July 2019 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ancient Wonder City of Petra: A Photo Story

The highlight of Jordan - Petra Treasury

One of the seven wonders of the world that UNESCO refers to as ‘one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage’, the ancient city of Petra is the symbol of Jordan and is its most visited tourist attraction. Believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, its grandeur gradually increased once it became the capital of the Nabataean kingdom in the 4th century BC before reaching the peak of riches in the 1st century AD.

Nicknamed the rose city due to the colour of the stone from which it is carved, the highlight of a trip to Petra is its treasury or Al Khazneh, but its Siq, its mausoleums, its beautiful stone carvings, its tombs, its monastery, its entry gate and its rugged and arid mountain landscape are what make this place a complete mesmerizing package.

Experience this magnificent wonder of Jordan through my travel photos and get transported to the location where iconic movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights, Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Mummy Returns and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen were shot.

Above photo: Al Khazneh or the Treasury is one of the most elaborate temples in Petra and is believed to have been the mausoleum of the Nabataean King Aretas IV in the 1st century AD. It is the center of attraction in Petra and is the location for the ‘Petra at night’ show. It has been carved out of a sandstone rock face.

Petra monastery carved out of rocky mountains, Jordan

Above photo: The rocky and dry mountain landscape of Petra. Petra lies on the slope of Jabal Al-Madbah in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of the Arabah valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. The monument that you saw in this photo is the Petra monastery, the largest temple in Petra.

The historical Petra highway, Jordan

Above photo: I call it the Petra highway. It was once the hotspot of trade. Tombs, entry gates, temples flank both its sides. It is also the path that connects the monastery to the treasury.

The petra view from the Royal Tombs

Above photo: The bird’s eye view of the Petra theatre and the surrounding rugged mountain landscape.

Walking through the Siq of Petra, Jordan

Above photo: The narrow passage or Siq that leads from the ticket counter to Al-Khazneh (the treasury).

Petra Treasury and the colorful camels

Above photo: Camels, donkeys and colourfully decked locals make for an interesting frame while capturing the treasury of Petra.

Camels and their riders at the entrance to the street of facades, Petra, Jordan

Above photo: Camels are a great way of commuting in this ancient city of Petra. Young Bedouin boys pose stylishly on their camels in front of the street of facades.

A walk through the rocks of Petra, Jordan

Above photo: The path through the rocks that lead to the monastery and other surreal views.

A cup of tea and soaking in the spectacular view of the Petra Archaeological park, Jordan

Above photo: A cup of local tea to reward ourselves after a steep hike to the highest point in Petra. At this place, where there is nothing but a tea shop, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of Petra archaeological park.

The stunning Monastery from Petra, Jordan

Above photo: The mighty monastery that predates the treasury. It is bigger than Al-Khazneh, but it is simple and devoid of any major carvings.

Watching a gorgeous sunset from the Petra highway, Jordan

Above photo: A sunset view during a drive from Little Petra to Petra.

Photographing the canyons of Little Petra, Jordan

Above photo: The canyons of Little Petra are a photographer’s delight. There is also a hidden passage that connects Little Petra to Petra. Due to safety reasons, this ancient route has been closed down.

Trekking up the rocks of Petra, Jordan

Above photo: One of the best experiences in the ancient city of Petra is the hike through canyons and rocky outcrops to the monastery. This is how the people of this city used to commute many thousands of years ago.

A monastery special sleep, Petra, Jordan

Above photo: A much deserved rest after a steep climb to the monastery from the treasury. The sun is usually sharp in Petra, but it is pretty cool when you are in the shade of the canyon.

Trekking path to the Monastery in Petra archaeological park, Jordan

Above photo: The rocky trail to the monastery and view points of Petra are lined with beautiful flowering shrubs that turn into lovely shades of pink along with the rosy canyons during different times of the day.

Exploring the beauty of Petra from on top a camel, Jordan

Above photo: A camel ride through the iconic Petra highway. The Hadrian gate and the Decumanus Maximus are in the background.

Silver camels in all sizes for sale at Petra, Jordan

Above photo:
Camels of various sizes make as great souvenirs to take back home from Petra.

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Massive landslide in Coorg swallows a highway and half a mountain

Massive Landslide on the way to Mallalli Falls from Bisle Ghat, Karnataka

We humans are tiny and irrelevant. That is what mother nature tells us from time to time through her wrath. Be it earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, landslides or others, mother nature shows us her powerful side from time to time. This is one such instance of her potent prowess. Even though such events cause major trouble to mankind, it is a great way to remind ourselves that there are forces that are way stronger than us.

I was literally in total awe with my jaw hanging open wide when I stood in front of this massive landslide in Coorg. Half of the mountain had disappeared and in its place was a big yawn. It has swallowed a highway (from Bisle ghat to Mallalli falls), rocks, boulders, trees, plantations and all. Just standing at one corner and watching the remnants of the highway on the far opposite end made me gasp. This landslide was the product of the famous Kodagu floods of 2018 and was one of the main reasons why I could not visit Mallalli falls in 2018 even though I was super close to it.

