January 25, 2017

Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady- A Walk into the Woods


The first frame that comes to mind when we talk about Thekkady is the serene Periyar lake with protruding stumps and boats dodging past them. That frame has held its charm over the years, with people from world over frolicking the reserve to soak in the natural surroundings, to gaze at the gorgeous landscape and to have a closer glimpse of its endemic flora and fauna. Cosily nestled at a height of more than 1700 meters in the Cardamom hills of Idukki district and bordering Tamil Nadu, the Periyar Tiger Reserve at Thekkady is known for its rich bio diversity. Sprawling over 925 sq km, this is the largest sanctuary in Kerala and undoubtedly one of the most popular ones.  It is also one of the 27 tiger reserves in the country and is home to 47 tigers.

It was a blissful ride from Kochi, past the rubber and tea plantations to Kumily, a prominent spice trading centre in the state. This border town located a couple of kilometres away from Thekkady was also my base. I had absolutely no clue about the activities at the reserve, except for the boat ride on the lake. The last ride for the day was completely booked when I rushed in an hour early before its departure at 3.30 PM. Contemplating what to do next, picked up an entry ticket from the counter to walk around the park and its information centre. A kilometre away is the entrance gate to the reserve and then a few more to reach the parking space. Infested with playful macaques, the walk to the lake is lined with incredibly tall tress which ends at the entrance gate to the lake. Though overlooking the lake, this spot only gives a glimpse of the expansive lake. There is also an information centre which details about various activities for guests apart from the boat ride.  Strolled along for a while before heading back to the ticket counter.



To get over the anguish of missing out on the boat ride, booked a night trail called Jungle scout. At 7 PM the group of four with a guide and forest official left on the night trail which also doubles up as a night patrol. Armed with torches and a riffle by the official (you never know what company you might have inside the jungle), we followed our guide, Madhu, as he narrated about recent animal encounters. He was quite experienced, was prompt and could discern animals in the dark by their glowing eyes. We did come to know of that soon, when he spotted a male bison at distance, across a canal. The green eyes shone bright when we flashed the torch. Spotted many sambars all along as they grazed together as a herd. They posed for a while before shying away into the darkness of the night. A wild rabbit ran away when the torch flashed and hid in the bushes before running further away. Madhu did mention about seeing elephants in the evening along the same trail, but was surprised where they had disappeared in a couple of hours. All that we could see were the dungs. More nocturnal species popped up as we went walked deeper. A pair of porcupines hustled and trod into the bushes while a night jar stood still for long until we were quite close to it. ‘’Where did the elephants go?’’, repeated Madhu as he suddenly stopped. ‘’Bisons’’, he said. This time it was a huge herd and they happily grazed a few meters away from us. They had blocked our trail and we couldn’t go ahead unless they moved. Madhu tried his best to chase them away with sounds and they lethargically walked away. More elephant dungs showed up, but no sign of the pachyderms as we got on to the road and headed back. Apart from the sightings, the twinkling sky made the night all the more beautiful.



I headed next day early morning to the park entry counter to buy tickets for the first boat ride of the day. This boating activity is quite a chaos here at Periyar Tiger reserve. People had already lined up before sunrise to buy entry ticket and then rushed to the entry gate which was already queued up with vehicles. The vehicles headed to the parking lot and then it was a mad rush to the boat ride ticket counter. Unless you have an organiser who would pre-book or do all the running for you, please sharpen your running skills before heading here. Despite all the running, the gates closed as tickets for the first ride got sold out soon. As I stood in the queue waiting for the next ride, the official came up to squeeze in a couple of people as there were a few empty seats. Luck favours the one who can run fast. The boat left shortly as visitors wrapped in life jackets craned their necks and cameras were all set for a burst of clicks. The Periyar lake has always looked charming with its serene waters and protruding stumps. The boat meandered its way past the stumps creating ripples. Numerous birds such as woolly necked stork, cormorants, herons, kingfishers, lapwings and herons fluttered all over, stood still in the waters, sat on stumps and searched for their breakfast as we went past them. The guides on board were quite good as they kept sighting various birds. As we went deeper, the expansive lake opened up with thick woods and hills in the background to form a beautiful frame.








A pair of otters swam playfully in the waters for a while but dived away into the depth of the lake as the boat went closer. As the boat meandered along, we saw a family of four elephants walk down from the woods to the lake. The elephants nonchalantly drank water and grazed as the boat stopped and cameras went berserk. It was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen while on a wildlife safari. The two adults and two kids stood by the bank for long and were unperturbed despite the presence of boats. The boats left shortly and in a while we spotted a huge herd of bisons grazing away quietly. The elephants were still there when the boat returned, but walked away into the woods shortly. The otters had gone ashore, and it wasn’t just two this time, but a pack of them playing with each other under the bright sun. We were almost close to the landing area when one of the guides spotted a herd of wild dogs (dholes) feasting on a carcass. That was a first time for me and a great way to end the ‘lucky’ boat ride.









