April 24, 2017

An Evening in Anjuna!


It was yet another beautiful sunset as the day came to a close. There was a random game of football, people climbed a temporary structure and dived into the waters, a juggler displayed his skills, a few played frisbee, a couple held hands and took in the sea breeze, the waves gently kissed the sands, moored boats swayed to the tune of the tides, trance music played in the background and the sun went down the horizon. Loved the vibe that the wonderful evening offered. Bliss!

Curlies beach shack, Anjuna beach, Goa. March 2017.

April 21, 2017

How to spend an amazing week in Florence, Italy

Any good Europe Holiday package will include Italy and its many treasures like Florence, Rome and more like the coast of Amalfi or the Peloponnese. The many attractions in Florence, including climbing the Duomo and visiting the Uffizi make this one of the best places to see in Europe.

Art and historical sites will surround you in Florence and they’re all within easy walking distance, if you have time. Wander through corridors, take photographs of galleries and churches. Dine at some great cafés, restaurants, snack bars and wine bars. Truly, Florence has something for everyone. If you like dining outdoors, visit some open-air attractions that offer a respite from Botticelli and Brunelleschi with some scenic and beautiful gardens.

Duomo is considered to be Florence’s spiritual centre. Brunelleschi’s huge 15th-century terracotta-tiled cupola is still the biggest masonry dome in the world. Built over six centuries, some of the highlights include Paolo Uccello’s iconic fresco of British mercenary commander Sir John Hawkwood.The top of its 414 steps offer breathtaking views and Baptistery doors include copies of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s intricately carved bronze.

Florence University’s natural history museum may not feature in Europe packages but is definitely worth a trip if you have a week to spend in Florence alone. The museum houses a charmingly old-fashioned collection of botanical and zoological specimens, including a hippo that was given as a present to Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo.

It is also home to a series of increasingly gruesome wax anatomical models, sculpted in eye-popping detail between 1775 and 1791 as teaching aids for trainee doctors. The collection’s most gruesome artifacts are three grisly wax tableaux of plague victims and are not for the weak at heart. However, this is what most visitors come for, in addition to the old-fashioned collection of botanical and zoological specimens.

Ponte Vecchio, rebuilt in 1345, after its wooden predecessor was washed away in a flood is the oldest bridge across the River Arno and has been lined with shops ever since. Tourists frequent this bridge for shopping. Piazza della Signoria, a wide square dominated by the crenellated medieval town hall of Palazzo Vecchio is packed with artworks designed to glorify the ruling Medici dynasty.

Any Europe Tour Package would be incomplete without a visit to Italy, but a visit to Italy is incomplete without exploring all that the magical & historic city of Florence has to offer.


P.S. : This is a sponsored post.

April 17, 2017

Old Quarter by The Hostel Crowd- Review


With its gorgeous graffiti on the exterior, Old Quarter by the Hostel Crowd can easily beguile you to be one of the many colourful structures of Fontainhas. Located in the Latin quarter of Panjim and surrounded by structures which showcase the influence of Portuguese architecture, Old Quarter is the place to be in, if you are looking for budget accommodation. They have dormitories for girls only and mixed ones too. With an in house café, shuttle services and frequently conducted tours, this hostel is well recommended for backpackers and solo travellers.



What I loved:

Free Breakfast: One can either opt for a Goan breakfast or a continental one. It isn’t a huge spread, but definitely satiates.

Free Wifi:  All inmates have an access to free wifi during their stay.

Excellent Vibe: With likeminded souls and travellers as inmates, one can listen to interesting travel stories from world over.

Café: Though it functions from 8AM TO 8PM only, Bombay Coffee Roasters is a lovely café which serves some nice thirst quenchers and is popular with non- residents too.

Comfortable Beds:  A neat and comfortable bed is what is required after an exhaustive day of roaming. The bunk beds which come in 4 nos. and 6 nos. per room give a good night’s sleep.

Clean Bathrooms: This becomes an important criteria when staying in hostels and they have made sure it remains clean.

Tariff: For budget travellers, this is right up on the list. At Rs. 500 with all the above facilities, this is a steal.



What I did not like:

Upper Bunks: The fans are in such a location that the person on the upper bunk would hardly get any air. Opt for the lower berths always.


Verdict: Go for it!

Address:

5/146, Rua 31 de Janeiro, Panjim, Goa.



P.S.: This is NOT a sponsored post.

