November 2009 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Backpacking through the Western Ghats – Day 3: Baba Budangiri to Kemmangundi

Our tent and us somehow withstood the ruffian winds that tried to blow us over in the night at Baba Budangiri. But, surprisingly, the morning wore a very pretty look with the entire world around us gleaming in the bright sunshine.

The morning wore on slowly for us as we had hardly slept in the night. Somehow, we managed to get all packed up. Had breakfast at a nearby shack and started our trek towards Kemmangundi. This was one of the trickiest stretches as there were no trails.

We got directions from the locals and the cattle herdsman and started our trek towards Kemmangundi, which was towards our north west. We went anti-clockwise around the shrine and then headed south west. The trails led us through lush coffee estates and scrub forest through large bare crevasses made by strip mining. We crossed a couple of streams and then headed north west towards the Kemmangundi hill station.

Thanks to the heavy rain the previous night, the terrain seemed to be teeming with leeches. But, it added to our thrill. We reached Kemmangundi by about 2 pm and headed straight towards a small shack for lunch. Kemmangundi is a pretty popular tourist spot and hill station in Karnataka and hence there is not trouble finding food here.

We had learnt our lesson after getting battered by the winds the previous night and hence this time around we chose our camp site with caution. We chose a site that was surrounded by trees and which would protect us from the heavy winds in the night.

After setting our camp site, we went on a short hike to some tourist spots nearby. Most of the trails were in bad shape owing to landslides from the previous night’s rain. Both of us slipped at many places, but, the tough climb was worth it once we reached the view point. The views were phenomenal. The world around us was completely washed in green and it was a very soothing sight.

Post our return to our campsite, we collected some firewood, set up a camp fire, cooked our dinner, planned for our next day and turned in for the night.

Total Distance Trekked: 32 Kms
Trekking Time: 9 hours

To view the entire set of photos, click the album below.

Backpacking through the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India

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Backpacking through the Western Ghats – Day 2: Mulaiyangiri to Baba Budangiri

After spending our first night of our trekking expedition on top of Mulaiyangiri, the next morning, we headed north-east to our next destination, Baba Budangiri.

We left the rear entrance of the Shiva temple on top of Mulaiyangiri and descended down a thousand metres towards the north-east. Then, we followed a cattle herdsman who took us to the forest camp near the road through the cattle trail. We took a brief stop at the forest camp and got proper directions to reach Baba Budangiri.

As the day wore on, it became very sultry and we felt that it might rain in the night. We kept climbing up and down through the long grass that adorns these hills. The only activity was us spotting a barking deer who ran in leaps as soon as he sensed us. Finally, after a long climb through cliffs, we reached a waterfall at the edge of the cliff. This place was a tourist spot and we halted here for lunch. The next 8 kms, we walked across the road to reach Baba Budangiri.

We camped at the grounds near the Dargah. The entire vicinity was dotted with coffee plantations. In the evening, we went to the Inam Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy dargah to offer our prayers. The dargah is a cave shrine in the lower reaches of the Baba Budangiri range. Legend has it that Hazrat Dad Hayat Mir Kalandar, a Sufi saint, arrived in these parts in the 1650s from Mecca, where he had gone on a Haj pilgrimage. He is the person who brought coffee beans from Ethiopia and cultivated coffee beans in these hills. Both Hindus and Muslims visit this shrine. The Muslims consider him to a disciple of the prophet, while the Hindus consider him a reincarnation of dattatreya.

We had finished our dinner and retired to sleep in the confines of our tent. Locals warned us of bears and tigers. We prepared ourselves for any such attack, but our vigil was short-lived as we succumbed to our tired limbs and body. However, it was around 1 AM in the night when both of us woke up. It was raining heavily and heavy winds were battering our tent. We bore the full brunt of it as we were camped on an open ground. The piece of information that we had forgotten was Baba Budangiri is situated in a natural wind tunnel and hence is known to channelize and increase the wind speeds. The wind kept howling throughout the night. Our entire tent would get squashed to one side. We tried to distribute the weight evenly by placing our backpacks and our bodies for stability. Every hour, one of us would take turns to get out of the tent and put the tent pegs back in place and thus holding the tent together. Luckily for us, we survived that night and we were thankful to Coleman for producing such high quality tents!!