This is how it looked exactly an year after the event. This time around I could visit Mallalli falls as a new road had been built on the other side of the mountain. Due to this landslide, the earlier highway is no more in use and I guess it will go into history unless they decide to build a big bridge over it (which I doubt as that is not the need for this countryside). If you happen to visit Mallalli falls, do stop by this landslide to get a feel of the destruction power of mother nature. Such sights and experiences are truly humbling for the mind and soul.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Trek to Yedakumeri Railway Bridge: Lost in a green world!

The famous tunnels on the Sakleshpur mountain railway line and its surrounding forests

It is one of India’s most iconic railway treks. It is one of the most scenic treks in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Some people call it the world’s extreme railroad. Some refer to it as trekking paradise. Some have even dubbed this trek as the ‘Green Route’. Whatever its name might be, this mountain railway route is nothing short of a wonder. I am talking about the rail route from Sakleshpur to Kukke Subramanya that falls on the segment between Bangalore and Mangalore.

Above photo courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

Spanning 52 kms in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats, this mountain rail route from Sakleshpur to Kukke Subramanya via Yedekumeri is made up of 57 tunnels, 109 bridges and an umpteen number of rivers and waterfalls. But, that is not it. Some of these tunnels and bridges are as long as 0.75 km and some of these bridges are 200 metres high. Mind boggling, right? Well, I forgot to mention the pristine forests that cover this entire belt and whose dense green cover gives this rail route its name, ‘The Green Route’.

The untouched forests near Yedekumeri railway bridge, Karnataka

15 years ago, I was privileged to have trekked on this iconic rail route. At that time, the railway tracks were undergoing modernization and hence the trains were not plying. It was a glorious, action packed and nerve wracking 2 days for the group, but all of us had a thrilling time in spite of the nagging pain in our calf muscles (due to walking on rail sleepers for 2 days). Today, this iconic railway trek is banned as trains ply on this route regularly. But, there is a way to catch a glimpse of its beauty, albeit through an alternate overland route.

Above photo courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

Dirt road leading to Yedekumeri Railway track, Karnataka

This overland route is a combination of lush Malnad countryside, some off-roading (either by 4 wheel drive or two wheeler) and a bit of jungle trekking. On the road between Hongadahalla and Yedekumeri falls a dirt track that leads to the famous Yedekumeri bridge. This steep and narrow dirt track crosses plantations and forests to the railway track between tunnels 11 and 12. The tallest bridge of this rail route is here. Things are very different today compared to 15 years ago when there was no support and hand rails. Today, there are platforms and hand rails for safety. These platforms allow you to walk on the bridge easily while soaking in the lush green expanse and the roar of the water below.

Even though the walk is safe, trains can be expected at any time and that can cause some uncomfortable situations. Hence, always keep your ears open for track vibrations and train sounds. Do remember to carry a flashlight if you intend to explore the tunnels. And do remember that walking on this railway track is banned and hence use your common sense and discretion.

After some dirt riding during the monsoons in Malnad, Karnataka

While this Yedekumeri forest trek takes you to tunnel 11, tunnel 12 and the tallest bridge, there is another route that allows you to experience a different side of the railway trek. This falls on the Hongadahalla – Marenahalli road route. As soon as you see the rail overbridge, climb to the railway tracks, walk left towards tunnel 1 and within 50 meters turn right at the opening to discover the hidden waterfall and river. A lot of people have lost their lives here. Hence, do exercise caution. Again, boards have been kept discouraging trespassers. Please use your judgement while going here.

The dirt downhill trail leading to the Yedekumeri railway bridge

These are 2 alternate ways to experience the green route as the original rail route is not possible any more. They are easier than the railway trek, but give you a different flavor of the terrain, the gorgeous Kaginahare forests, laidback Malnad countryside and a bit of the vast green expanse around the railway track. I am sure there are other hidden forest tracks leading to the railway track, but these are the ones that I came across. Full route details and words of wisdom have been mentioned below. Do give them a thorough read before embarking on this railway and forest trek.

Sakleshpur Yedekumeri Railway Track - Green Route of Karnataka

If you are a motorcyclist, this route will give you a bit of off-roading, a bit of trekking and lots and lots of greenery. If you are a trekker, you will love walking on the plantation tracks, the forest trails and finally on the railway bridge itself. Whatever type of traveler you are and whichever route you opt for, you will definitely be blown away by the sheer prettiness f this terrain. The Yedakumari railway bridge is definitely the highlight and will give you a feeling of being lost in a green world!

How to reach here:

If arriving from Sakleshpur side…

Take Shirdi ghat road, turn left at Marenahalli, head straight on this rural highway crossing check dams and before turning left towards Hongadahalla, turn right towards Yedekumeri. About a kilometer further, there is a steep dirt track towards your right. Take this dirt track, ascend rapidly, keep to your left and stay on the steep descent till you reach the Yedekumeri bridge and the railway track. This location is right between tunnel 11 and 12 on the Donigal – Subramanya railway line.