Despite the lovely jungle experiences, I was hungry for more and went on Green walk, an activity where the guide takes you on a trek through the forest. A walk through the forest is definitely the best way to know it better. The long 3-hour trail took us through the buffer areas laced with dry fallen leaves, percolating sunlight and tall trees, mostly teak and sandalwood. Our guide Prabhu, who hails from Paliyan tribe, made sure the trek was an interactive one as he explained about the forest, trees and animal sightings. Birds such as parakeets, jungle mynahs and many others chirped as we made our way through the dense forest. Prabhu was quick to spot a lone sambar (stag) standing between two trees and staring at us. As we went closer, trampling the dry leaves, it slowly moved away. Shortly, a huge herd of sambars followed the stag and disappeared into the woods. Sambars are usually found in groups, said Prabhu as we followed him further. He stopped without a cue and from the bushes a mouse deer ran in a flash. We hardly had a glimpse of it, but were lucky to sight it as they are mostly nocturnal. We spotted many tiger wasp nests dangling from branches and a few playful Malabar giant squirrels. Prabhu did get a call from another guide mentioning about an elephant sighting, but we couldn’t find any despite waiting patiently at many places. As we neared the exit, a Malabar hornbill flew and perched itself high on a branch. A few trees away a grey malabar hornbill was seen fluttering around. Just before the end of the trail, an angry niligiri langur made its presence felt as it chattered for a while. The trek ended as we passed through a tribal village, where a few gleeful children flashed innocent smiles as they happily posed for my camera.









My visit to Thekkady ended with a performance by the Manan tribe, the largest tribe that hails from the surroundings of the reserve. Apart from the six vigorous dance performances, the show also gives an insight into the tribal lives and the story behind each performance.



Eco tourism at Periyar Tiger reserve offers more activities such as bamboo rafting, bamboo grove, tiger trail, border trekking, nature walk etc. Wildlife sighting is all about luck and good naturalists. I was lucky to have both to an extent on all three activities.

Thekkady and Kumily are known for its spices and there are numerous shops selling a variety of them.

Travel Tips:

  • Entry tickets for the reserve can be obtained from Information centre at Ambady junction, a kilometre before the reserve entry gate. This is a multiple entry ticket and can be used any number of times in a day. Tickets for all the other activities (except boat ride) can also be booked here.
  • Request your hotel or an organiser to book tickets for your boat ride so that you need not join that rat race. However, if you are up for the adventure, the tickets can be bought from the counter next to the lake entrance.


Location:

Idukki district, Kerala.
164 Kms from Cochin. Nearest airport is at Cochin (190 kms). Closest rail head is at Kottayam (118 Kms). Kumily is 4 Kms from Thekkady and is well connected by buses to Cochin, Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram.

Food and Accommodation:


Explore Kerala cuisine as they are easily available at most restaurants. However, most of them also provide Chinese, North Indian and Continental fare. Thekkady has numerous resorts and plush hotels apart from options such as camps in the jungle organised by Periyar Tiger reserve. Lake palace on an islet inside the reserve is a luxurious option. If you are keen on budget options, head to Kumily. I stayed at Hotel Sithara International, a good budget option in Kumily.

January 24, 2017

12 Incredible Mountain Trekking Adventures in the Himalayas

Are you wondering what most wonderful places in the world are? Well, if that is the case then worry no more because you have come to the right site. There are various destinations to tour during the vacation. However, not all of these places will impress you. One of the best places to spend time with the love of your life over the holiday is the Himalayas. There are many places where you can hike with your friends. Before you book a flight to this region ensure that you understand some of the best places to tour. This article has outlined 12 incredible mountains Trekking Adventures in the Himalayas. You can take rides across these places over the holiday to realize the wonderful experience it has to offer to tourists.

1. Everest Base Camp

There is no doubt that Everest base camp is among the besttrekking points in the Himalayas. Thousands of tourists keep booking flights to this place because it has an endless list of goodies to offer those who love trekking. For an ultimate trekking experience, do not look beyond this place whenever you find yourself at the Himalayas. The good trail, wonderful tea houses and great views of the Himalayas are among the things that will make you fall in love with this place even more. On your way, you will have the privilege of seeing some of the highest peaks these mountains have to offer.



2. Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp

You can trek through the Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp for hours with friends or family members. The destination offers beautiful looking trails as well as fabulous tea houses that will give you memories of a lifetime. It does not make sense to waste time going elsewhere in the world when this destination has much to offer in the long run. Many people prefer this region because of the fantastic up close sights of the Annapurna Mountain. The Fish Tail, which is considered sacred by the locals of this place, is another thing that has made this place to stand out from other tourist destinations in the world. The route also offers a wonderful view of hanging glaciers, as well as sheer cliff face of that, will make to keep going back to the place whenever you think about having a holiday in the Himalayas Mountains.