Total Distance Trekked: 20 Kms
Trekking Time: 6 hours

To view the entire set of photos, click the album below.
Backpacking through the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India

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Backpacking through the Western Ghats – Day 1: Chickmagalur to Mulaiyangiri Peak

Me and my friend (Vishwadeep Anshu) had trained hard to improve our stamina and endurance levels for the past couple of months. The reason being: We were attempting to trek the Western Ghats of Karnataka over 9 days in minimalistic fashion and like a true backpacker.

So, loaded with heavy backpacks that contained our tent, our sleeping bags, our boots, rain gear, first ait kit, food ration and water supply, we went to the KSRTC bus stand at Bangalore and boarded the bus that headed towards Chickmagalur – the coffee capital of Karnataka.

We landed at the Chickmagalur bus stand in the wee hours of the morning. Checked into a nearby hotel for an hour to complete our morning ablutions. Then, we had a quick breakfast at a nearby shack.

Post our refreshments, we proceeded to walk on the tar road that leads to Kemmangundi. After 3 kms, the road begins to twist and ascend. Coffee estates dot the entire hillside and it is a very pretty sight. We walked for another 4 kms and came across the Sarpandari (the trail of the snake) arch. This is where we left the road and took the dirt trail that wound its way up to the peak.

As we climbed through the narrow dirt trail, we came across our first hill adorned with slippery rocks, bamboo and thorny shrubs. As we crossed the first set of plateaus and hills, the gradient kept increasing. At some stretches, it became close to 45 degrees. After climbing for some more time, we came across a narrow ridge that provided us with panoramic views of the plains and the Chickmagalur town and the villages far below.

On our way up, we also spotted laterite caves with huge colonies of bats. Finally, we reached the Mulaiyangiri peak (1,925 m) after the steep climb. There is a Shiva temple on the peak and a flat surface just outside its walls. this is where we pitched in our tents.

After setting camp, we went to the Shiva temple to offer our prayers. Post that, the temple priest offered us lunch at his house. In the evening, we met a noted musical troop who had driven to the Shiva temple to offer their prayers. The evening was spent enjoying the views, grabbing some rest, lighting a campfire and cooking food over it and enjoying the stiff breeze.

Total Distance Trekked: 21 Kms
Trekking Time: 5 hours and 30 minutes

To view the entire set of photos, click the album below.

Backpacking through the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bylakuppe – India’s Largest Tibetan Settlement in Interior Karnataka

It was a bright spring afternoon and me and my friends were getting back to Bangalore after camping the weekend at Dubare. We were 4 hours ahead of schedule and decided to spend this time at Bylakuppe, a Tibetan settlement that flourishes here in interior Karnataka in Coorg.

Bylakuppe is just 4 kms away from Kushalnagar and one can enter the settlement through the arch like entrance. As soon as we crossed this arch, we felt as if we had arrived at a different country.

The entire landscape was strewn with prayer flags, stupas and monasteries of the Sakya, Kagyur, Nyingmapa and the Yello-Hat Gelugpa sects of Vajrayana Buddhism. Every 10-15 feet, one could spot a Free Tibet signboard/banner and flag supporting the ‘Free Tibet’ movement.

The building architecture was different, the people were different and their attire was different. Honestly, we felt like we were in a fantasy world coz 10 minutes back we were in rustic Karnataka and amongst typical Indians.

We could see the Namdroling Monastery or Golden Temple glistening in the far distance. This monastery is the main tourist attraction here. There are 3 other monasteries here and out of these 3, the Kagyu or the Kagyudpa is located at an elevation.

As we entered the monastery campus, all I could do was just gape in wonder at some of the crafts and the caricatures. The doors, the prayer wheels and the drums were all heavily decorated.

As soon as we entered the main shrine of the Golden Temple, we could see the spectacular 40 feet high statues of Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amitayus.

We could hear the sound of gongs in the nearby shrine and found out that a prayer session was in progress. One feels at complete peace inside the shrine. The glitter, the intricate design and the well thought out decorations hardly cause any distraction.

After exploring the temple shrine, we spent some time chatting with a group of Buddhist students before proceeding to the shops at Camp 1. Bylakuppe is a great place to pick up an assortment of Tibetan goods, especially thangpas, prayer wheels, incense and Tibetan music.