April 14, 2017

Gokarna and its Beaches


The sun was all set to retire for the day as I took the detour from Gokarna town to Om beach.  Enroute, sunset over the cove shaped Kudle beach as I rode along the fringes of the hills was a sight to behold. It is a nice little valley that extends into the beach when seen from the vantage point. This is definitely one of the best views in this secluded coastal town known for its temples and beaches.  I stood there for a while, gazed at the beautiful frame and rode ahead to Om beach when darkness engulfed as the sun slid down the horizon.

With the ancient Mahabaleshwar temple dedicated to Shiva, Gokarna has always remained a popular pilgrim centre.  However, when Goa became too crowded in the 80’s and 90’s, the bohemian crowd trudged south to settle on the serene beaches of Gokarna. It is presently a favoured destination of budget travellers and it is common to find pilgrims, backpackers, Buddhist monks, foreign travellers and beach trekkers rub shoulders in this lovely coastal hamlet in north Karnataka.

Om beach is probably the most popular place in Gokarna and Namaste café, a preferred place to relax. After relishing a tuna sandwich for breakfast (Namaste café’s tuna sandwich is the best I have ever had), I walked past the jutting rocks on Om beach. Referred to as Parvati rocks, they are spread majorly over the middle and northern stretch of the beach. The rocks are lovely vantage points to enjoy sunsets. The trees in the background which provide a long stretch of shade, stoop low to kiss the wading waves. In the shape of an inverted Om symbol, Om beach gets its name from the same. The beach was devoid of the crowd, except for a few people sitting on the rocks and enjoying their solitude, a couple of yoga practitioners and a few early morning walkers. Cows are ubiquitous here and can be seen in numerous numbers on the beach. There are more cafes towards the southern stretch which ends at a hill. As the sun was yet to warm up for another summer morning, the walk turned out to be a pleasant one.







At the end of Om beach, I walked behind the last café onto a narrow trail through the bushes to Half moon beach. The path goes along the ridge of a hill and slowly vistas popped up through the bushes. The gorgeous frame of the expansive Arabian sea, the slanting coconut trees and rocks was a delightful company on the trail ahead. Midway, I took a short detour to a lone coconut tree jutting from an extended hillock. As I gazed at the beautiful sea and Om beach far away, spotted a couple of dolphins going about their acrobatics. Such a wonderful sight. The trek led further through more precarious paths before going down the hill to Half moon beach. A secluded cove beach, Half moon is accessible only by trek or by a boat ride from Om beach. There are a couple of shacks, and the whole day can be spent counting the waves, chasing crabs and gazing at the beautiful sky at night.









Further south, the trail goes behind the shacks and one needs to clamber over a couple of rocks. It was a bit risky and I took the longer route over the hill. However, it turned out that this was tougher than the one over the rocks. The rocky trail ends at the tiny Small hell beach. I wasn’t alone from there on, as a lone dog followed me. We went past more vantage points, rocks and narrow trails towards Paradise beach. We sat idle and gazed at the beautiful vistas of the unending sea at quite a few points. Beyond more rocks, Paradise beach showed up from a distance. With coconut trees, hippie crowd and beautiful views, Paradise beach stands true to its name. All that one can do here is read a book under the shade, catch some sleep on a hammock, go for a dip in the sea or listen to some soulful music. How inviting is that? There aren’t any shacks here, but visitors hang out here on hammocks and tents. The lone shop here offers tea, omelets and basic food. Paradise beach is definitely the place to head to in Gokarna if you are keen on beach camping and staying away from the crowd. Trek and boat are the only means to reach here, and that makes it all the more secluded. I sat under the trees, had a lazy brunch, a few cups of tea, watched people perform acrobatics, saw dolphins and gazed at the sea in oblivion. Late in the afternoon I reluctantly took a boat back to Om beach. The ride back offered nice views of the beaches, hills and rocks which I had trespassed on my way to Paradise beach.









It is relatively an easy trek from Om beach to Kudle beach. Trail goes through a park at the northern end of Om beach and then over a flat bedded hillock before getting on a mud trail that meanders its way down to Kudle beach. The open beach is devoid of trees or shade like the other three beaches and that made my walk a tiring one. However, there are more shacks here than other beaches in Gokarna. With nice views of the beautiful beach, these shacks are ideal to sip a beer and watch the sun go down. Kudle beach is well recommended for a dip as it comparatively has lesser rocks. As the sun goes down and the temperatures dip, a walk on this beach is a nice way to welcome the night. The aerial view of Kudle is a beautiful frame.