3. Manaslu Circuit

Manaslu is considered the 8th highest peak in the Himalayas. A ride around this mountain will offer long lasting memories. The total number of tourists who visit this place throughout the year is estimated at 2000 persons per year. However, you will be charged a certain fee in order to trek around the mountain.

4. Makalu Base Camp

It takes 16 days to trek around this trail. A trek around this region will leave you replenished after a long week of work. If you want to enjoy a true wilderness experience then this is the best places to go over the vacation. The beautiful alpine meadows and untouched forests make this region one of a kind. The wonderful look of this region makes it a small corner of paradise on earth.



5. Upper Mustang

The Upper Mustang ride highlights ancient Tibetan cultures and desert beauty that you are not likely to experience if you decided to visit any other destination in the world. You will require a special permit in order to trek around this mountain. The dry mountainous landscape looks familiar that found in Ladakh India. Some of the highlights that you will find at the place include the Forbidden City as well as the ancient Caves and Monasteries. The high number of people touring this place clearly shows the beauty that it has to offer. The next time you think about taking a trip to the Himalayas ensure that you reach this destination. The Himalayas tend to move from the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh to the Eastern side of Kashmir. The central portion of the mountains includes Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh among other regions that will impress you at the end of the day. However, you need to be very careful when trekking in this place because of the security issues you are likely to experience.

6. Goecha La Trek

The Goecha La is one of the wettest destinations in this region. Its wetness can be attributed to the proximity to the Bay of Bengal as well as the direct line of influence caused by the Indian Monsoon winds. The journey begins with a muddy trail through the thick rain forests before entering the lowland forests located in the Rhododendron region. One the other side of the place you will find a sacred Lake with crystal waters making it look beautiful. If you want a cool place to relax as well as have a good time with the love of your life then this is the place to go.

7. Gangotri Glacier

A trek through this place will take you through River Ganges and other beautiful looking destination in this region. The landscape looks spectacular and charming because of the wonderful views of Mt. Shivling and Bhagirathi group of mountains. It will be amazing to trek through the largest glaciers located in the central Himalayas. The beautiful peaks and large glaciers in this region give it a unique view that will leave you with long lasting memories.

8. River Zanskar

The ancient routes will allow you to connect from the Frozen River Zanskar to the villages of Zanskar valley. It is among the best routes to transverse during the late January as well as early February when the surrounding is cold and Frozen. It is wonderful to move around this place if you have the courage to trek along difficult places. A trip in along the Frozen River will definitely leave you with memories that will be hard to forget. However, the temperature of -10 degrees needs someone who can withstand cold conditions. This makes it difficult for certain individuals with health issues. In addition, the region looks isolated thus you need to trek in this region as a group.



9. Markha Valley

There is no doubt that a trip to the Markha Valley is the easiest to organize as well as the most famous. In addition, you have a wide range of options when it comes to trekking around this region. However, it is advisable to acclimatize yourself with the region before going out for the trip to avoid getting lost along the way and other issues that can arise along the way. A trip in this place with your family or friends will be among the best you have ever had during your lifetime.

10. Kolahoi Glacier

There is nothing better you can do over the holiday than touring this region over the holiday with your friends. The trail follows Lidder River and boasts a panoramic view of laden peaks filled with snow. In addition, during the summer season, you will find a group of nomadic people looking after herds of sheep. If you want to get in touch with what nature has to offer then this is the place to tour over the holiday. The region has been rewarded with beautiful views of the glaciers as well as other attractions that offer a wonderful sight for travelers.



11. Kailash Circuit

The Kailash Circuit has earned worldwide recognition as one of the most sacred destinations in the world. Religious leaders from all over the world keep visiting this region because it has a lot to offer. You can also jump onto the bandwagon to have a fulfilling vacation with the family before booking a flight back home afterward.

12. Advanced Everest Base Camp

The advanced Everest base camp has gained more popularity in the recent past because of the high number of travelers going to the place over the holiday. The route is normally dry all the way thus making it easy to trek with ease from one side to another. In addition, the stunning landscape creates a beautiful view for the trekker. The route is easy to follow even if it is your first time to travel to the place. Do not book a flight back home before your tour this area because it is simply the best.

In conclusion, The Himalayas is among the best tourists destinations in the world. Thousands of people from all over the globe keep touring this region because of its amazing looks. There is no need to waste time and effort going elsewhere when you can have a fulfilling trip in this region. The beauty and charm of this place make it a small corner of paradise on earth. There are endless of destinations where you can enjoy trekking as well as taking part in other activities. The region is ideal for visitors who want to spend time with families as well as friends. In addition, you will not dig deeper into your pocket in order to have a memorable time with the love of your life. The region has several places where you can take a time to relax after having a tiresome day.