Bylakuppe and its Golden Temple – a great family weekend getaway from Bangalore!!

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Camping by the River Cauvery at Dubare in Coorg, Karnataka, India

It was one fine spring weekend! Me and my friends packed up our camping gear and headed towards Dubare – Cauvery’s secret treasure trove, about 227 km SW of Bangalore.

The Dubare forest, a popular haunt with tuskers, lies on the south bank of the Cauvery in eastern Kodagu (Coorg). Outside the perimeter of the Dubare forest reserve, this area is conducive to growing coffee. And, as is typical of exotic Coorg, this place has a peaceful laid back style.

We spotted the Cauvery as soon as we crossed her at Kushalnagar and the moment we turned into the Dubare Reserve Forest road, the entire world around us changed form. The entire area is lined with bamboo trees on either side of the roaring Cauvery river. In between, there were vividly green paddy fields near the banks.

After driving around for a while, we finally spotted a nice camping spot on the northern bank of the Cauvery and within an electric fence to prevent us from the elephants. After setting camp, we set out to explore the nearby hiking trails which are available in plenty here.

Close to our camping site was also the Valnoor Fishing Camp, where joy fishing of the famous Mahseer fish is carried out. But, since, none of us were the angler type, we decided to explore the non fishing side of Dubare.

The next morning, we went and crossed the Cauvery on a boat and went to the Dubare side where we took an elephant ride into the jungle to spot wildlife. Post this, all of us went for a swim and a dip in the pleasant looking Cauvery river. During monsoons, white water rafting sessions are held here. This is when the Cauvery is at its turbulent best. Overall, Dubare offers a great weekend getaway from Bangalore!!
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The Media Galleria!!

This is my online photo and video collection aggregated in one place. I use Picasa to host my entire photo collection, Flickr for some of my very selected travel photos and videos and YouTube to host all my videos.

Picasa | Flickr | YouTube 

As with any photographer, I swell with pride when I see my photos being put to use anywhere on the web. All my photos are totally free for non-revenue circulation. All I would humbly request for is to just leave behind my name on the photograph and if possible provide a link back to my blog.

I would also be very eager to hear if someone likes my pictures and would like to use it for revenue-generation on the web or else where. In such a situation, it would be great if the concerned person/organization could contact me directly through email and then we could take it forward from there. 

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Sweltering Summer weekend and the ruins of Hampi – A recipe to get baked in history!!

This was my 2nd visit to Hampi – the land where once the prosperous Vijayanagar empire flourished, but exists today in the form of ruins, an Archaeological Survey of India heritage site and a UNESCO World heritage site group of monuments. The ruins are 500 years old and still new relics and artifacts are being discovered.

After spending a comfortable night in the Hampi Express train from Bangalore, me and my colleagues from work got off at Hospet and caught auto rickshaws that led us to our Karnataka state government run accommodation.

After freshening up, we boarded the auto rickshaws and headed towards the main Hampi bazaar. Upon reaching the bazaar, some of the folks stopped by the Virupaksha temple to offer their prayers and to admire the carvings and craft, while the others explored the shopping opportunities.

We hired our government recognized tourist guide and off we made way to the various places of interest – the Queen’s palace, the aqueducts and canals, the zenana enclosure, the lotus temple, Badava Linga (monolith) and Ugra Narasimha (another monolith).

While, our guide provided us with historical information, we were busy admiring the carvings and the stories they told. Such was the beauty of some of these ruin sites, that we forgot that we were standing in 40 plus degree Celsius of heat.

The rocks of Hampi always seem to amaze me with their omnipresence. Slowly, the heat was getting to us! To beat the heat, we would either get on top of our antics, get into a dark chamber to meditate or just find some shade.

After our first half day session, we decided to head to the Mango Tree restaurant for our lunch. Mango Tree restaurant is a lovely setting under Mango trees by the banks of the Tungabhadra river and is located near the Virupaksha temple.

The meal at Mango Tree was sumptuous and the butter milk was a treat for our over heated souls. Lunch was a very relaxed affair and heads started dropping after a hearty lunch. Most of the group set themselves up for a power nap.

