cruise is an excellent alternative.

This guest post has been written by Josh Brown.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunset during a fishing trip in the Andamans!!

While I was backpacking in the Andamans, I used to go on regular fishing trips to satisfy the fish diet of my backpacking friend.


We used to go late in the evening just before sunset. According to the local fishermen, this was the best time of the day to catch the larger fish. And, according to me, such fishing trips offer some of the best sunset views on the Andaman seas.


Sunset over the deep wide seas is quite an interesting sight and as the colours change across the horizon you can feel frequent tugs on your fishing line. It is quite an experience to manage your fishing lines and enjoy the sunset and it is fabulous if you come trumps on both sides.

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Golconda Fort Top offers exciting views of the living city and the city in ruins!!

Golconda, a ruined city and a national heritage site is situated about 15 kms from the heart of Hyderabad city.

Golconda Ruins and the city of Hyderabad behind it
This city and its fort can be explored at leisure in half a day and during this exploration one has to ascend the various steps of the fort to reach the top.

Hyderabad City View from the top of Golconda Fort
And it is here from the top and during the climb that one gets excellent aerial views of both the city in ruins ‘Golconda’ and the thriving city beyond ‘Hyderabad’.

View from Midway climb at Golconda Fort
The fort, within which the Golconda city is located has quite a large perimeter and this perimeter is made up of rocks, ruins, surviving structures and greenery.

View of Golconda Campus
The area beyond that are the immediate human settlements and the local baazars. The skyscrapers in the horizon are the buildings and organizations that form the Information Technology Park of Hyderabad. The really green belt is the army area.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trek to Chandrayana Betta, Karnataka, India

A fine Sunday morning saw me go on a trekking trip with couple of my friends. The agenda was fairly simple for us. We were going to climb one of the many hills that border the popular Nandi Hills and be back at our respective homes by sunset.


We managed to reach Nandi Hills by half past six. We wolfed some eggs and bread for breakfast while we asked the locals for directions to the various hills around. After our discussions with the locals, we found out that we were going to climb Chandrayana Betta that morning.


Chandrayana Betta is one of the many hills that dot the area of the Chickballapur district in Karnataka. Nandi Hills and Skandagiri are the more popular ones with the tourists, but the locals seem to know more or less all the hills as they visit the small temples on the top to seek the lord’s blessings.


The place where we started our trek to Chandrayana Betta is about 8 kms from the Nandi Hills main junction. A small trekking path ascends up opposite a temple with a huge Nandi statue. There is high possibility that you will miss this point so do remember to check with the locals near the temple.

 
We found a local farmer about five minutes into the trekking trail. We asked him for directions, but he went a step forward and decided to show us the way till about half-way to the top. The climb was steep, but not harsh. The trail was slippery at some places due to overnight rains.


It was fairly easy going while the local farmer showed us the way. But, the excitement began only when he gave us further directions and decided to cut the long blades of grass at that point. Soon, armoured with directions, we made our way forward. All was going well till we took a break at a view point.


Post that, we seemed to lose our way. We waded through thorny bushes, shrubs and slippery rocks for over two hours, but we did not find our way. After bearing the scratches from the thorns and the bruises from the various slips, we decided to retreat our way back till we find the right route. After retreating for about 45 minutes, we found directions marked on the stones.


We kicked ourselves for missing these directions and then started the climb again. By this time, the sun was beating hard and we were running low on water. We had carried no food supply with us. We lost our way a couple of more times, but somehow managed to reach the top. Enroute, we stopped for a long while at a couple of picturesque view points. The final stage of the climb is really steep and is completely rocky. And the heat added to our woes.


Just before you reach the top, you have to walk across a scary steep ridge. But this ridge presents some breathtaking views of the plains below. After a good four hours, we had finally made it to the top. In ideal conditions, we would have made it to the top in under two hours.


