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Friday, August 27, 2010

Soochipara Falls in the Monsoons

Thundering water amidst dense greenery in the Western Ghats is what I saw when I visited Soochipara Falls recently. Soochipara Falls, one of the more famous tourist attractions of Wayanad is located about 13 kms from the town of Meppady in the Wayanad district of Kerala in India.

 
To reach Soochipara Falls, one has to drive through tea, coffee and spice plantations. The drive itself can be quite intoxicating with nature in full abundance. The feeling of being enveloped by mist adds to the WOW factor.


By the time me and my friends reached the parking lot, we were completed covered by mist and could hardly see anything in front of us. All of us had plans to take a shower under the waterfall, but were having second thoughts due to the dropping temperature. However, we stalled our thoughts for a while and proceeded to buy the entrance tickets from the ticket counter.


We paid 20 rupees per head for entry, 25 rupees per camera and 20 rupees for car parking and got ourselves our entry permits. We found out at that ticket counter that we have to walk a kilometre and a half downhill to reach the waterfall.

 
We walked for five minutes before arriving at a ticket checking counter. This is where all our baggage was checked for plastic content. After all, we were entering a NO PLASTIC zone. The interesting thing here is that if you want to carry even a plastic bottle inside then you pay a security deposit at the checking counter. Upon safely bringing back the plastic bottle, the security deposit can be collected.

 
A unique and very apt concept and thanks to such environment friendly policies, we hardly found any litter, leave alone plastic during our downhill trek to the falls.

 
It took us about 10 minutes to complete the descent and soon we could hear the thunder of the waterfall. The final 200 feet was covered in slippery and steep rocks and we had to watch our steps. From this point onwards all of us were slowly getting drenched in the spray coming from the waterfall.

 
On seeing the waterfall up front, we realized that we could not take a shower under the waterfall and instead decided to take a dip in the fast moving and extremely cold water. The dip was really refreshing. The only sad part here was that I could not take a lot of pictures as my lens filter kept getting fogged by the water spray. Guess, I needed a lens wiper or something like that.

 

After spending an hour here, we slowly climbed our way back to the trail and only stopped to have a hot glass of lemon tea (kattan chaya in Malayalam). The cold bath and the hot tea charged us so much that we indulged in some tropical photography. More on that soon.

But, overall, I would definitely recommend a visit to Soochipara Falls in the monsoons. The trek is not that tough and shopping for local crafts are also available. And then the place is truly mesmerizing.

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Photographing Yellow Flowers (Cosmos Orange) at Banasura Sagar Dam

As a thumb rule, I do not photograph flowers. I do not hate flowers, but I am more of a travel photographer who takes spontaneous pictures rather than setting it up and capturing different frames of a still subject.


However, this time around I made an exception as I was totally mesmerized by the gentle sway of these yellow flowers I saw at Banasura Sagar Dam.


Banasura Sagar Dam is the largest earthen dam in India and the second largest in Asia. It is situated about 20 kilometres from Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad district in Kerala, India.

 
These flowers slowly attracted me towards them to such an extent where I could see the dew drops on them clearly.


The flowers were very pretty, but photography was very difficult due to the heavy wind that kept lashing these flowers.


Now, I had no tripod and hence had to do a mix n match of high shutter speed and high ISO settings to capture my subject clearly.


Ideally, I would have loved to have some bit of additional sharpness and focus on the core part of the flower. But, I guess given the breezy conditions and me being a first time flower photographer, I did ok.


What do you think? Do I click well to continue photographing other flowers? Would love to hear your comments.


Also, would anyone know the name of these flowers?

Thank you Mridula for helping in the identification of these flowers. 

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lovely Tea Plantations of Chembra Estate

One has to cross hundreds of acres of tea plantations to reach the starting point of the Chembra trek. But, in all the excitement of the trek, you tend to just glance at the immaculate tea gardens and then respond ‘WOW’.