After a long lunch session, we slowly, but finally got back to our tourist ways. We got back into our auto rickshaws and this time, we got into the driver’s seat. It is really fun and somewhat different to drive a three wheeler.

The next hour was spent visiting a couple more not so popular temple spots. Then, we decided to go on a short hike to the top of a hillock from where we got lovely views of Hampi, the Vittala temple complex and the Tungabhadra river.

The next day was spent visiting more areas of the ruins under the guidance of out tourist guide. More of Mango Tree. Then, we spent the entire post afternoon session at the Vittala Temple, its chariots and its musical pillars.

In the evening, me and my friend, decided to beat the heat and clean ourselves of the sweat and dust by taking a dip in the fast flowing Tungabhadra river. The dip in the Tunga was the icing on the cake for what had been a weekend baked in history!

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Motorcycling through country roads to Kodaikanal and Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu, India

15 Old Skool Bikers met again and this time the destination was Kodaikanal and Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. Both places are hill stations. While, Kodaikanal is the more popular one nestled in the Nilgiris, Kolli Hills is a lesser known tropical beauty.

The riding theme was to take the lesser populated yet pretty country roads to reach our destination(s).

The route we followed was: Bangalore –> Anekal –> Denkanikota –> Anchetti –> Pennaguram –> Mechcheri –> Iddapadi –> Sankari –> Tiruchengodu –> Namakkal (Day 1 Halt) –> Mohanur –> Palani –> Kodaikanal (Day 2 and 3 Halt) –> Karur –> Kolli Hills (Day 4 Halt).

So, over 5 days, 13 motorcycles thumped through ideal biking terrain and that included off-roading. The first day involved riding through jungle terrain and through small meandering streams that tested our riding skills and temperament. A authentic rustic plantain leaf lunch at a small village was a bonus.

The second day included a visit to the temple by the River Cauvery at Mohanur. The Cauvery, which is a small, but rapid river in Karnataka is a docile, but wide river at Mohanur. And, this formed a complete contrast to folks like me who have grown up seeing various stretches of the turbulent and roaring Cauvery in the tropical jungles of Karnataka.

There were these umpteen pit stops at these small tea shops and then there was a piping hot lunch at steaming Palani. Then there was the cooling effect as we started climbing the winding roads that led from Palani to Kodaikanal.

This was where I nearly met with an accident as a tried to overtake at a blind spot. Knew that this was my bad, but thankfully averted the accident by inches. My pillion had his heart in his mouth.

The evening at Kodaikanal was nippy and very nice unlike the ruthless heat of Palani. The large group split into smaller ones to either go out shopping, taste the wares in the bazaar or warm themselves up in the confines of a hotel with some brew.

The next morning involved a half day trek that took us to Dolphin Nose, Echo point and beyond. These picturesque locations made for a great photographic experience. The trek in itself was easy as we went tumbling down, but proved a stiff one as we made our ascent.

The best part of this trek was the opportunity to sample the exotic fruits of the Nilgiris that included Tea Tomato, Star Fruit, Jack Fruit, Passion Fruit and others.

The half day trek had worked up quite an appetite within us and in spite of the fact that we had gorged on the exotic Nilgiri fruits, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal of masala omelettes.

The later half of the evening was spent in visiting the panoramic view point of Pillar rocks and the upper lake region from where one can see the Kodaikanal lake that is shaped like the map of India. There were a couple of other places that I visited, but weren’t quite as eventful.

It was an early wake up call the next morning and we descended down the winding roads in misty weather. The progress was slow but steady.  The drive till Karur was fairly uneventful. Then we got rain heading towards us and the entire world around us wore a fresh look. Now, I have climbed hill stations and winding roads throughout India, but I have never seen 70 continuous hairpin bends in any place. One can see such hairpin bends while climbing Kolli hills and all in 20 kilometres. Though the hairpin bends are 70 (seventy) in number, they are pretty smooth.

Kolli hills is a relaxed tropical hill station (Semmadu) undiscovered by the outside world and hence has retained its old world charm. There are gushing waterfalls nearby, dense green forests and the entire town shuts down by 7 in the evening. A soothing environment! The next morning, after a relaxed breakfast, we made our way back to Bangalore after what had been 4 great days of riding through country roads.

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