The next day began with an early morning ride to Gokarna town and Mahabaleshwar temple. A typical temple town lined with numerous shops selling temple paraphernalia and a host of other items. Halakki tribal women can be spotted selling offering to the deity near the entrance of the temple. Dressed in colourful attire, Halakki tribes are indigenous to Gokarana and surrounding regions, but are mostly found around the temple premises. The road that leads to the temple goes past numerous colourful houses and ends at Gokarna main beach, which lies behind Mahabaleshwar temple. As per legend, it is recommended to take a dip in the beach before entering the temple. I had a short stroll along the beach which had an influx of both pilgrims and visitors. Mahabaleshwar temple is a revered one and is believed that it houses the atmalinga which Ravana could not carry home to Lanka as he was duped by Ganapathy. Celebrations galore during Shivaratri here and hordes of pilgrims throng the temple street during that time. Mahaganapathy temple is another popular place of worship on the same street.





Post the temple visit, rode out of Gokarna and took a detour to Tadadi, a small fishing port. Located at the estuary of Aghanashini river, this small fishing hamlet has a few beaches. Beyond Tadadi, the road runs along the backwaters of the river to the beach. Though google maps showed the beach as God’s own beach, the locals whom I spoke to mentioned it as an extension of Paradise beach. Paradise beach lies to the north of Tadadi and can be accessed by a trek over the hills. The road beyond Tadadi ends at the mud road that leads to Paradise beach. The beaches in Tadadi are rocky and have a couple of shacks and home stays.



Back in Gokarna, I spent the evening watching the sunset from the rocky perches of Om beach. Though the sunset angle wasn’t very appealing (Kudle beach offers a better view), evenings on the rocks of Om beach are always serene.




Travel Tips:
  • The beach trek is doable alone, just make sure you wear shoes with a good grip as the rocks and mud trail can be slippery at times.
  • Leave early in the morning for the trek to avoid the sun.
  • The rocks on Om beach are dangerous and it is advised to stay closer to the beach.

 Navigator:

Uttara Kannada, Karnataka
The closest airport is at Dabolim, Goa (155 Kms). The nearest rail head is at Gokarna Road (12 Kms). There are buses plying from Kumta, Karwar and Honnavar to Gokarna. Bangalore is 491 Kms from Gokarna. Om beach is 6 Kms from Gokarna town.

Food and Accommodation:

Om beach and Kudle beach have numerous shacks with budget accommodation. There are luxury options too near Om beach. Gokarna town has a few lodges majorly targeted at pilgrims visiting the temple. Namaste café on Om beach is neatly designed along with slopes of a hill and its café opens out into the beach.  Sunset café on Kudle beach is well recommended. Sea food is a specialty at most of the cafes. Tuna sandwich at Namaste café is a must try. There are vegetarian restaurants in Gokarna town, near the temple.

April 3, 2017

When Culture Meets Culture!


A foreign national taking offerings for the deity from a Halakki tribal woman outside Mahaganapathy temple, Gokarna. 
March 2017.

March 31, 2017

Sirsi- A Hidden Gem



Nestled amidst the interiors of Karnataka, the old town of Sirsi is known for its hidden attractions apart from the famous cardamom plantations and beetle nuts. Though it doesn’t command the popularity of Karnataka’s other treasures, Sirsi is definitely an offbeat destination amidst the numerous ones in the state. Located in the outskirts of the town, one of the oldest temples at Banavasi, the natural rock formation at Yana and the numerous sculptures at Sahasralinga are the major attractions Sirsi.

Madhukeshwara temple in Banavasi is at the end of a long street lined with old houses built in traditional architecture. The temple belongs to the Kadamba period, but has undergone numerous renovations and alterations in its architecture as it was under the rule of Chalukyas and Sonda kings in the later years. Believed to have been built in the 9th century, the temple has a nice open courtyard, tall stambhas (poles) and a couple of shrines. Though the temple was dedicated to Vishnu when it was first built, the shrine now houses a linga with a huge nandi sculpture in front. The numerous ornate pillars are another highlight of this ancient temple. Despite being devoid of many sculptures on its exterior walls, the naga sculptures, the ornate stone cot and the inscriptions in Brahmi characters are  quite an attraction. Kadambotsava is a major festival here held during the month of December.





Sahasralinga is in a different directon from Sirsi and a winding road leads to it. Here, river Shalmala flows past numerous shivlingas that have been chiseled on rocks in the river and its bank. Shivlingas and nandi (bulls) sculptures in various sizes and shapes are beautifully carved. Post the rains, when the water level goes down, one can have a closer look at these stone works. It is believed that there are about a thousand shivlingas in the surrounding area and were created by King Sadashivaraya.