In fact, the Chembra estate is so beautiful that you can comfortably spend at least a couple of days exploring its large area. The Chembra estate is primarily made up of tea estates.


But, along with the tea estates are the coffee plantations at slightly lower altitude, which co-exist with betel nut trees, pepper climbers, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla climbers, turmeric and other exotic spices.


This exotic concoction of landscapes and plantations is situated in the Wayanad district of God’s Own Country – Kerala. It is located about 7 kilometres from Meppady and about 20 kilometres from Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad.

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Trek to Chembra Peak - FAQ

Recently, I had been on a monsoon trek to Chembra Peak. But, before going on this trek, I could hardly find good quality information in one place on the internet. Thus, I have decided to put together this post that aims to answer most of the questions that a prospective trekker seeks before going on a trek to Chembra Peak.


Below are the questions and their answers. 

Q) Where is Chembra Peak located?
A) Chembra peak is located near Meppady in Wayanad district of Kerala, India

Q) What is the total distance of the Chembra trek?
A) 14 kms (round trip)

Q) What is the difficulty level of this trek?
A) I would say it is moderate. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the toughest, I would grade this trek as a 5, may be a 6 in the monsoons.

Q) What is the height of Chembra Peak?
A) 6,900 feet above MSL

Q) What is the total ascent from the trek starting point to the peak?
A) A little over 4,000 feet.

Q) How much time does it take to complete this trek?
A) By comfortable standards, the trek will take about 6 hours to complete. This includes brief stops for catching one’s breath and for photography and a long break of 30 minutes on the top. Though, one can add a 20% variance depending on fitness levels.

Q) What is the best time to trek here?
A) One can trek comfortably all year round, though the descent can get quite slippery during heavy rains and the monsoons.

Q) Does one require prior permission for the Chembra trek?
A) Prior permission is not required, but one needs to take permissions from the forest office situated in the Chembra estate. On the spot permits are given for day treks.

Q) Are the permits given free of cost?
A) No. The permits come for a price. Trekking charges for a group of 10 members cost 500 rupees. Still Camera permits cost 25 rupees per camera.

Q) Can we hire the services of a forest trekking guide?
A) Yes. In fact, the services of a forest trekking guide come included in the 500 rupee trekking permit. Do remember not to pay anything extra to the guide, though you can tip him if you are happy with his service.

Q) Are there any parking fees?
A) Yes, parking fees are levied by a private attendant belonging to the Chembra estate. 20 Rupees are charged for a car towards parking fees.

Q) Do we need to carry food and water?
A) Yes. A high energy snack and at least 4 litres of water per head is highly recommended. Water is available enroute in the form of rainwater lakes, but this water is not fit for drinking.

Q) Are we allowed to camp on the top of Chembra peak?
A) No. The forest department does not allow camping on the peak owing to the sensitive ecology and environment and to prevent any trouble from wildlife.

Q) How far is the start of the Chembra trek from Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad? A) About 20 kilometres. From Kalpetta, turn towards Meppady, which is situated about 13 kms to the south. Once you reach Meppady, take the estate roads that lead towards Chembra estate. Chembra estate is situated about 7 kms from Meppady. Sign boards are available throughout the route from Kalpetta.

Q) How far is Chembra starting point from Bangalore? What is the route?
A) Chembra starting point is about 330 kms from Bangalore. The route would be Bangalore –> Mysore –> Gundlupet –> Sulthan Bathery –> Kalpetta –> Meppady –> Chembra Estate

Q) Is Chembra peak situated in the Western Ghats?
A) Yes, Chembra is truly a part of the Western Ghats.

Q) Will we see wildlife during the trek? A) Maybe. Some trekkers have seen elephants, gaur and spotted deer. The guide says he has seen tigers too on this trail. Though, I would not believe any of them till I see the wild animals with my own eyes :-)

Q) What kind of accommodation is available nearby to relax after the trek?
A) Expensive (3500 rupees per room), but basic accommodation is available in the Chembra estate itself. Budget accommodation from 250-500 rupees for a double room can be found at Meppady. Up market stay can be found at Kalpetta and luxury resorts and spa (3,000 rupees and above) can be availed at Vythiri, situated about 5 kms west of Kalpetta.