P.S. : This is a guest post by Lily Evans who blogs at Sky We Fly. The pictures are from Shutterstock.

January 17, 2017

A Long Ride

Am on a long ride, a ride across cities, small towns and villages meeting people, understanding cultures, exploring wildlife, gazing at gorgeous landscapes, riding through various terrains, relishing local cuisines, framing moments and understanding India from a traveller’s perspective.

Through this post, I intend to give all the readers an insight into my travel experiences. The updates would be short briefs of my experiences on the road and about places I traversed. The detailed posts about destinations, activities and others would be separately published. I hope to update this once in 2-3 days

Day 1

Kochi to Thekkady
Distance- 164 Kms
Route- Kochi- Poothotta- Kanjiramattom- Pala- Mundakkayam- Kuttikanam- Peermede- Thekkady

Visit- Periyar Tiger reserve, Thekkady

The road from Kochi until Tripunithura had a fair bit of traffic which eased as I rode into Kottayam district. Though single tracks, the meandering roads with gradients are lined with rubber plantations, intermittent palatial bungalows of estate owners and pretty churches. The number of onlookers increased as I rode into smaller towns. With saddle bags, tank bag, backpack etc., could very well understand that curious expression on their faces. With an action camera fixed on the bike handle, capturing the ride, roads and landscape, the first-time experience was an interesting one. Though the weather was slightly warming up as I entered Idukki district, a cool breeze hit me on reaching Kuttikanam. The weather became mildly cold and the plantations changed from rubber to tea. The ride from Peermde to Kumily has a beautiful landscape with spread out tea plantations over undulated hills. Had booked my room at Able residency at Kumily through booking.com. Surprisingly, the concerned person was not in town and it was closed. However, he was responsible enough to book a room for me at Hotel Sithara. Seeing a Karnataka registration vehicle a few people conversed in broken Hindi and English. A smile spread over their face when they heard me respond in Malayalam each time. A quick Kerala lunch later, rushed to the information centre at Periyar Tiger Reserve to get tickets for the last boat ride for the day at 3.30 PM. Though the tickets are issued only an hour in advance, it was completely sold out. I was told to come early morning (5.30 AM) next day to get tickets for the first ride at 7.30 as tickets cannot be booked in advance. I hardly had any clue about the ‘drama’ that was to unfold next day morning at the reserve. Picked up entry ticket for the park (boating tickets are separate) and loitered around for a while gazing at the lovely lake, tall trees and the playful macaques. Missing out on the boat ride made me restless and I screened through the reserve’s other programs. Jungle scout, a jungle patrol with a guide and forest official at night seemed interesting. As the rush at the park ended with the sunset, we began the walk through the reserve at 7PM. Sighted sambars, gaurs, porcupines, wild boars, rabbits and night jars during the 2-hour trail. Headed to the room after dinner and slept off waiting for my alarm to ring at 5 AM.

Through the rubber plantations of Kottayam

A church at Erattupetta

video



Day 2

The day began with a rush to the Periyar Tiger rserve entry ticket counter at 5.30 AM. Was greeted by a small queue which had grown multi folds by the time the counter opened at 6AM. Clutching the ticket, rushed to the reserve entrance gate (1 km away), where there was a bevy of cars and autorickshaws lined up. At 6.20 AM, when the gates opened the vehicles rushed to the parking lot (2-3 Kms away). As soon as the vehicles reached the parking lot, visitors got out and started running. Absolute mad rush to the boating ticket counter. It was quite a run, more than 30 people running 200 meters to get hold of a ticket. On reaching there, we were told there are only 33 tickets available for the first boat ride at 7.30 AM (hopefully many had booked online many days ago, or else there are ‘ways and means’ to buy tickets). Of the 33, the first person took away 21 and a few more behind him got the rest. The gate closed and the remaining crowd waited in the same queue for the next boat ride scheduled for 9.30 AM. In this modern age where things are more organized, I just can’t understand this disgusting experience of standing in queues after queues to get hold of a ticket. As luck would have it, the 7.30 AM ride had a couple of seats available and the officials returned to check if they could squeeze one or two more. Right up in front of the queue and with just a single seat required, I was on my way to the anchored boat.

As the boat went past the protruding stumps of the lake, my mind slowly distracted itself from the grueling experience that I had to go through early in the morning. The gorgeous landscape of the lake with thick forests in the background makes a beautiful frame. Spotted a family of elephants, a huge herd of bisons, playful otters, wild dogs feasting on a carcass and numerous birds such as kingfishers, cormorants, herons, storks etc. In the afternoon after lunch, went on green trail through the forest with a guide. This trail gave a closer glimpse of the beautiful trees, numerous birds, a huge herd of sambars, mouse deer, hornbills, Malabar giant squirrels and a lone nilgiri langur. It was a long walk of almost three hours which took us through the expansive forest laced with dry leaves and percolating sunlight. The day ended with a tribal heritage performance by the Manan tribes who swayed to their folklore.