If arriving from Kukke Subramanya, Arkalgud or Coorg side…

The iconic green railway track trek of Karnataka

At Kudrasthe junction, take the road that leads to Sakleshpur via Bachalli. At Bachalli, turn left and head towards Athihally. At Athihally, turn right and continue towards Hongadahalla. At Hongadahalla, turn right and head straight towards Yedekumeri village. Ignore the road that turns right towards Marenahalli and Shirdi ghat highway. About 1 km after this diversion, turn right towards the steep dirt track. Take this dirt track, ascend rapidly, keep to your left and stay on the steep descent till you reach the Yedekumeri bridge and the railway track. This location is right between tunnel 11 and 12 on the Donigal – Subramanya railway line.

Usually, four wheel drives with experienced drivers can take you all the way to the track, but sometimes that might not be possible due to landslides. Two wheelers with good tyres, brakes and a good rider can also cover a lot of the distance if there are no landslides. No other vehicle will be able to go on this road. Do keep in mind that there is no place to reverse your vehicle till you reach the final parking area, so don’t be over enthusiastic and try to test the waters. The track is hard core dirt terrain even for proper off roaders. The rest of the way can be easily trekked.

Time taken for the trek (if vehicle is parked at Yedekumeri dirt track turning): The return journey should take you about 3 hours, including some time for relaxing and photography. The duration could be longer if you spend more time on the railway bridge.

To reach Tunnel 1 and the hidden waterfall behind it, head further on the Hongadahalla – Marenahalli road till you see the railway overbridge. Park your vehicle here and you will see Tunnel 1 to your left.

Tunnel, bridges and waterfalls - the charm of Sakleshpur railway track trek

Where to stay:

If local homestays are your thing, there are a ton of options available nearby in villages such as Hongdhalla, Athihally and Vanagoor. If you prefer a bit of luxury, stay at Somwarpet or Sakleshpur. For uber luxury, head to the luxury resorts in Coorg or Chickmagalur.

Best season to visit:

All year round, but for its vibrant best, opt for the monsoon season.

Key things to keep in mind for this trek:

1) Railway treks where trains ply actively are banned in India. Hence, please use your discretion and common sense while embarking anywhere close to these railway tracks.

2) During the monsoons, leeches can be found here in plenty. Do prepare yourself for them.

3) Do carry a flashlight with you if you are planning on entering a tunnel.

4) Landslides are common here during the monsoon season. Do plan your itinerary accordingly.

Yedekumeri Railway Track Trek - The Green Route

5) Apart from BSNL, which is available in patches, there is no cell phone connectivity on this route. Hence, do keep someone appraised of your plan well in advance.

6) No food or water can be found on this trek. Do carry rations as needed.

7) People with fear of heights, please use your discretion prior to getting on top of the Yedekumeri bridge.

8) Elephants and other wild animals can be seen on this trail during the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the evening. It is alright to explore during the day.

Other tourist attractions nearby:

1) The rolling hills of Kaginahare forest

2) The hidden Mookanamane forest waterfall

3) Manjarabad Fort

Hidden river and waterfall behind tunnel 1 of Sakleshpur railway track

4) Mallalli Falls, the prettiest waterfall of Coorg

5) The pristine Malnad countryside

6) Bisle ghat and Bisle view point

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Mookanamane Waterfalls: Hidden amidst pristine forests of Malnad, Karnataka

Mookanamane Waterfalls - hidden amidst pristine forests

Another waterfall for your upcoming monsoon holiday. It is neither a well known name nor is it the biggest, widest or tallest. It is just your simple and small waterfall that is surrounded by some of the most beautiful stretch of forests in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. But, what it lacks for in popularity, it makes for in pristine location and natural beauty.

Above photo courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

Gorgeous Mookana Mane Waterfalls of Malnad, Karnataka

I am referring to the Mookanamane waterfalls. Tucked deep into the countryside of Malnad and flanked by the gorgeous Bisle and Kaginahare forests on either side, this humble waterfall is a tiny bit of paradise that is as offbeat and hidden as it comes. A dirt trail, a short downhill trek and a steep riverside boulder climb lead you to this waterfall. When the water levels are low, you can easily go right under the waterfall for a relaxing waterfall shower, but during the monsoon months when the river is a raging torrent, you can sit on the many boulders near the waterfall and let the waterfall mist soak you completely. This is the kind of place to go for a full-on detox session amidst pristine nature and let the deafening roar of the waterfall stop the clutter in your head for a brief while.

If you like rural holidays, hidden destinations, offbeat trails, pristine nature and waterfalls, then this is your kind of place. A visit to Mookanamane Falls means packs water therapy, nature therapy, adventure and simply over indulgence of untouched nature.

A couple of words of advice:

1) Be safe as this terrain (the riverside boulders) are slippery and since it is a forest waterfall, water levels can increase suddenly. (It is best to stay away from the water when it is raining heavily)

2) A lot of people picnic here, which is fine, but they litter the place with their trash. Please carry back all your trash with you to the nearest trash dump and ensure that such pristine places remain clean for many years to come.

