December 22, 2011

A Peppered Coffee Ride...!!

My earlier visits (see here) to  the coffee country of Coorg, have always been flagged off with a visit to the  Tibetan monastery at Bylakuppe and has invariably culminated with the sunset view at Raja seat. How ever this time after visiting the monastery and Abbey falls, we (5 bikers) decided to take the route less trodden. A cold and misty morning ride on the Bangalore- Mysore highway took us past the lovely towns of Maddur (we had a lovely breakfast here), Srirangapatana, Hunsur and then further into the coffee hills of Coorg.The roads had drastic changes from my previous visit and the smooth tarmac made the ride through the winding bends a mind-blowing experience.

The first big stoppage during  the ride came at Bylakkuppe, where we took a detour to visit the Namdroling Monastery. As always it was crowded and thronged by tourists and school children. Bylakuppe is home to one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist settlements in India and houses this beautiful Namdroling Monastery (Golden temple) that follows Nyingmapa which is a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It is home to thousands of monks and nuns who go about their daily routine wrapped in red wardrobes. It was indeed a beautiful sight to see hundreds of monks of all ages briskly moving past the vsisitors. A massive statue of Padmasambhava resides inside the sanctum. Even though it was crowded inside it felt so calm and quiet and I enjoyed my moments of solitude. Bylakuppe also has many other monasteries and nunneries near to this Golden temple.

Padmasambhava statue inside Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery

With hungry tummies growling we rode our way through the hills to Abbey falls. After gobbling down a few plates of bread and omelets we walked down to Abbey falls. Situated inside a coffee plantation, this beautiful falls was filled with tourists. Choosing a weekend for your travels do turn out to be bad selections. The bridge from where one can see the falls was crowded and I was quite apprehensive about reaching the other end. With the sun setting, we left Abbey falls and headed to Madikeri in search of a home stay.

Abbey Falls

The home stay was located a couple of kilometers from Madikeri town and the sunset view from there was a stunner. After a sumptuous dinner at East End restaurant in Madikeri we retreated to our home stay. We had a late night bonfire and then it was time to snore.After a late brunch the next day, we began our winding ride from Madikeri to Virajpet crossing the small towns of Napoklu, Kakkabe and Kabinakkad. The roads were pathetic with potholes galore. The ride, however was absolutely blissful with the aroma of coffee and pepper throughout. The roads wound past the coffee and pepper plantations deeper into the heart of Coorg district. The fascinating views of the rolling hills, wide meadows, trickling streams and the yellow-green paddy fields made me stop quite a few times to capture the real essence of Coorg. The potholes made my ride a slow one and a few times during my ride I did feel happy about their existence. Coffee and pepper were omnipresent and this did add aromatic flavours to the ride across the coffee country.

At Kakkabe we stopped by to visit the Nalknad palace. Built in the 18th century, this palace was the refuge of the last Kodava king, Chikka Veerarajendra. The palace did not look palatial and was quite similar to one of those old ancestral houses in Kerala. A security-cum-guide led me into the inner rooms and alleys which were completely dark. However the steep steps, secret rooms  and narrow doorways made the walk interesting.

Nalknad Palace

The palace does boast of a picturesque background with the hills forming a beautiful landscape. One of the trekking routes to Tadiyandamol also starts from near the palace. With Tadiyandamol trek not in our itinerary, we headed to a nearby resort for a late lunch. The resort which was situated amidst coffee planations had beautiful vistas all over. As the lunch took time to be prepared, we decided to explore the coffee planations and trekked through the same for some distance. After a trek of 10 minutes we were staring at a magnificent waterfalls inside the coffee plantation. Even though the quantity of water was less, the falls looked beautiful. We climbed up a few boulders to have a better view and then relaxed there gawking at the natural beauty for a few minutes.

The pathway through the coffee plantation

Waterfalls inside the coffee estate

After a tasty lunch at the resort we further traversed the coffee hills and headed towards Virajpet. En route we took a detour and visited the Chingara waterfalls. The falls which has water gushing from all over during the monsoon did not have the same intensity due to lack of water. After a small photography session we had a quick ride to Virajpet.

Chingara Waterfalls
With the shadows becoming longer, the potholes becoming bigger and the plantations becoming wider, the ride through the rustic side of Coorg was exhilarating. As we touched Virajpet the orange sun was blissfully setting behind the enchanting coffee and pepper hills. The ride from Virajpet to Hunsur was quite an adventurous one.

