July 29, 2009

Coffee, Wines and a Silent New Year

"Wooaahh"..thats what my hosts said when I told them I came riding from Bengaluru to Coorg. 280 kms on bike was not that far a ride was my response with a smile.

I have always loved my bike rides and I would like to add this trip of mine from Bengaluru to Coorg on my list of favourites. Reached Madikeri by lunch time after leaving Bengaluru at 6.30 am sharp. It was my second trip to Coorg and my first on bike. The roads from Bengaluru till Kushal Nagar were smooth and the ride through the coffee estates till Madikeri was mind blowing. Made Madikeri the base so that other places could be covered easily ( not sure whether that was the right decision as I did miss out on a couple of places). My accommodation was booked at Gowri Nivas, a beautiful home stay in Madikeri. Must say this is a beautiful home stay with wonderful hosts.

After a cup of refreshing coffee headed straight to Abbey falls late in the afternoon. It’s hardly 15 min. ride from Madikeri to Abbey falls. You need to walk down through a private coffee plantation from the parking area to reach the falls. It’s a perfect picnic spot for school kids and I found a lot of them running up and down the steps. The steps take you down to a hanging bridge from where you can view the water gushing down. The last time I visited (that’s more than 3years back) the bridge was not there and we could go down to the base of the falls. However this time I had to be content with the view from the bridge.

Known for its mesmerizing sunset viewpoint, Raja seat was the next destination. This point is in fact inside a park from where you get an amazing sunset view. It’s truly a treat for your eyes. Make sure you don’t move places as you have people of all ages pushing you from all sides to have a share of the same treat.

Later headed towards the town to check out some nice home-made wines. I was in for a surprise when the shop keeper pulled out a variety of them like rice wine, beetle wine, pineapple wine, apple wine, sugarcane wine etc. With wines for company I spent the night gulping them down. The dinner by the hosts needs a special mention here. It was delicious.

Day 2 was set aside for visiting places and I started off with Dubare Elephant camp. It is approx. 35 kms to Dubare from Madikeri. I decided to give my pulsar a break and hired a cab. Avoided the normal Kushal Nagar route and took a deviation into the winding roads through the coffee plantations that take you to the elephant camp at Dubare. A small boat ride takes you to the other bank where you have the elephant camp. Had a lovely time watching the elephants spraying water all over and a few tourists giving the pachyderms a rub on their back. It was fortunate that I visited the camp in the morning itself as it closes by afternoon. The wait for the elephant ride was quite long as there were just two elephants being used for the same. Even though the ride was a small one lasting hardly 15 min., the experience was quite memorable (It’s a royal feeling when you are on top of that giant..!!).

From the elephants to the monastries... Yup, that was my next stopage..Bylakuppe, the largest tibetan settlement outside Tibet. The feel of being surrounded by thousands of budhist monks is tremendous. The Namdroling monastery is a must-see for anyone heading to Coorg. The golden statues of Budha inside the monastry give you an exceptional mixture of serenity and solitude. I cant imagine anyone else who has got a more calm face than Lord Budha..!! There are a number of shops outside the monastery from where you can purchase a few tibetan artifacts. That was it for the day and headed back to Madikeri in search of a traditional Kodava knife. I was quite disappointed that I could not find one anywhere.

Late evening again ventured out hunting for more wines and picked up a couple of them. Tasted the different varieties of wines and then slept off. It was the new year eve and certainly one of the quietest one that I have had in the last couple of years. As my eyes shut, I could hear a few crackers burst and people shouting, celebrating and welcoming the year 2009. The third day was the return journey back to Bengaluru. The return journey is always long and tiring and this was no different. Mounted on my pulsar and left the home stay by 10 am. Reached Bengaluru by 7.30 pm with many breaks in between, and the one at Barista near Mandya was the longest.

With the aroma of coffee, amazing landscapes and hospitable people, Coorg is ideally the best getaway from Bengaluru. Since the time was short and the distances were long, I did miss out on a couple of places like Tandiyamol, talcauvery, etc.

Signing Note: The aroma of coffee makes me feel that my third visit is not far off...

July 12, 2009

Varkala- The land of cliffs, beaches & bikinis..

Varkala has always been there in my list for a long time and the two day break was apt for me to head to the small fishing hamlet.

Being in the southern part of kerala, traveling from bangalore was indeed a long journey. 14 hours was quite a bit of time but the excite ment grew as I got down at Kallambalam. It is a deviation of around 10 kms from this point off the NH 47 to Varkala. This is approximately 45 kms before you touch Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

The auto rickshaws will drop you near the helipad from where you can see the clear blue sea. The south cliff is towards the left where you have a couple of resorts. However all action happens on the north cliff which istowards the right of helipad. I would recommend that any tourist who visits here should head for the north cliff rather than the south cliff in order to be in the middle of the action.
To be frank I have not seen so many foreign tourists at one single place as I saw in Varkala. You hardly find any Indians other than the locals who run the shops and the restaurants. Being february I could feel the heat slowly catching up. The best time to in fact visit Varkala would be September to January.

The cliff is a long stretch of about a kilometer and half with the sea on one side and the shops & restaurants on the other. The shopkeepers lure you with all sots of articrafts which you can carry back home. Everything from woodworks, bangles, chains to apparels can be purchased from here. Though they price it high, make sure to bargain before you take your wallet out. I ended up entering almost all the shops before settling down on a small rudraksh for my wrist.

Do not expect the markets to shut down with the sunset as the night life is simply amazing and it goes on till midnight (Bengaluru needs to learn a thing or two from Varkala). All the shops remain open and the restaurants display their fresh catch for the day to lure the tourists in the evenings.
Drinking beer and having the sea breeze hitting my face in the darkness of the night with a tinch of music in the background gave me a high which no cocktail has ever given till date. The restaurants are quite expensive but never restrict yourself from exploring the delicious sea food. They do have live bands and they keep playing and dancing till midnight.

Rarely do you find a cliff next to a beach, but, Varkala is where you can say, YES...its right here. From the top of the cliff steps take you down to the clear blue waters. Must appreciate the authorities for the way they have maintained the beach. It is the most well kept beach that I have ever been to. The waters are not very deep for about 100 meters. However the tides are quite strong. The tourists frolic the beach from the morning. I found people doing yoga, practicing karate, taking a sun bath, jogging etc. I actually found many just playing with the tides the whole day. With safe guards always roaming around tourists found it all the more safe.
With so many bikini clad firangis around me I had doubts whether I was in Varkala or in Miami.. :) . The sunset view from the top of the cliff is one of the best you can ever see.

This is one place you should go to if you want to just laze around. The feel of going back home would never be there. I just did not feel like leaving the clear blue waters, the fine sand and the beautiful babes.
Must say this is the best beach I have been to and for the sheer beauty of the place I will go back again for a longer vacation.

Signing Note: A beach lover's paradise (a bikini lover's too)..
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