Above video courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

The Mookanamane river surrounded by gorgeous tract of forests

How to reach here:

If coming from Sakleshpur, you could either take the Shirdi ghat road towards Mangalore, turn left at Marenahalli, turn left at Hongdhalla and finally turn left again towards the dirt trail leading to Mookanamane Falls. There is also an alternate route from Sakleshpur that connects Sakleshpur to Kudrasthe. On this route, you will have to turn right at Bachalli, turn right at Athihally and further turn right again at the dirt trail leading to the waterfall.

If coming from Bisle Ghat road, Somwarpet or Shanivarsanthe direction, turn right at Kudrasthe towards Sakleshpur. After a few kms, turn left at Bachalli and then turn right at Athihally before turning right yet again at the dirt trail leading to the waterfall.

Above photo courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

Where to stay:

There are lots of homestays to stay in this region. My favorite homestay to stay here is Malnad homestay in the neighbouring village of Athihally.

Best season to visit:

The monsoons and the months right after the monsoons would be the ideal time to visit this waterfall.

Mookana Mane - the hidden forest waterfall of Malnad, Karnataka

Other tourist attractions nearby:

1) The rolling hills of Kaginahare forest

2) Mallalli Falls, the prettiest waterfall in Coorg

3) Manjarabad Fort

4) Yedakumari railway bridge and the green route trek

5) Bisle view point and Bisle Ghat

6) Kukke Subramanya temple

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Car Hire Guide: How To Keep Down The Cost of Hiring a Car

The scenic drive to Kerala's Ponmudi hill station

Have you ever tried renting a car? At first, you may think the process is just easy as long as you have the money to pay for it. The thing is, whether you have lots of money not, you don’t want to get ripped-off.

Over the years, the car hire industry has been getting bigger. More and more people travel and more and more of them rent a car to add flexibility and comfort to their trip.

Here’s one gentle reminder from Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumer Reports: "consumers have to be particularly diligent, as the price quoted rarely seems to bear any resemblance to the price charged when the car is returned at the end of a trip.”

To keep down the cost of hiring a car, here are some important points you need to remember:

1. Do your research first on various car rental companies and make a comparison of their fees and services before you decide to make your booking. Remember that if you want to get the best deal, you really have to make an effort to understand the entire process (from the time you get the car until you return it) and to have several options to choose from.

2. Avoid last-minute car rental bookings. As much as possible, book your car hire in advance so you can get lower rates. Aside from that, you can also enjoy other perks like getting your preferred car. Also, if ever something comes up and you’d change your mind, you’ll still have enough time left to shop around for alternatives.

3. Aside from the car rental fee, be familiar with the necessary add-ons that you’ll have to get, specifically car hire excess insurance. Before you buy an independent car hire excess waiver policy, make sure to know and understand first how it works so you can avoid getting overcharged for it. Truth be told, there are some rental companies that take advantage of clueless customers and for sure, you don’t want to be one of them. There are many online sources that can provide you useful tips and information and one good site you can check out that offers quick, easy, and affordable car hire excess insurance for Indians is https://www.carinsurent.com.

4. Choose a full-to-full fuel policy. One of the factors that you have to consider in choosing a car hire company is their fuel policy. Typically, when you rent a car, it comes with a full tank of fuel. When you return it, make sure to drop by a petrol station first and make the fuel tank full as it’s going to be cheaper than letting the car rental company charge you for it. Don’t go for prepaid fuel as the you will most likely pay a premium for it.

The winding and snowy roads of Sela pass, Arunachal Pradesh

Avoid the airport. While it is convenient to rent from an airport location, it will also cost you more due to mandatory airport taxes and fees. The ideal way of dealing with this is to make use of the free airport shuttle if your hotel offers it.

6. Make sure you get unlimited miles. Before you finalize your booking with the car rental company, make sure that they offer unlimited mileage within the same country or state. There are some companies that offer a daily allotment of mileage, and this won’t be a good idea due to a high penalty fee you’ll incur in case you go over.

7. Be aware of the 24-hour clock. Most car rental companies count time based on a 24-hour clock, so be alert. While a grace period may be given, do not stretch it too much. Once you exceed, even just for a minute or two, some companies may count it as another rental day and you’ll get charged for it.

8. Make use of your smartphone GPS such as Waze instead of renting a car with GPS. It will only cost you more if you let car rental companies provide you a GPS.

9. Don’t forget to inspect first the vehicle you’ll be renting before using it. Always be thorough. Once you see any scratches, make sure it is indicated in your contract for your own protection. One thing you don’t want to happen is to pay extra for damages you never caused. If possible, take photos/videos of all four sides of the car. Again, that is for your own good. Also, make sure you take a new set of photographs/videos of all four sides of the car before you turn it over to the rental company to prove that you’ve returned it without any new damage.