With flashing head lights and pathetic roads, the ride through the buffer zone of Nagarhole national park was exciting, if not fun. Even in the darkness we could make out that the plantations had given way to forests and the roads had worsened to dirt tracks in certain places. The best part of the ride was when we spotted a  wild tusker standing  besides the road. His massive white tusks shone in the pitch darkness when our headlights flashed. He was least perturbed and happily stood there as our bikes passed by. That was indeed the most exciting part of the ride. A kilometer ahead we spotted another one, this time a female. I seriously wished, I could capture them on my camera. Had I even tried to do it, I do not think I would have been alive to write about this wonderful motorbike expedition into the Mocha hills of Coorg. :)

Crossing Hunsur and Srirangapatana, we stopped at Maddur for a late dinner and then sped fast to reach Bengaluru streets well past midnight.

Coorg does offer lots of options for the traveller and tourist alike. With lots more places to see and a few hills to trek am sure my fourth visit to the coffee country is not far off.

Signing Note: Drink coffee, smell pepper and ride forever...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Maddur- Mandya- Srirangapatana- Hunsur- Kushalnagara- Madikeri
Distance- 270 Kms

Route- Madikeri- Kakkabe- Virajpet- Gonikoppa- Hunsur- Srirangapatana- Mandya- Maddur- Bengaluru
Distance- 310 Kms


December 1, 2011

Kurumbgad- Off the Indian Coast...!!

On my last visit to Karwar (see here), I did miss out on the islands off the coast, namely, Devbagh and Kurumgad. This time however, my destination was Kurumgad and decided to give Devbagh a miss. An overnight journey from Bengaluru got me to the beautiful coastal town of Karwar. After being picked up from the jetty below the Kali river bridge it was a 25 minute boat ride to the island. As the boat moved away from the Indian mainland, many islands and islets propped up in the vicinity. Of these only Devbagh and Kurumgad have proper habitation. The other islands are Sanyasi island (uninhabited), Lighthouse island a.k.a Devgad island (2 government employees stay on the island and take care of the lighthouse) and Anjadive island (undertaken by the Indian navy).

Kurumgad island get its name from the fact that it looks like a Kuruma (tortoise) from a distance. The island is owned by an individual and has a beautiful resort, The Great Outdoors nestled on it. After disembarking from the boat, it was nice little climb to reach the top of the island. The vistas were stunning as I went higher and with the mainland at a far distance, the island seemed totally isolated with just the blue waters all around. The island has a beach and a Narasihma temple apart from the resort. The resort offers tented huts, children's play area and numerous hammocks to slip away into a dream. The sunset view from the dining area is a stunner as it has a panoramic view of the Arabian sea with the other islands in the distance.

After checking out my tented hut (it was only my second experience inside a tented hut), I headed to the beach which was a trek of 15 minutes through the wooded pathways.  En route to the beach I also saw the Mystery creek, which was formed due to an earthquake ages back. With very few visitors on the island, the beach was devoid of the usual touristy crowd. The beach was quite small and with tides hardly touching my knees, it seemed more like the banks of a river rather than a beach. After having a splash in the waters for an hour I decided to go tube surfing. Even though it can termed kid's stuff, it definitely was fun. I decided to give other activities like banana ride and speed boat ride a miss. After treading past the creepers, the outgrown bushes and the small rocks in the hot sun, I headed back to the resort and all that I wanted was a bottle of beer.


Mystery Creek

Sanyasi island as seen from Kurumgad beach

The beach at Kurumgad
The expansive view of the azure sea and the setting sun from the dining area was truly a blissful sight. I could see the flashing light from the light house island in the distance.With music playing in the background and a bottle of beer being gulped down, it was indeed a splendid evening. The night stay inside the tented hut was fun with the sound of cicadas and crickets everywhere.

Light house island as seen from Kurumgad

Can you spot the moon?
My next day began early with a guided island tour. A long trek through the forest pathways with exceptional sea view on one side took me to Narasimha temple and a beautiful view point. During the month of January the temple takes a festive mood and that brings in a lot of devotees from Karwar and Goa. As the small group followed the nature's trail, we also had a chance encounter with a glimpse of a reptile that snaked past us and also saw a few small turtles taking the same pathway as ours. We also spotted a ruined fort wall and a canon during the trek. The island was ruled by many dynasties including the Vijayanagara empire during the earlier centuries.