Read the full post on Thekkady here

The serene Periyar Lake

Green walk


Day 3

Thekkady to Munnar
Distance- 117 Kms
Route- Kumily- Nedumkandam- Poopara- Devikulam- Munnar

After a quick breakfast at a small tea stall, left Kumily by 9 AM.  It was nice roads all the way till Nedumkandam, where I took a break to meet my friend Dileep Abraham. It been more than twelve years since we met. He runs a popular tour operating company, Kerala Honeymoons. Planter’s cafĂ© is where we met and the place was quite an impressive one. Left for Munnar in a while. The first tea estates popped up near Poopara and the closer I got to Munnar, more sprawling tea plantations spread out over undulating hills. It was a lovely ride through the winding roads with tea plantations on either side. Stopped by at a few vantage points, one offered panoramic views of Anairangal dam. Reached Munnar by 1.30 PM and checked into Noah’s Ark, a nice budget hotel which had many foreign backpackers staying. 

Sprawling tea gardens
Spent rest of the day visiting the popular tea museum and then rode down the highway that leads to Kochi for a few kilometres. The route has a couple of nice view points and plantations. En-route the highway, took a detour on the road to Idukki. This road offered magnificent views of more plantations, silhouettes of distant hills and the setting sun. This is probably the best sunset point in Munnar. The sky turned pink and it turned cold as the sun went down for the day. 

Sunset over the hills


Day 4

Visited Eravikulam national park in the morning riding past numerous tea plantations. Known for the Nilgiri Tahrs and many other indigenous species, this is a popular park in Kerala which also makes it a crowded one. Further ahead the winding road led to Lakkom falls. Though not at its best due to lack of rains this time of the year, it did have sufficient water for the numerous visitors who gleefully took a shower under it. The tea estates changed to Sandalwood forests as I rode to Marayoor, 40 Kms from Munnar. It’s a protected forest and fenced all along. Marayoor is also known for its megalithic dolmens (burial sites) and jaggery. I stopped by at a small jaggery shed and it was interesting to understand its preparation. Rode back the lovely road to Munnar in the evening and roamed its busy streets which sell tea, spices and many souvenirs.

Read the full post on Munnar here

Through the sandalwood forests of Marayoor

Day 5

The day began with a ride to Madupetty dam, a few kilometres away from Munnar. The expansive dam offers beautiful panoramic views with hills in the background. The low floating clouds made the already picturesque frame more beautiful. As it got crowded, headed further to Echo point, quite a touristy place with stalls lined up on either side of the road. The road runs along the periphery of Madupetty dam up to Echo point. Further down was Kundala dam, access to which was closed due to renovation. However, the dam can be seen along the road. Rode further through meandering roads past many tea estates to Top station, 2 Kms into Tamil Nadu. Tea estates gave way to tall hills and deep valleys as soon as I crossed over to Tamil Nadu. That was a refreshing change from the unending tea plantations. The watch tower here offers nice views of many hills such Kolukkumalai, Palani hills and a few villages way down in the valley. Gobbled a couple of bread- omelettes at a stall here and rode down to Koviloor and Vattavada. Entered Pambadum Shola forest reserve shortly and I had one of the best short rides here. Dense forest for the first couple of kilometres and then immensely tall eucalyptus trees for the next few. It was hardly 2 kms, but those tall trees created a surreal frame and that made my day. Koviloor and Vattavada are pretty villages known for their vegetable cultivation. Loved their charming landscape. Strolled around for a while and then rode back past the tall trees and winding roads to Munnar. 

Read the full post on Munnar here

Madupetty dam
View from Top Station


Day 6

Munnar to Valparai (160 Kms)
Route- Munnar- Marayoor- Chinnar- Kurachikottai- Nalumoola Sungam- Aliyar dam- Valparai