10. Make sure you rent the car on weekdays as rental companies charge almost 2x the price when you rent it on weekends. This would work for you if you have plenty of leaves at hand or if you are on a flexible schedule. – This last tip was provided by regular reader and friend Sriram Venkat. Thank you Sriram for sharing this useful tip here.

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Mallalli Falls: Coorg’s Prettiest Waterfall

Bird's Eye view of Mallalli Falls, Coorg

Photo Courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

I love monsoon holidays and love the fact that I get to experience nature’s abundance through its many waterfalls during this season. There is something about waterfalls in the monsoons that makes a deep connection with me. It could be the raw force of mother nature, the pristine forest environment or the waterfall’s ability to drown every thought in my head. Whatever the reason may be, waterfall holidays and monsoon holidays go hand in hand for me.

The Kumaradhara river snaking its way through lush forests

Photo Courtesy: Pradeep H Gowda

Even my previous monsoon motorcycle trip to the Western Ghats was full of waterfall visits. One such visit was to Mallalli Falls, one of the prettiest waterfalls of India and definitely the most beautiful of all waterfalls in Coorg. It tumbles down over 1000 metres on the Kumaradhara river while being surrounded by lush green forests of the Western Ghats. The Kumaradhara river begins its journey somewhere in the Pushpagiri mountains and it is these Pushpagiri mountains that form the backdrop of this waterfall.

Access to these waterfalls is through the beautiful countryside of Coorg and/or Malnad, depending on which route you take to come here. And the biggest perk of this waterfall is the fact that you can experience it right from the top near the car parking area and/or climb down a flight of some 300 odd steps to the bottom of the waterfall and get drenched in the waterfall mist. This augurs great for both people who cannot climb down the steps and for visitors who crave some adventure. Both views and experiences are noteworthy and offer a marvellous view to go with a hot cup of lemon tea or coffee.

Mallalli Falls, Kumaradhara river and Pushpagiri mountains

Sometimes during heavy rains, the steps to the bottom of the waterfalls are closed for safety reasons, but you can still continue to enjoy the view nonetheless. The view here is legendary, which I am pretty sure you have figured out through these photos and video. To be honest, the in-person experience is way richer and more fulfilling.

A small hut that you see further downstream is the famous Bisle view point and further downstream is the Kukke Subramanya temple and nothing but pristine waters, forests and mountains in the middle. It is a must visit destination on a holiday to Coorg and/or Malnad and certainly a top pick for a monsoon holiday in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.

How to reach here:

Mallalli falls is located in Coorg, but it is easily accessible from Malnad and Dakshina Kannada too. For people coming in from Coorg, take the road heading to Mallalli falls from Somwarpet. For people heading from Kukke Subramanya, cross Bisle Ghat and view point and turn right towards Mallalli Falls. For people coming from Malnad, head to Kudrasthe, turn towards Bisle Ghat and then in a few kilometers turn left towards Mallalli Falls.

Mallalli Falls surrounded by lush green forests of the Western Ghats

Best season to visit:

Mallalli falls looks beautiful all year around. But, if you want to see it in all its full glory, you have to go during the monsoons, when the waters are at their highest level. If you prefer lush green views with beautiful sunshine, head right after the monsoons, especially the months of September and October. During the monsoon season, visitors are not allowed to get closer to the bottom of the waterfall, but that would not be a problem in non-monsoon months.

Monsoon clouds, dense forests and Mallalli Falls

Where to stay:

You can opt to stay either in Coorg or in Malnad. Coorg would have a wider variety of properties from the simple homestays to the luxury hotels and resorts, while Malnad would have more homestays and guest houses.

If you prefer a larger town, Somwarpet and Sakleshpur would be your best bets. If you prefer quiet forests, small villages or beautiful plantations, then the options are plenty. I personally like Athihally, a small village located somewhere between Bisle Ghat and Kaginahare fort. Vanagoor at the entrance of Bisle Ghat is also a great option for peace lovers who don’t want to leave the main trail.

Mallalli Falls surrounded by lush forests and tall mountains of the Pushpagiri range

Other tourist attractions nearby:

1) Bisle Ghat and Bisle view point, a beautiful tract of lesser known rainforests

2) Kaginahare Fort, a fort in ruins that is known for its green rolling hills view

3) Mookanamane Falls, a hidden forest waterfall

4) Manjarabad fort, a beautifully designed fort just outside of Sakleshpur

5) Kukke Subramanya temple

6) Yedekumeri railway trek, one of the top railway treks of India and a vast expanse of untouched forests

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Traditional Malenadu Cuisine: Lip Smacking Experience

Kadubu, Halasahannu Hittu, Ghee, Coconut Chutney and Gojju - Traditional Malnad Breakfast

Are you a foodie? Do most of your holidays and trips revolve around the local food experiences? Well, they certainly do for me! What better way to know a place and culture than by their local cuisine. I think food is an integral part of getting to know people and their culture and while it is extremely enlightening, it is at most times, a treat to the senses and to the palate. A beautiful combination indeed.