Yana rocks are enroute Kumta from Sirsi and have a wonderful road that leads through a forest patch. From the base, it is a two kilometer walk to the huge rock formations called Bhairaveshwara shikhara and Jagamohini shikhara.  Though the initial stretch is through a wooded path past tall trees and flowing waters, the last few meters require a steep climb of steps. The intimidating rocky outcrops stand a hundred feet tall and are the major ones of the numerous rock formations scattered around this jungle. At the base of Bhairaveshwara rock is a temple that shrines a shivlinga which is beleieved to be a natural formation. To the left of the rock, a fleet of steps lead up to a cave, a spacious one with a tall ceiling. As per legend, Lord Shiva hid here in the cave to escape the wrath of Bhasmasura, a demon. The cave enshrines the shivlinga below and one can walk around to exit the cave on the other side. The view of Jagmohini shikhara on the way out from the cave is beautiful, as it stands tall amidst the greenery. There are numerous bee hives clinging on to the external walls of the rocks. The place becomes a hub of celebrations during Shivaratri. 





The colourful Marikamba temple is a popular one in Sirsi town. Unchalli falls, 30 Kms away from Sirsi is another major attraction during the monsoon.



Travel Tips:
  • All the destinations are far from each other, please take into consideration the commutation time while planning your visit.
  • It gets quite warm as the day progresses. Visit places such as Sahasrlinga and Banavasi early in the morning to avoid the heat.

Navigator:

Located in Uttara Kannada, Sirsi is 145 Kms from Shimoga, 62 Kms from Kumta and 80 Kms from Gokarna. The nearest railhead is at Talguppa (54 Kms from Sirsi) and the nearest airport is at Hubli (110 Kms from Sirsi). There are buses plying from Shimoga, Kumta And Davangere to Sirsi.

Food and Accommodation:

Apart from the food stalls at all the mentioned attractions, there are small basic restaurants in Sirsi town. Sirsi is a small town and it is ideal to make it as a day trip while visiting Kumta or Gokarna. Sirsi however does have basic stay options in its town limits.

March 29, 2017

Chikmagalur- Where Coffee Took Root in India



“Could you please slow down, so that I can photograph the coffee seeds?” I asked my driver. “Sure, let me pluck a few for you”, he replied as he braked. He quickly plucked a few, opened one and put in my hand. “This is the coffee bean that we crush to make coffee powder, but it is not yet ripe”, he said as we drove down the dirt track past more coffee plantations. We were in Chikmagalur, often referred as the birth place of coffee in India.

When the sufi saint Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee seeds from Yemen to India and planted them across the hills of Bababudan giri in Chikmagalur, he must not have foreseen what that would lead to. From the tumbler filter coffee to the cappuccinos, all made their way from here. While coffee is now cultivated across Coorg, Kerala, Nilgiris and other parts of India, Chikmagalur is where coffee was first planted in India and is presently one of the major coffee hubs in the country. Chikmagalur is cosily nestled amidst the hills of Baba Budangiri with unending vistas of undulating hills and deep valleys. It is also known for its trekking routes such as Mullayanagiri and Kudremukh.

The 12th century Hoysala temples slowly gave way to beautiful landscapes as I rode into Chikamagalur late in the afternoon. When in coffee land, smell the coffee first. The aroma of coffee led me to Coffee Yatra, a museum dedicated in educating about the history, cultivation and types of coffee in India. A video takes you through the procedure of how a coffee bean ends up in a cup. I was also taken to their laboratory where they test and experiment coffee beans to learn more about this seed of gold.


Further away from the museum and a short ride from Chikmagalur led past areca nut plantations to Ayyanakere Lake.  The serene lake surrounded by hills remains isolated and has a surreal setting. A lone fisherman went about his daily chores on the gleaming waters of the lake. There were hardly any visitors except for a few local boys and the lone security guard. However, the lack of visitors were compensated with numerous birds fluttering around, mostly river terns. I strolled around for a while, chatted up with the boys and waited for the sun to set to capture the frame. Ayyanakere lake looks absolutely gorgeous as the sun goes down the horizon. The placid waters, dusky sky and silhouettes of hills in the backdrop form a mesmerizing frame. As I got up and walked out after the sun set, the guard came up to inform that more facilities are lined up in the next few months. A resort along with a line of amenities is scheduled to come up shortly. Yes, Ayyanakere lake does lack facilities, but a host of activities might take off the sheen of this beautiful lake. It seems like the lake would put up a different frame when I go there next time.



Hirekolale is a nice lake, a short ride away from Chikmagalur town. Secluded and serene, Hirekolale lake is engulfed by nature and remains fairy unexplored. My visit early in the morning was ideal to spot numerous avian fauna. With the tall hills in the background, it looked quite similar to Ayyyanakere, albeit the charm.



