August 28, 2013

Mypadu Beach- Along the Bay of Bengal...!!

It was nice early morning drive along NH-4 from Bengaluru to Chittoor, past the many rocky hills of Kolar. However the broad four lane tracks turned into a single track after crossing Mulbagal. The construction work was underway and hopefully would be a smooth drive all the way till Chittoor very soon. Though the roads were single lanes after crossing over to Andhra Pradesh, it has been beautifully maintained. We drove through the Koudinya wildlife sanctuary with numerous boards of animal crossings. Unluckily, we did not encounter any. The hills of Tirupati loomed shortly after that and then it was a long drive along NH-5 to Nellore. After a couple of enquiries, we were on the long 22 km village road to Mypadu.

From the dusty roads of Nellore, the drive to Mypadu was a refresher. The road was lined with prawn hatcheries, coconut trees and paddy fields till it ended at the dark blue waters of Bay of Bengal. Mypadu is a small village with a crossroad and a few shops, a kilometer before the road hits the blue sea. Apart from the locals who are basically the fisher folk, there are hardly any visitors during the weekdays. Haritha resort, run by the state tourism board is located right next to the beach. The vistas that my room provided were magnificent. In fact all rooms face the sea and the roar of the waves hit your ears all through the night. Even though it was mid noon the beach was crowded being a weekend. Weekend travellers from Nellore and a few who stayed at the resort were happily frolicking the salty waters of Mypadu beach. There are a couple of thatched shops near the beach that sells tea, water, biscuits etc.

Prawn hatcheries on the way
Haritha resort
View from the room
 I got into the waters only after the sun had fairly come down. The beach is vast and uninterrupted but the tides were quite strong. The distant blue waters turned brown as it came closer to the shore. However, the water was clean and the tides brought a lot of shells along with it. The golden sands blended beautifully with the blue waters. I chased a few crabs that peeped out of its holes. Colourful fishing boats were neatly lined up and were all set to hit the rough waters early next morning. There was a water scooter which was jetting around, but decided to give it a miss and enjoy the blue sea.

Boats lined up

I walked along the shore for a distance and after a while the fishermen, their boats, the frolicking visitors and everything seemed distant. All I could see was the sea and the horizon, both melting in brilliant shades of blue. It was blissful to sit on the sands and hear to the waves thrashing and frothing as it touched my feet. Numerous shells in various shapes, sizes and colours got dropped on the shore each time a wave came by. Slowly the sky turned grey and I could not sit for long as the crabs started chasing me. All the hidden ones were all over the place and I had no option but to walk back to my resort. I went into the waters and then strolled along with knee high waves splashing on to my trousers. There were a few people who were enjoying the cool breeze as I trod past them to my room.

Ready for a catamaran ride?

Crab holes

The day ended listening to the roar of the sea and the next day began with the same. Quite keen on witnessing the sunrise, I headed to the beach at 5.30 a.m. It was still dark but very surprisingly there were a few early birds at the beach already. They were not from the resort and neither were they the fisherfolk. They had driven down so early from Nellore to enjoy the sea and the sunrise. I walked along the shore in the cool morning breeze past the fishermen who were all set to sail into the waters. Boat after boat left the golden sands and plunged into the blue sea. Amidst this, I hoped the sun would come out of the horizon spreading its warmth all over the place. That however was never meant to happen. The day dawned, more boats went into the roaring waters and more people walked into the beach to enjoy the sunrise. Dark clouds hovered everywhere and the sky remained grey for a long time. A glimpse of sunlight was seen in one corner but that is all one could see and I had to be content with that. It was my first experience and I found it immensely refreshing to stroll on a beach early in the morning.

Dark clouds

Fishermen all set to sail
Into the roaring waters
 After a cup of tea from one of the thatched shops, I kept gazing at the boats as they sped past each wave deeper and deeper into the sea. How I wish I could get into one of those boats and head into the horizon. Suddenly I noticed something that kept appearing and disappearing amidst the waves. It was not a boat. Dolphin fins they were! It was absolutely a pleasant surprise to find loads of them swimming away and popping up in between for my lens to click. It was an exciting moment as I was least expecting to see them and to have them so close to the shores was definitely a memorable experience. 

Can you spot the fins towards the right side of the frame?
After enjoying the dolphin sighting, it was time to head back to the resort, pack up and drive the long road back to Bangalore. En route we also took a detour to Kothakoduru beach which is 12 Kms away from Mypadu through a village road. This beach was quite crowded, littered and badly maintained and I did not spend more than 10 minutes there.

Mypadu beach is quite a secluded one but is slowly gaining prominence on the tourist map and is sure to lose its charm once the frequency of travellers increase. The beach also needs to be maintained as the entrance was quite littered. The vastness and golden sands are the big attraction of this beautiful beach along the Bay of Bengal.