Akki Roti, Kessa with Kachampuli and Coconut Chutney

Every year during the monsoons, I make it a habit to visit the Western Ghats. While the consistent pitter patter, the lush green environment and the abundance of nature are the popular reasons for visiting the Western Ghats during the monsoons, I have a hidden reason. And that reason is delicious Malenadu food that is absolutely heavenly to gorge on during cold, damp and misty days.

Shavige with Sweet Coconut Milk, Red Rice, Majjige Huli, Spicy Eggs and Chicken curry

One of my favorite places for such a rich gastronomic experience in Malenadu is a traditional home located somewhere between Bisle Ghat and Sakleshpur. They grow their own produce (vegetables, fruits, spices and greens) and even have their own poultry and cows for a healthy daily source of eggs and milk. And most importantly, the lady of this traditional home cooks an unbelievable array of lip smacking dishes that trigger happiness via each of our senses.

Yummy breakfast of Akki Roti, Kadubu, Kessa greens and Young Bamboo shoots at Athihally, Malanadu, Karnataka

Be it the traditional Kadubu served with fresh coconut chutney, soft Akki roti served with kessa (a nutritious green that grows wild during the monsoons) and Kachampuli, Shavige with sweet coconut milk, young bamboo shoot salad, fermented jackfruit with coconut milk steamed (Halasanahannu hittu) and served with home made ghee, majjige huli, bas saru and rasam served with steaming hot fresh red rice, horse gram salad, fresh veggies with grated coconut or so many other dishes, this Malnad food experience keep getting richer and richer.

Kadubu, Akki Roti, Bamboo shoots and Kessa greens with tamarind make for delicious breakfast at Malanadu, Karnataka

While the vegetarian certainly enjoys his vegetarian Malenadu fare, it is the meat lover who is absolutely spoilt for choice with an assortment of pork, chicken, fish and egg dishes. The Malnad pork like the one at Kodagu enjoys legendary status and is enjoyed during all important events and get togethers. And for evening snacks there is freshly roasted jack fruit seeds with piping hot coffee (with fresh cow milk and home grown coffee). Pure trip to heaven! What more does a foodie need?

Tasty Malnad Breakfast of Shavige, Egg Curry and Beans Coconut

Delicious Malnad food where the ingredients are all locally sourced along with the some of the best nature in Karnataka and my favorite season of the year makes the Malenadu region of Karnataka one of my favorite go-to destinations for a monsoon holiday. Do you have any such favorites where you go simply for the food?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Make your Saudi Arabia Trip Memorable with these Travel Tips

Rub 'Al Khali desert, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world but it has certain travel norms. To have a peaceful stay in the country, it is indeed important to follow those rules and regulations. So, if you are planning to visit this spiritual centre of Islam, you are required to be well aware of their policies.

Another piece of advice is that to plan a trip well is that all the bookings must be done in advance. Booking Flyadeal flights via Cleartrip can help you save a few bucks. Cleartrip offers special deals from time to time, which you can avail to get special discounts on your flight tickets. To make your Saudi Arabia trip a memorable one, here are few tips to follow:

1. Check out your reason to visit the country

Irrespective of your purpose to visit the country, whether it is for traveling or business, be clear about why you are visiting the country as the visa that you’ll require to enter the country will seek your exact travel purpose. For pilgrimage, there is a separate visa; and for business trip, you are required to show proof of appointments for business in the country. Professionals like journalists, photographers and writers do not easily get the visa. Therefore, listing the job title plays a crucial role in getting the visa. Hence one needs be extra careful in this regard. In addition, while you apply for the visa, ensure that you are applying for it a few weeks before your scheduled travel dates. The visa application process to visit the country takes time and also involves background check and investigation regarding the purpose of your visit.

2. Arrange for Travel Insurance

When you are planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, talk to your insurance provider and check if your insurance policy covers you outside the country as well. If not, then opt for an insurance plan that does. Though the healthcare facility in the country is not bad, yet as a traveller, you may have to burn your pocket if your traveling is not insured aptly.

3. Avoid carrying non-Islamic items

In Saudi Arabia, carrying any item that Islam does not allow is strictly prohibited. Such items include pork, porn material, alcohol, etc. The law of the country bans the public adherence of any religion except Islam, hence even if you follow a non-Islamic faith, ensure that you worship only in private.

4. Track the Weather

If you are visiting the country in between November and February, keep a live tracking of the weather conditions. In the current years, the country has faced heavy rains and flooding, which have caused serious damage. During your visit, observe the weather reports frequently to ensure the precautions can be taken to avoid any danger. The best thing you can do is to avoid planning your trip during these months.

5. Mind your gestures and behaviour

Take note that shaking hands or kissing, even if in greeting or a farewell, in public is not an appropriate gesture in Saudi Arabia. Also, remember that the citizens of the country speak too closely when two same-sex people are having conversations. Respect their way of conversations and do not shout from a distance.