It slightly drizzled as I loaded my saddle bags on the bike in the morning. Hoped it would be a passing shower, but turned out to be a continuous one as I set out from Munnar to Valparai. The light drizzle turned heavier and mist hovered all across reducing the visibility to less than 50 meters.  Stopped on the way to cover up the luggage as the drizzle continued. It did reduce a bit near Marayoor, but again picked up as I rode through Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and Anaimalai tiger reserve. Despite the rains, the ride was a wonderful one. Both the forest reserves looked beautiful with drenched trees and a gorgeous landscape.  As I stopped near Kurichikottai for a cup of tea, locals were quite amused to see me ride with so much of gear and luggage. As always, the questions poured in as I sipped some hot tea. Rode through the drizzle past small villages of Tamil Nadu to get on to the highway from Pollachi to Valparai. Another entry gate for Anaimalai reserve and I was soon on the ghat section. Aliyar dam showed up just before the inclination. Struggled to take photos because of the rain and rode up the 40 hair pin bends with a couple of quick stops to capture the vistas from the top. The road wound its way past Monkey falls, Tiger Valley and Loam’s view point. Though it was hazy and drizzling, the views looked majestic as I went higher.  Thick shola forests lined with tall trees marred the views after a while.  After the 31st hair pin bend, tea estates popped up and the bends went down for a while. Usually, it’s either uphill or downhill all the way. It reminded me of Munnar as large tea gardens showed up everywhere. As I entered Valparai in the evening, the sky was clear with absolutely no rain. I was probably the only soul in Valparai riding around drenched to the last thread on the body. 

Loam's view point

Checked into Hotel Holiday Break, a decent one and the good part was that my room overlooked a tea estate.  As I got out and strolled through Valparai tow, it drizzled for a couple of seconds. Sun played hide and seek for a while as the two second drizzle continued intermittently. Valaparai is an ideal destination for bird lovers. Spotted many species such as storks and egrets as I rode through the tea estates. Valparai has only one major road, which also happens to have all the shops, restaurants and hotels.

Tea gardens of Valparai

Day  7

The day was spent riding through the unending plantations of Valparai. Strolled through the plantations to the vantage point of Nallamudi Poonjolai and then rode past more tea gardens to Sholayar dam. As I couldn’t enjoy the ghat ride the previous day due to rains, went down the hair pin bends again to Loam’s view point and Monkey falls. The ride through the meandering roads was a blissful experience. Enroute, also spotted a few lion tailed macaques.  The ride to Nirar dam and Chinnakallar was futile as they were closed to visitors, but enjoyed the ride to those attractions.

Read the full post on Valparai here.

Day 8

Valparai to Kaakavayal, Wayanad (341 Kms)
Route- Valparai- Malakkapara- Vazhachal- Athirapilly- Thrissur- Shoranur- Perinthalmanna- Manjeri- Areacode- Thamarasseri- Kalpetta- Kaakavayal

Left Valparai by 9.30 AM and rode past the tea plantations to enter Malakkapara forest area in Kerala. The policeman was quite curious to know about my ride and action camera. He enquired about its clarity, price and a lot more.  As per regulations, I was asked to exit the gate at Vazhachal (55 Kms) within two hours. Two hours was quite sufficient to cover 55 Kms was what I felt as I entered the gate. However, the forest was quite a captivating one and I took all the time to soak in its thick foliage. The road was almost devoid of vehicles, sunlight percolated through the tall trees, there were elephant dung all over and all that I could hear was the rumble of my bike and the silence of the dense forest.  Lower Sholayar dam popped up intermittently and was visible through the thicket. However, it took a while for the forests to clear and the expansive reservoir to spread out. This was a massive reservoir in comparison to Upper Sholayar near Valparai. The road became narrower after the vantage point as I rode down a few hair pin bends. The bare trees with golden brown leaves had a nice charm to it. The forests showed up again shortly as I crossed a few rivulets. I realised that I was running short of the given time and had to speed through the last stretch of the beautiful forests of Vazhachal.

Through the forests of Malakkapara

Sholayar Dam

Dry landscape
Had a glimpse of Vazhachal waterfalls as I crossed the exit gate of the forest, but hurried up to the more popular Athirapilly falls, a few kilometres away.  Though the summers were about to set in, Athirappilly falls looked majestic with its gushing white waters. Had a very short stop over near the view point on the road and then headed to Thrissur. Enroute, had lunch at a highway restaurant where two boys came up and asked where am headed, as they had spotted me in Valparai too. I said Wayanad, and they responded with a smile, “Keep travelling”. After Thrissur, the roads turned single track as I rode through the towns of Shornur and Pattambi. Had a short rest near Perinthalmanna before riding ahead. While refuelling at a pump in Pulamanthol, the young chap thought I was kidding when I told him it was a camera that I had mounted on the handle bar. Had to switch on and play it for him to believe. It was a breezy ride through the small towns of Thirurkad, Manjeri, Areacode and Mukkom to Thamarasseri, where the ghats  to Wayanad begins. The sun had almost set when I reached the ghats, but the mauve skyline looked beautiful and I stopped for a break. More curious onlookers and the familiar questions flowed as I answered with a smile. One asked whether the solo ride made me feel lonely. Am used to it and I love the advantage of deciding the itinerary was my response. He gave a half nod in response and wished luck as he left.  Thamarassery ghats have well laid wide roads and it was a pretty quick ride through the darkness to Kalpetta and further ahead to Kaakavayal. Tribal Hut was where I had booked my room. Checked in and was surprised to see that they had common baths and small rooms (kind of a dormitory), very different from what they had portrayed on booking.com site.  Though the huts that they have looked nice, they did not seem very safe. Opted for the small room and crashed for the night.