After breakfast it was time for  dolphin spotting and the same small group hopped on to a motor boat in search of the dolphins. From Kurumgad island, the boat moved towards the Sanyasi island and all pair of eyes on the boat went searching for that elusive jump from the dolphins. After a long wait the dolphins showed up and that too in good numbers. Even though that jump remained elusive throughout, they did appear above the waters on many occasions. A beautiful sight indeed. Capturing them on my camera was a tough affair as they dipped back into the waters within a flash of a second. Spotting them was tough and capturing them on my lens was tougher. Post the dolphin ride it was time for fishing. With the rods available at the jetty, many went fishing and I climbed back to the resort. It was hot and sultry after the boat ride and with the sun right above my head, it wasn't getting any better. After lunch, I lazed around the resort and then had a peaceful sleep on one of the hammocks. With the trees helping me from the blazing sun, it was a nice siesta.

With the setting sun in the background, the boat ride back to the mainland was absolutely magnificent. Shades of red spread all over the horizon, the sea transformed from blue to orange and the picture looked as perfect as a Michelangelo creation.

Island escapes from India need not always be the Andamans and Lakshdweep as there are lesser known and relatively less explored islands like Kurumgad, Devbagh and many more which can definitely make holidaying a memorable experience. Even though Kurumgad island didn't offer many activities on its menu card, it definitely stands out as one of the best options for a not so expensive island holiday.

Signing Note- A stunning place to keep gaping at the horizon forever...!!

Route- Bangalore- Tumkur- Shimoga- Karwar- Kurumgad
Distance- 530Kms

November 23, 2011

November 12, 2011

Mad - Rush...!!

I would love to rename Chennai as Mad-Rush for the sheer fun, excitement and adventures that I experienced during my 18 hours stay in this wonderful metropolitan city. My previous two visits did not give any opportunity to explore the city and neither did this one. However I was made to explore the city even though I had no intention of doing it.

On a rainy Saturday morning as I drove from Bangalore to Chennai, the weather gods were kind enough to turn the rain drops into sun rays. However as soon as I entered the city, the fun began as I missed out on many sign boards and happily took all possible wrong flyovers. After manoeuvring through the traffic and taking U -turn in the belief that I have got on to the right track, I happily went in the opposite direction towards Anna Nagar. That was indeed an achievement. After inquiring with a couple of  people on the road, I got back on the right road only to take the wrong turn on top of another flyover. More traffic, more U-turns, more signals and with a lot of difficulty I end up at my destination, Chromepet after one and half hours of struggle in Chennai city. I had to travel in the evening to Kilpauk and with the north-east rains taking over the city, I didnt want to experiment further with a drive through Chennai.The next best option available was the local train from Chromepet to Chetpet. My only previous experience of travelling in local train was in Mumbai, 3 years back. Having booked a first class ticket, I had to run and search for the compartment. As soon as i figured it out, the train left. I even had a second thought of jumping and clinging on to the rods, but decided against it. It would have been fatal had I done it. Another train arrived within a few minutes and this time I hopped on with a perfect timing. The compartment was half empty being a weekend and also due to the fact that it was a first class one (I really couldn't make out the difference between a first class and general compartment). The train also stopped a few times as the tracks were submerged in rain water. It was raining heavily as I got down at Chetpet. To my misery there was no power in the station. Staring at darkness and brushing past strangers on the platform I headed towards the exit, drenched in the rain. Heavy rains had flooded many roads in Chennai and the road that the exit led to was not spared. I had to wade through the muddy waters in the rain to get an auto-rickshaw. Then it was a 15 minute ride through the water logged streets of Chennai. That was fun. I dindnt want to take a risk of going back by local train as it was still raining heavily and chances were that the services might be stopped in between. So got back to Chromepet in a call-taxi after waiting for more than an hour. Even though it had rained the whole night, I never thought that my drive next day from Chennai to Cochin in the early hours of morning would be a tough affair. With the roads still flooded and traffic jams adding to the chaos at 6 a.m., it definitely wasn't a smooth drive through the city. It felt as though I was sitting inside a boat and travelling in knots. The only song on my lips at that point was- Row row row your car gently down the streets...!! :). Without knowing where the ditches and gutters were I slowly drove the vehicle only to see another vehicle go down into one of the ditches. The last that I saw of it was its back wheels spinning and splashing water all over. Felt really sorry for that guy. To add more misery, one of the transport buses had broke down right in front of Coyembedu bus stand craeting more confusion and more traffic jams. After an hour of sailing through the waters I got back on to tarmac and the frustration of having stuck in traffic for long had after effects. One more wrong road taken and the only expression that I had was- "What the hell?". However that was the last of my adventures in Chennai as I got back on the right road to Cochin very soon.