6. Show Respect towards Local Customs

Saudi Arabia has strict customary restrictions, particularly for women. Women cannot travel alone, neither are they allowed to drive. Females are advised to visit the country with an elder or husband. In addition, there are certain areas where men and women are kept separate, and women aren’t permitted to enter in certain places. Beaches and amusement parks might have different visiting hours for men and women, so it’s better to learn about them prior to your visit. These customs may seem strange to you, yet be prepared to follow them and gather knowledge about further associated customs prior to your visit.

Masjid Al Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

In addition, travel with your partner to Saudi Arabia only if you have an official marriage license. Unmarried couples who are applying for a visa will have to face rejection, as they are not permitted to travel together.

7. Photography and music norms

There are certain restrictions around photography in Saudi Arabia. You cannot take pictures of government buildings, airports, Muslim women, military installations and palaces. Also playing music in public is prohibited in the country, as it is regarded as a factor of public disturbance. You can listen music inside your hotel room until and unless it is not loud to offend any outsider.

8. Maintain modesty in dressing

When you are in Saudi Arabia, ensure to dress modestly. As the country is a conservative country, you must give special attention to your dress. Women should wear a dress that covers their full body like loose trousers or skirts, long-sleeved shirts, etc. Though a headscarf is not sternly required for travellers, however wearing one will depict your respect for the native culture. In addition, wearing the traditional abaya may help you avoid any arguments. Women should ensure to be as covered as possible. Men also should wear full-length trousers and their shirts must have sleeves. Though dressing conventionally is important, specifically for women, but men also should follow the native dress codes.

9. Try to travel in a group and avoid alcohol

The stringent government rules do not permit a tourist to travel to the country all alone. Hence, while you apply for a tourist visa, you will be required to prove that you are traveling with an organized tour group of four or more. During your visit, ensure to avoid drinking alcohol, as it is illegal in the country. Even the flights or the hotels in Saudi Arabia do not allow you to booze.

How flyadeal flights and Cleartrip can help your trip to Saudi Arabia?

The mosque of the prophet in Medina containing the tomb of Mohammad

Flyadeal is a Saudi airline considered as an economic arm of the General Organization of Saudi Airlines. This is operating in the economic aviation system of the country. Book a Flyadeal flight via Cleartrip, which is a travel site on which one can avail special offers on flights to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. This is a low-cost flight booking platform with safe booking process. Top routes that Flyadeal covers in Saudi Arabia include Riyadh to Jeddah, Jeddah to Riyadh, Dammam to Jeddah, Madinah to Riyadh, etc.

Plan appropriately with Cleartrip and do have an understanding of the unique culture of Saudi Arabia. You can also book your accommodation with the help of Cleartrip and can enjoy a memorable visit to this destination. Remember that Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer to respectful and well-prepared visitors who follow their norms.

Photo Courtesy: The photographs in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

How to plan a dream motorcycle holiday to Ladakh?

Dream motorcycle trip to Ladakh

A motorcycle ride to the highest motorable road in India is a dream trip for all motorcycle enthusiasts. It would certainly feature in the travel bucket-list of many Indian and international travelers. After all, such terrain and panorama is rare and only exists at a very few places across the world. This motorcycle ride to Ladakh in India’s Western Himalayas is dubbed as one of the top 10 best motorcycle rides in the world. However, it takes a lot of planning to complete this challenging journey. There are many things to keep in mind such as AMS, tough terrain, mountain riding experience, etc. So, the key question here is how to embark on one of India’s top motorcycle routes and successfully complete this dream motorcycle journey to Ladakh?

How do I plan the motorcycle bit?

The highway leading to Khardung la, one of the highest motorable roads in the world

There are 3 ways to plan your motorcycle logistics:

1) Option 1: Take your own motorcycle

This is the best option as you get to take your own motorcycle. Some riders ride all the way from their city or they ship their motorcycle to the nearest point and then ride from there. As a thumb rule, motorcycle riders to Ladakh usually prefer sending their bikes by train to Delhi or Chandigarh and then start their journey from there. You could also send your bike by road or by air. There are many options, but I personally prefer Indian railways. If you travel in the same train, the process becomes much more simpler.

2) Option 2: Rent a motorcycle at Delhi or Manali

If you do not want to take on the worries associated with motorcycle logistics, you can rent a motorcycle of your choice at Delhi, Manali or Leh. The prices are reasonable, though it is advised to check the motorcycle thoroughly before you decide to take it on your long ride. It is best to get it checked properly by a mechanic to ensure that the engine, clutch, brakes, tyres, etc. are all in good condition.

3) Option 3: Go with a motorcycle touring company

This is the option with the least headache and possibly also the safest as it comes with the service of tour guides, mechanics, doctors, etc. Such Ladakh bike trips run by motorcycle tour operators are ideal for first timers and for people with limited riding and/or mountain experience. A lot of motorcycle tour companies allow you to select your motorcycle in advance. Some even allow you to keep interchanging motorcycles during the course of the trip. Usually motorcycles in such outfits will be in good condition and in case of any trouble, you will always have access to an in-group mechanic.

How do I plan the itinerary?

The mountain highway to Leh

Your itinerary would depend on the time you have at hand and the route you opt for.