Once we reached the top, all three of us went our separate ways to explore the place. During my exploration, I came across the ruins of a temple and a temple pond. It looked like it used to be quite a big structure. Today, fishes and frogs play in that dirty temple pond. Next, I found another temple, but it looked like this temple was still being looked after. May be, the locals come here to offer their prayers on some auspicious days of the month.


As I approached the other side of the top, I was stunned to see some amazing views of the Skandagiri hills and Nandi Hills. Skandagiri, especially stood tall against the rocky horizon. After our long exploration, we found some shade and decided to take some rest. The cool breeze provided us with some respite from the hot sun. While climbing up, we had found no one else apart us on the trail and when we reached the top, we were extremely happy to find the place completely to ourselves. This provided us with much needed peace during our short n sweet afternoon siesta.


Our stay at the top was just over an hour. This was when I decided that it was time to start our descent. But, upon looking around, I could not find my 2nd friend. Hence, I waited again. Shortly, he turned up with some information about an alternate way for the descent. I said, sure, why not!


Thus, we began our descent from the side where you can see Skandagiri clearly. The descent unlike the ascent was through steps and we were happy that there were no thorns around. But, the descent was extremely steep and we had to take every step carefully.


Shortly, we ran out of water. But, we were confident that we could live without water for another two hours. We kept descending while watching the various quarries that lay below the cliff. At one juncture, we missed our path and headed deep into the bushes. It was a vertical drop down. One of us took it and went down. We could hear him, but he could not come back as he did not have any gear to hoist himself on the vertical surface.


Upon seeing this, one of my friends panicked and said that we should call for chopper help. I laughed and promised him that I would take him down slowly, but safely. With that, we ascended through the dense bushes and then found our way back to the main track. From here, we just took the steps down.


Soon, we re-joined with our 3rd team member. It had been three hours and all of us had not had water at all. Hence, we were extremely happy when we found a small farm house. We went in, asked for some water and got buckets of it from a garden hose pipe. After having quenched our thirst, we made our way to the main road.


But, the trek was still not over for us as our car was parked about 5 kilometres up hill next to the Nandi temple. It had been 8 hours since our light breakfast and all of us were painfully hungry. We somehow managed to get a lift to the car, had heavy lunch at a road side dhaba and then took our tired souls back to Bangalore.

This day was a great adventurous experience for all three of us! 

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Caspian Plovers on the Andaman Shores of India

I was taking a relaxed stroll on the beaches of Havelock Island when I spotted these Caspian Plovers or at least that’s what I think they are.


They might also be the Lesser Sand Plovers. These cannot be the Greater Sand or Oriental Plover as they are small,. But, I can be wrong. Would you know which plover they are? Any help in identification would be appreciated.

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Beware of the dogs on Havelock Island

Havelock Island is the jewel of the Andaman tropical archipelago paradise, but it also has the dubious distinction of having the highest concentration of street dogs in the Andamans. It is said that no one is safe from these street dogs and that includes the locals too.


I learnt it the hard way when I got attacked by three of them and bit by one while walking the sands of Beach No. 3. Luckily for me, these dogs had already been sterilized and my wound wasn’t that bad. But, it ruined by beach holiday as I couldn’t get into the water for seven days. So, if you are planning a beach holiday to Havelock Island…Remember to watch out for the rowdy local dogs!

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Panch Chakki – A Medieval Water Mill at Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India

Panch Chakki is a religious tourist spot situated at one end of the city of Aurangabad. It is famous for two things: First, the dargah of Hazrat Shah Mussafir and second, the medieval water mill that used to grind wheat. This big historical monument with the grave of Hazrat Baba has an attached mosque, a naaguarkhana (musical house), a mussafirkhana (where the Waqf board office is currently housed), a sacred pond and a water wheel run by water brought through pipelines from aquifers located far off from the city.

Dargah at Panchchakki, Aurangabad 
The Panch Chakki is visited by both Muslims and Hindus alike. But, during my visit, I spotted more Muslims. May be because Muslims constitute the majority population in the surroundings of the dargah. But, the highlight of my visit was the medieval water mill that functions even today, though is not used to grind wheat anymore.

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