Q) Is alcohol permitted on the trek?
A) No. Since, this is a forest area, alcohol, firearms and other banned substances are not allowed on the trek.

Q) Is Chembra a NO PLASTIC zone?
A) Yes. Hence, please carry back all your litter back to civilization.

Q) Does a weekend offer enough time to explore Chembra?
A) Absolutely, though you will always yearn for more time in such pristine surroundings.

Q) How does the Chembra terrain look like?
A) Chembra terrain is made up of evergreen forests at lower altitudes and grasslands at higher altitudes.

Q) Does Chembra have a well marked trail right to the top of the peak?
A) Yes. Though a guide is recommended.

Q) How does the Chembra trekking trail look like?
A) The Chembra trail is made up of 300 metres of walking through tea estates followed by a steep climb right up to the top only to be broken by a few flats near the lake enroute.

Q) Are there any scenic spots on this trail?
A) Yes. There are 2 lakes enroute to the top. One of them is heart shaped and looks beautiful from the top. On a clear day, one can see the towns of Kalpetta and Vythiri from the top. Both these account for breath taking views. Apart from these, the entire trail is a treat to the eye with soothing colours of green everywhere. The beginning of this trail is surrounded by tea, coffee and spice plantations.

Q) Apart from the Chembra trek, are there any sightseeing opportunities nearby?
A) Definitely.
Chembra Estate – For a holiday amidst coffee and tea plantations.
Soochipara Falls – A waterfall amidst dense greenery about 12 kms from Meppady.
Meenmutty Falls – An amazonian falls and a tricky trek about 18 kms from Meppady on the Meppady-Ooty road.
Banasura Sagar Dam – the second largest earthen dam in Asia offers great photography and boating opportunities. It is situated about 18 kms from Kalpetta.
Pookote Lake – Located 5 kilometres from Kalpetta, this lake of flowers is a famous tourist attraction. It offers boating facilities too.
Edakkal Caves – Caves with prehistoric paintings located about 20 kms from Kalpetta.
Tusharagiri Trek 

Apart from the above, there are many other trails and places that one can explore in the great hills and valleys of Wayanad in God’s Own Country.

If you have more questions regarding this trek, please feel free to ask them through the commenting system below. That way, we can make this a good FAQ page for a Trek to Chembra Peak.

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Monsoon Trek to Chembra Peak, Wayanad, Kerala, India

A tropical trek in the monsoons is just what the doctor ordered. And it gets even better if the trek is in the Western Ghats, which is one of the hottest bio-diversity hotspots in the world.


Such a tropical trek in the monsoons is the best way to relax one’s soul amidst a world that is dressed in fresh green. This time the destination was Chembra Peak, the highest peak in the district of Wayanad (Wynad) in Kerala.

 
My friends (Vishwadeep Anshu and Anand Sharma) and I left Bangalore at 5 am on a Saturday morning to reach Meppady six hours later.


The route we took was Bangalore –> Mysore –> Gundlupet –> Kalpetta –> Meppady. The total distance to Meppady from Bangalore is about 320 kms.


From Meppady, we drove through tea estates to reach Chembra estate where the forest office is located. It was here at the forest office that we bought trekking permits, camera permits and hired the services of a forest trekking guide.


The trekking permit for a group of 10 people costs 500 rupees. This includes the services of a forest trekking guide. Still cameras are charged at 25 rupees. Video cameras are not allowed on the trek.


After getting the necessary permits, we drove to the point, which was the start of the trek. We parked our car, got introduced to our trekking guide, Srinivasan, wore our trekking shoes and began the trek.