Athirappilly falls

Sunset over the ghats of Thamarasseri

January 13, 2017

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- A throwback to the times of Chalukyas



Almond coloured landscape and men in white clothing are the first things that strike when I think about Badami- the sleepy dusty town which once was the capital of the great Chalukyan empire from 6th to 8th century. Though a bit far from each other, Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are spoken in the same breath and are known for rock cut caves and numerous other centuries old temples. While Badami is known for its popular cave temples, Pattadakal has a huge temple complex listed under UNESCO heritage site and Aihole is believed to be where temple architecture was defined. Though the temples and structures have worn out over a period, most of them have been restored and maintained well by the authorities.

The tiny town of Badami has only one major road which accommodates all its commercial activities. However, beyond the main road and the tiny lanes that lead to its residential areas, Badami has a picturesque landscape with huge cliffs (south fort and north fort) overlooking the town. These almond coloured sandstone cliffs are separated by Agasthya theertha, a massive water tank.

A line of steps lead up to the first cave dedicated to Shiva in south fort area. Lined with carved pillars, this cave temple houses sculptures of Nataraja (Shiva as a dancer) and Ardhanareeshwara along with a mutilated nandi facing the inner sanctum. A few further steps meanders through the rocks to the second cave dedicated to Vishnu. This too has carved pillars along with sculptures of ten incarnations of Vishnu. The third cave has a Vishnu shrine and is the largest of all. There are elaborate carvings and impressive sculptures of various mythological characters and celestial figures. The coloured walls have eroded over the years. The cave also offers panoramic views of the Agasthya tank, Bhoothanatha temples, other smaller shrines and Badami town. The fourth cave is a Jain cave and has sculptures of Thirthankaras on its walls. Between cave 1 and 2 there is a sculpture of Padmapani (an incarnation of Buddha) on the rocks. 

Cave 1

Sculpture in Cave 1

Cave 2
 
Sculpture in cave 2

Cave 3
 
Sculptures in Cave 3

Cave 3

View of Agasthya theertha and Bhoothanatha temples

Steep steps lead from one cave to another

Jain cave

The expansive Agasthya theertha is the life of Badami, and has a rustic charm to it. It is a part of the people's daily chores as they take bath, wash and clean themselves here. The two Bhoothanatha temples at the lake's far end look gorgeous, definitely one of the best frames in Badami. Dedicated to Shiva, the shrine has a menacing expression on his face and is worshiped as the god of pancha bhoothas or five elements of life. There are other temples too by the stepped tank such as Yellama temple and Mallikarjuna temple. Look out and you will find more tiny shrines built on boulders and surroundings.

Bhoothanatha temples

The walk along the water body leads to the other cliff known as north fort. At the base of north fort is an archaeological museum which houses a huge display of sculptures and findings from excavations over the years. Further ahead, a steep climb of steps lead through massive boulders to the ruins of north fort which has a treasury, granaries, watch tower, lower Shivalaya and upper Shivalaya. The narrow passage flanked by boulders is an interesting trail (reminds you of geological books) that leads to the lower Shivalaya, and then to the huge circular watch tower which offers beautiful views of south fort, Agasthya theertha, Badami town and the surroundings. A further walk through the boulders takes you to upper Shivalaya, which has mythological carvings and sculptures on its walls. It is believed that these Shivalayas were the first temples built by Chalukyas with pyramidal towers (gopurams). A short detour from the museum at the base leads to Malegitti Shivalaya. Perched on a lone standing hill, a few steps lead to the temple dedicated to Shiva. Believed to be a surya temple earlier, it presently has many mythological and animal carvings.

Pathway to north fort

Circular watch tower

Upper Shivalaya

Malegitti Shivalaya

Banashankari, five kilometers away from Badami is known for its temple dedicated to Parvati. Adjacent to the temple lies the massive Haridratheertha (water tank) with pillared walk ways along its four sides. The large lamps in front of the temple are pretty impressive.

Haridratheertha at Banashankari

A few kilometers away from Badami lies Chalukyan temple complex at Mahakuta. Though a functional complex, most of the structures are in a dilapidated state. There are ten temples here dedicated to Shiva, the prominent ones being Mallikarjuna and Mahakuteshwara. The Vishnu pushkarni (water tank) in the middle of the complex is believed to have a natural spring.