That was indeed one of the exceptional travels I have had in my life. Even though it was devoid of destinations, sight seeings and arrivals, I did experience Chennai in a very unusual way. Sometimes its these kind of journeys that remain etched in memories for ever. 

Signing Note- It is the  journey and not the destination that matters...!!

November 4, 2011

BR Hills- Wet and Wild...!!

What looks more attractive than a wet and wild woman...?? Any wild guesses?

My ride to BR Hills made me realise that it is the Jungle. Wet, Wild, Green, Dark and Deep. The closest that I got to wilderness was during my bike ride to Biligiri Rangana hills (BR Hills) with my cousin. We had been planning this ride for the past six months and this long cherished desire got executed recently.

The roads were good all the way and that made the ride all the more enjoyable. The early morning ride took us past the small towns of Kanakapura, Malavalli and Kollegal on NH-209 into Chamrajnagar district. A deviation from Kollegal took us off the highway onto the narrow village roads with picturesque landscape. The green paddy fields, the muddy brown waters, the fresh air and the curious villagers made the ride blissful.

As the vistas changed, the the green fields gave way to thick shrubs and further into dark deep jungles. The narrow village roads paved way for the winding roads. Though it was devoid of hairpin bends and ghat sections, the the roads with dark forests on both sides made it adventurous. With hardly any civilization in the vicinity except for the odd vehicle that passed by, the 32 km ride through the jungle became all the more wild with just the trees, shrubs, the long road ahead and a few monkeys for companionship. The only sound that we could hear was the roar of the engine. My cousin being a fond lover of elephants, so badly wanted to see a wild one. I however was quite apprehensive about the same and didn't want to face any big wild creature. I was quite happy with the monkeys, wild boars, turtles and peacocks that we spotted en route to the top and he had to be content with a few elephant dungs on the road. Though I have been through many jungle roads and sanctuaries before, this wild route seemed quite different from the rest as it was less inhabited and free of tourists/ travellers.

The winding road led us to Biligiri Ranganaswamy temple (The hill gets its name from the same). The mindblowing vistas from the temple blew me away. The panoramic view of the stunning valley, the thick jungle, the meandering roads and the dark clouds made for a mesmerising topography. A closer look made me realise that it was heavy rains over the jungles (the same route that i had to take back) at a distance. That was indeed a beautiful sight that will remain in my mind for a very long time. Nature at its best.

Other than the wildlife and the temple, BR Hills is also known for Soliga tribes, who have been living in the region for ages. We however were not lucky enough to spot any tribal. These forests were also home to the dreaded forest brigand, Veerappan during his prime.

After a quick visit to the temple we decided to explore a bit more and headed further ahead to K.Gudi which is a small settlement where Jungle Lodges and Resorts have their resort. A package with them includes a jungle safari which might be interesting for wildlife enthusiasts as that would give a better chance of spotting a wild one. K.Gudi is 20Kms further from the temple and it drizzled all the way. A wet and wild ride through the jungle was definitely memorable. After reaching K.Gudi, the drizzle became stronger and we had the option of either returning back to BR Hills or heading deeper into the woods of Chamrajnagar and Sathyamangalam. With the rain gods showing no mercy we had a wet ride back to BR Hills.

With not much options available for the grumbling stomach, we stopped at the only hotel near the temple for a late lunch. By then the the heavy rains had taken over the small hamlet and the surrounding forests. Standing under a cover, seeing the forest getting drenched and smelling the scent of wet earth was an enthralling experience.

As the heavy rains became drizzles, we started our return journey through the wet and wild BR Hills. After a couple of stops for photo shoots, we headed back from the green jungles to the concrete jungles of Bengaluru. As I meandered through the lovely wet forests, the famous phrase by Robert Frost came to my mind:

Woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep 
And miles to go before I sleep.

BR Hills is one of the beautiful wildlife destinations in Karnataka which remains unexplored. It is also supposedly the point where the Western Ghats and the Eastern ghats meet. With tourism yet to catch up on a large scale, this tiny temple hamlet is definitely a great option to spend a weekend.

Signing Note: BR Hills is definitely Lovely, Dark and Deep...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Kanakapura- Malavalli- Kollegal- BR Hills
Distance- 200Kms
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