Route 1: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang pass and return the same way

This is the traditional and most popular route that begins at Manali. This is also the shortest route. It takes you via Rohtang pass, Tandi, Barlachala pass and Tanglangla before heading towards Leh. Acclimatization points would be Tandi or Jispa, Sarchu and Leh. Once you reach Leh, you can opt for the Leh - Khargung La- Nubra valley circuit, Leh – Pangong Tso – Tso Moriri circuit and/or Leh – Lamayuru – Alchi – Kargil circuit.
While it is possible to complete this route in 10 days, it is best to have at least 2 weeks for it.

Route 2: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang pass and return via Srinagar

The famous signboards on the Ladakh mountain highway

This is what I call the full Jammu and Kashmir circuit. It begins at Manali and then heads to Leh via Rohtang pass, Tandi, Sarchu and Upshi. Like in the previous option, you can explore Khardung la, Nubra valley, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and the surrounding monsteries. But, for your return leg, you don’t head the same way to Manali, but head to Chandigarh via Kargil, Drass, Srinagar, Patnitop and Pathankot. This route is longer, but allows you to get an experience of the lush Kashmir valley.

This route should take 14 days to complete, though I would keep 3 days as buffer for any kind of contingencies.

Route 3: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang Pass and return to Shimla via Spiti valley

This is the magical Western Himalayan route as it allows you to experience the best of both Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. The route starts at Manali and like the previous 2 routes heads to Leh and after seeing all tourist attractions of Ladakh, it returns the same way till Keylong. At Keylong, it diverges towards Gramphoo, Chandra Taal Lake, Kunzum pass before heading into Spiti valley. After exploring the various high altitude villages of Spiti valley and nearby Pin valley, it makes it way to Shimla and/or Chandigarh via small diversions to Sangla, Chitkul and Kalpa.

This is the longest route and will easily take at least 3 weeks. The roads beyond Gramphoo are some of the worst in the region. Hence, it is extremely essential that you are a good rider and can handle really tough off-road mountain conditions.

How do I handle AMS?

Capturing the Pangong Tso beauty in his lens

There are 4 golden rules when it comes to handling AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness.

1) You ascend slowly and spend the night at lower altitudes after completing a higher elevation during the day

2) Stay well hydrated and keep physical activity to a bare minimum during the first 48 to 72 hours

3) Try to avoid smoking and drinking during the first 48 to 72 hours

Petrol pumps are few and far between in Ladakh

4) Descend urgently to a location of lower altitude in case you struggle big time (like high blood pressure, heavy breathlessness, blood coming out from the nose, etc.)

As a precautionary step, motorcycle riders usually chew ginger and garlic right from Manali. While this makes your mouth stink and your stomach uneasy, this allows you to fight AMS successfully. Others carry a pill called Diamox which is known to help with AMS. However, Diamox comes with a side effect of tingling in fingers and at other places. Do be aware of it.

What is the best season to visit Ladakh?

Chemrey Monastery, Mustard Fields and the Himalayas of Ladakh, India

Ladakh is beautiful all year round and hence allows all year access if you fly into Leh. However, since you will be riding over the high mountain passes of the Western Himalayas, you will have to plan your ride between May and August. The rest of the year, Rohtang pass and the other high passes are closed due to heavy snowfall. The exact time of opening and closing of the mountain passes varies every year depending on the extent of snowfall. This information is usually available online so that can be checked easily.

Once the tunnel from Manali to Keylong is ready, this route will be open all year round as it will skip Rohtang pass altogether. Till that time, you will have to make do with the summer months of May through August.

Any important things to keep in mind?

Posing at Chang la high mountain pass

Following are some important things to keep in mind before and during your ride to Ladakh:

1) There is no petrol pump between Tandi and Karu (about 350 kms). Hence, plan to carry jerry cans with additional petrol for contingencies.

2) Mountain weather can be tricky. Things can change very quickly. Stay prepared for all 4 seasons within the course of a single day.

3) The high mountain passes are extremely beautiful and begs a long stay. However, a long stay at such high altitude places with low oxygen can lead to AMS.

4) Do not block the way for Indian army vehicles. It is us who are going on their roads and not the other way around.

5) Ladakh is a pristine, yet fragile mountain region. Please refrain from littering or causing any kind of damage to this sensitive ecosystem.

6) Summer months happen to the busiest tourist season in Ladakh. Hence, it might be prudent to make all your bookings well in advance in case you wish to stay at a particular hotel or if you wish to visit a particular festival.

7) Buddhist monasteries are places of worship. Do respect the sanctity of the place by reducing your volume levels.

How do I go about inner line permits?

The Holy Buddhist scriptures in front of a monk at Shey Palace, Ladakh

Inner line permits are required for some border zones in Ladakh. You can either apply for them yourself at Leh or ask someone to apply on your behalf. The process is simple and it requires your ID card, some passport size photographs, your vehicle papers and your rough itinerary. Inner line permits usually take at least a day, but if you ask for a speedier option, you could get it sooner.

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