Temples at Mahakuta

Vishnu Pushkarni

Pattadakal, the second capital of the Chalukyas is believed to be their coronation site. A UNESCO world heritage site, this temple complex spread over a well laid out garden has an array of temples dating from 7th to 9th centuries. The largest and the most decorated of all the temples are Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha temples, built to commemorate the victory of Chalukyas over Pallavas. While Mallikarjuna temple displays stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana on its walls, Virupaksha has beautiful carved pillars with mythological stories and characters. The other popular temples with magnificent architecture include Galaganatha, Kddi Siddeshwara, Jambulinga, Kashi Vishwanatha and Sangameshwara temples. The temple complex is situated by the Malaprabha river and the exit gate leads to the same.  Papanatha temple just outside the complex is one of the oldest temples in Pattadakal. The isolated Rashtrakuta jain temple is another prominent one in Pattadakal.

Pattadakal temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple

Viruypaksha temple

Galaganatha temple

Sangameshwara temple

A mutilated nandi ssculpture

Papanatha temple

Jain temple

Further away from Pattadakal lies Aihole, believed to be the place where Dravidian temple architecture was born. It has numerous temples spread all over with some well-maintained ones inside complexes and some secluded ones in neglected ruined state. Aihole is believed to have had more than a hundred temples, all built between 6th and 12th centuries. Durga temple complex is the most celebrated place here with the popular horse shoe shaped Durga temple. The temple has extensive sculptures on its exterior, interior and ceiling. The numerous ornate pillars look gorgeous even today with their beautiful carvings. The wonderful sculptures pop up as you circumnavigate the horse shoe shaped pathway. Dedicated to Durga, the deity is a fierce looking Mahishasuramardhini. Lad Khan temple is one of the other impressive temples within this complex. It is also the oldest one here and has a different architecture with another shrine atop the roof. It has carved pillars and a nandi sculpture facing the inner sanctum. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple gets its name from a Muslim saint who lived here a few centuries ago. The other temples in this complex include Gaudaragudi, Chakragudi, Badigergudi and Suryanarayanagudi temples. This complex also houses a museum which has a good display from excavations over the years.

Durga temple

Carvings inside Durga temple

Sculpture along the horse shoe shaped pathwway

Lad Khan temple

Gaudaragudi temple

Ambigeragudi complex lies opposite to durga complex and has a set of lovely temples with fine architecture. Jyothirlinga temple complex is one of the nice complexes with numerous shrines, nandi structures and a pushkarni. Huchchappayanamath temple complex is a secluded one which is neatly maintained and has a well laid out garden, walkway and temples in typical Chalukyan architecture. Mallikarjuna temple complex has five temples apart from a pushkarni. 

Ambigeragudi temple complex

Jyothirlinga temple complex

Huchchappayanamath temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple complex

Kontigudi complex has numerous temples, but is set amidst a lot of filth and cattle. Next to it lies Rachigudi complex which has a spread-out garden and shrines amidst it. Charanthi matha and Tryambakeshwara complex are perfect examples of how lovely heritages structures can be neglected and left to ruin. 

Rachigudi temple complex

Ravanaphadi is a rock cut shrine dedicated to Shiva, but much smaller in size compared to the ones in Badami. Though externally it might not be an impressive one, the magnificent sculptures inside which include Shiva in a dancing stance can leave you amazed. There are more huge sculptures of Varaha, Mahishasuramardhini and other figurines. What also makes it special is that the shrine is cut out from a single rock. It is peaceful inside and is definitely my favourite shrine in Aihole. Huchchimalli temple complex ahead of Ravanaphadi has three shrines dedicated to Shiva and has beautiful carvings inside. A steep climb up the hill behind Huchchimalli leads to Meghutti temple, a double floored structure with pillars. The hill also has a few caves alongside the temple. The evening sky and Aihole town looks beautiful from the hill. 

Ravanaphadi cave temple

Interiors of Ravanaphadi cave

Shiva sculpture

Huchchimalli temple complex

Meghutti temple

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are undoubtedly a favourite with architecture and geological lovers. Moreover, the fact that these magnificent heritage sites still thrive amidst all the modernization makes them all the more impressive and worth the visit.

Travel Tips:
  • Make Badami your base and explore the other sites.
  • Badami and its temples would need a day to visit. Similar is the case with the complexes of Aihole. Pattadakal can be covered in half a day.
  • All the siates have a dry landscape and a hot climate. Make sure to carry hats, sunscreen and water.
  • The museums do not allow photography inside.
Location:

Badami is 458 Kilometers away from Bangalore. The closest airport is at Hubli (102 Kms). Though Badami has a railway station, the major station where most trains pass by is at Bagalkot (38 Kms). There are buses that connect Bagalkot to all major  cities across Karnataka. From Bagalkot there are frequent buses to Badami.

Food and Accommodation:

Most hotels have their restaurants and there are a few messes too. The cuisine is typical north Karnataka style. Badami court is a nice option to stay in Badami. There are budget options such as Mookambika deluxe (I stayed here) and Hotel Mayura Chalukya. Aihole has a KSTDC budget hotel.



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