The first 300 metres of the trek was a pretty straight forward walk that passes through tea estates on both sides. After these 300 metres, we had to take a left turn that climbs steeply through lush green grasslands.


From this left turn onwards, it is a straight and steep climb. There is a clear trail that winds its way upwards.


The first thirty minutes of the trail passes through evergreen forests, but the vegetation changes to grasslands with increasing altitude.


Once the surroundings change into grasslands, it stays as grasslands right up to the top. The climb is slightly tough and we took some short breaks to catch our breath and to rehydrate ourselves.


After an hour of climbing, we came across a water body, which is called the first lake. From here, we ascended further for another 30 minutes before we reached a heart shaped lake, which is a scenic spot and a tourist attraction on this trek.


We took a break at this lake, indulged in some photography and then continued with our trek. It took us another hour and a half to reach the Chembra peak.


The final stretch is extremely rocky and slippery and one has to be careful to avoid the steep cliff on one side.


By the time we reached the top, it started drizzling and the mountain mist enveloped us. To avert any mishaps, we decided to descend to the next safest point, known as the view point.


One can get great views of the Chembra peak and the surrounding evergreen forests and grasslands from here.

 
We decided to settle here for a while, but unfortunately could not do so as the intensity of the rains began to increase. Thus, we began our descent in rain and in intermittent mist.


While climbing, we were cursing the steep path, but only when did we descend, did we realize that the descent is tougher than the ascent.


The slushy trail, the slippery rocks, the pelting rain and the poor visibility created the ideal concoction for a deadly descent. All of us slipped. I personally landed on my back-side four times. But, thankfully, none of us faced any injuries.


The descent was extremely hurried as we were worried about more rain and thus losing visibility. And thus we descended back to the tea estate trail in about 2 hours. The ascent had taken us three and a half hours, including our small stops and long breaks.

 
So, finally after five and a half hours, we had finished our monsoon trek to Chembra Peak. In spite of this being leech country and the monsoons, most of us surprising had only one or two leech bites.


It was a heady feeling at the end of the trek. I guess all of us were intoxicated by the pure air and the lovely green surroundings. After the trek, we drove back to Meppady, found ourselves decent budget accommodation and settled in there to spend the night.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Featured on TripAdvisor.in

It seems like it is Christmas time for my travel and photography blog ‘BE ON THE ROAD’. This is the third feature my blog has received in the last 30 days. First, it was Travelavenue.com. Next was Cheap Cruises. Now, it is one of the most trusted names in world travel – TripAdvisor.

Featured on TripAdvisor -1
TripAdvisor.in has mentioned my travel blog on their ‘Visiting India’ page. This is the page that gives readers advice about travelling to India. My blog link can be found under the heading ‘The Best Web Links’, Featured Blogs and Info Sites from India, which is located on the bottom right corner of this page.

Featured on TripAdvisor -2
It looks like this blog of mine is headed in the right direction. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of each one of you. A BIG Thank You to you all and here’s to more Happy Travels.
 

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Go Bowling at Amoeba in Bangalore!!

Bowling in Bangalore is synonymous with Amoeba, the largest and the most sought after place to play this exciting game.


Earlier, there used to be only one branch of Amoeba at Church Street. But, now there are two with the addition of a branch at Jayanagar 3rd Block. The new branch at Jayanagar 3rd block is situated within the Cosmopolitan Club.


This new place is swashbuckling with an eccentric colour combination. There are 10 lanes in this bowling alley, but 4 of them are reserved for cosmopolitan club members. When I was at this place last on a weekend, it took me one hour of wait to get my slot.


The wait here irks people, but the music, the ambience and the food joints make this wait a bearable experience. When I finally did get my chance, I somehow liked the soft lighting in this place or should I say soft psychedelic lighting.


The digital scorecards are impressive too. This is definitely a place to have a great time with family and friends alike. The cost is about 175 rupees per head, which is pretty reasonable.

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