It was a cold ride in the morning through the sprawling coffee plantations to Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka. Apart from the estates, the meandering roads offered intermittent vistas of distant hills and deep valleys. Seethalayanagiri is a vantage enroute with lovely vistas apart from a small shrine. Despite the roads being almost a dirt track with a steep gradient for the last stretch of two kilometers, the mesmerizing panoramic vistas more than make up for it. Mullayanagiri stood intimidating and what caught my attention was the zig zag path that led up to its summit. Despite the sun blazing, it was cold and windy all the way, and the views got better with the elevation. Distant hills engulfed in mist and open lands intercepted by shola forests form the backdrop for the shrine atop. The red brown road that sneaks its way amidst the greenery stands out. Though the walk down was faster, the ride down past the treacherous road was precarious.






Intermittent viewpoints such as Kavikal gundi showed up between the coffee plantations as the road led from Mullayanagiri to Baba Budangiri. I rode beyond the few commercial establishments at Baba Budangiri to Manikyadhara waterfalls. The meandering road past the beautiful views led to the steps that took me down to the falls. Manikyadhara is probably at its best during the rains. However, the falls was true to its name as the drops glistened against the blazing sun. Gaalikere can be seen as you ride down from the falls to the dargah. The dargah of Baba Budangiri is an underground one and quite popular too. Dripping with water, I walked around the underground damp dargah where the saint and his disciples rest.





I was told about Jerry falls (also referred as Buttermilk falls) by my host at Henry Corner. At Attigundi between Mullayanagiri and Baba Budangiri, I hired a jeep to lead me down the dirt track and through coffee plantations to Jerry falls. Though I had initially contemplated about visiting this falls, the first glimpse of the same made me realize the decision was a good one. Cascading over rocks, the tall falls looked absolutely beautiful. Despite being done with the monsoons, the falls tumbled and flowed beautifully down the rocks. However, the only downside was the crowd.


The ride to Kemmanagundi through Bhadra wildlife sanctuary was probably the most exciting one. Laced with beautiful views, forest patches and streams, it would be modest to call the road a dirt track. Though I was warned by my host, I did take that adventurous ride through the forest stretch of Bhadra. While initially it was a winding one past coffee plantations, it turned into a treacherous mud track for the remaining part. The interesting ride ended at the check post near Kemmanagundi, from where I headed to Kalhatti falls. This short stretch on cemented roads lined with tall trees and coffee plantations is an absolute delight and haven for riders. A detour led to the popular Kalhatti falls, where water flows next to a shrine. Though not an impressive one, it is claimed that a trek behind the shrine leads to a much bigger falls. However, the trek through the coffee plantations was futile, as it led nowhere. Though numerous falls small popped up, the big one remained elusive.





Z point, a detour from Kemmanagundi is one of the prominent attractions here. Shanti waterfalls enroute is beautiful, despite being a small one. The trail to the Z point goes along the edge of the hills past the tall grass. It is a long trail and the views of the hills all along are gorgeous. As the sun set, the tall trees and coffee plantations made lovely frames. Shortly later, I rode back to Chikmagalur, a lonely cold ride in the dark through the winding ghat sections.



The best possible way to spend the evening in Chikmagalur is to walk through M.G.Road. Explored the streets of Chikmagalur, and though shopping was never on my cards, couldn’t resist buying a packet of coffee as I headed back to my room.

Travel Tips:

While taking the jeep to Jerry falls, negotiate hard.
Avoid taking the road from Baba Budangiri to Kemmanagundi, if you have a four wheel vehicle, it would be a tough one and time consuming.
Visit Mullayanagiri early in the morning to avoid the blazing sun.
There aren’t restaurants or stalls near places such as Mullayanagiri, Ayyanakere, Hirekolale and Z-point.
Namma Angadi is a good option to buy coffee and spices.

Navigator:

Chikmagalur is 243 Kms from Bangalore, 151 Kms from Mangalore and 61 Kms from Hassan. The closest major airport is at Bangalore (264 Kms). The nearest major railhead is at Hassan. There are frequent buses from Hassan and Mangalore to Chikmagalur.

Food and Accommodation:

There are numerous restaurants in Chikmagalur town. Soundarya restaurant is a good vegetarian restaurant. Chikmagalur has a wide range of stay options from budget hotels to luxury resorts. I stayed at Henry’s Corner, a wonderful mid range option which offers all the basic facilities and is recommended. Mr. Antony, the host is quite helpful and always welcoming.




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