Signing Note- Blue waters and golden sands await you at this little explored beach along the east coast...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Kolar- Chittoor- Tirupathi- Naidupeta- Nellore- Mypadu
Distance- 405 Kms

August 14, 2013

Tadiandamol Trek and Barapole River Rafting...!!

When I half opened my eyes it was 4 am, our vehicle was manoeuvering  the curves covered up in mist. With hardly 20 metre visibility the vehicle was going past the coffee plantations in Madikeri, Coorg. By the time sun came out, we were speeding past further plantations and paddy fields to Kabinakkad. After a break for tea at the diversion to Honey valley estate where we were put up, we clung on to the four wheeler that took us up to the estate. By then it began drizzling and the drive through a 10 feet wide stoned and slushy pathway turned exhilarating. We went higher and higher past the coffee plantations and gurgling streams. Chingara waterfalls could be seen from a distance and being monsoon, the falls was at its fieriest best.

Before long, we covered the 3 Km stretch and were at the entrance of our resort- Honey Valley. Nestled amidst coffee plantations and with stunning hills in the background, the resort is perfectly placed in the lap of nature. The magnificent views of the plantations from the cottages was a sight to behold. 

View of the coffee plantations from the resort
After the morning ablutions and breakfast we began our first task, trek to the peak of Tadiandamol. Situated at a height of 1748 metres above sea level, it is the third highest peak in Karnataka. This was my first experience of monsoon trekking and I was quite sure about what lay ahead- rains and leeches. The sky had by then cleared up and the trek began after taking the precautionary measures of salt, vinegar, lime etc to counter the blood sucking leeches. Rather than the usual start point of palace estate (which is also a shorter route) which trekkers take, we decided to go for the longer one from Honey valley estate. Though almost double the distance, the panoramic vistas are breathtaking is what my guide mentioned.

The initial stretch was slightly steep and went above the plantations and resort. Laden with stones, the pathway turned green on either sides and then became a smooth track. Two dogs from the resort accompanied us when we began the trek. To my surprise they trekked the whole stretch with us. The 20 minute initial walk gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead as it began drizzling and a leech or two was seen clinging on to our shoes. We crossed a small forest patch before reaching a clearing. Two locals who were to be our guides through the trek was waiting for us. By then the drizzle had become incessant, the distant hills were engulfed in fog, earth look so red and wet and we followed our guides along a trek path into the green hills.

The initial stretch
Our local guides
Open lands
We continued our trek into the forest patches with frequent checks for leeches. Leeches had by then clung onto everyone's shoes and and making their way up. First timers let out their shrieks which mellowed down once the salt was applied and the slimy ones were plucked out. But there was no respite from the blood suckers as each step we took made a new one climb onto us. Each moment spend on taking out a leech allowed a couple of others to get on us. And taking them off  your body wasn't an easy task. You really need to pluck them out along with salt. We were loosing time because of the leeches and the rain, and after a while I just decided to give up on leeches and just trek fast. I could see at least ten leeches at a time on the outer of my shoes and could also feel the bites inside. But I just trekked on. 

The open lands turned into goat tracks which were slippery and the vantage points were engulfed in mist denying us the beautiful vistas. From the open vast lands we moved into forest patches and from there to hill tops which were soaked in rain. The tracks in certain places had become slushy with small puddles. We then for a long while trekked along the ridges with the engulfing mist which had reduced the visibility to less than a hundred feet The slopes looked gorgeous with vistas showing up intermittently. However the rain gods weren't that kind enough. But this is exactly how a monsoon trek is like and I had absolutely no complaints.

Forest patch
Mist engulfed hills
Yes, that is the track!
The landscapes kept changing with small forest patches again showing up followed by open lands. There were stretches that were rocky but the marked path helped us trek it without much difficulty. We had climbed a couple of hills and had a few more to go before reaching the base of Tadiyandamol. Without the vistas I was slowly getting disappointed and the leeches which were feasting inside my shoes made me restless. We had specifically taken this long route just for the vistas but nature had other plans. I did manage to capture a few frames of the landscape before my camera went kaput. Water seeped through due to the continuous rains and it just stopped functioning. So, from then on it was just pure trekking with the leeches and rain. No frames and no vistas!

Slowly the landscape changed and turned tougher as the track we followed were covered by tall grasses. The rains became stronger and we had another 3-4 kilometers to the top of the peak. All we could see were our two guides and the dogs a few meters ahead of us and we just kept following them along the covered track. This was supposedly the dangerous stretch during the trek as there was hardly any support and the tracks were either slippery or had gravel . With low visibility and incessant rain we trod forward precariously.

Hill slopes

After an hour of trek through the grasslands along the ridges, we made it to an open land and then joined a wide track which was supposedly the short route from palace estate. We were close to the base of Tadiandamol but were confused and contemplating about future of the trek. It was a further two kilometers to the peak and we were already running short of time. All were completely drenched and the leech bites had not gone down well with most of them. After a short discussion we decided to call off the trek due to shortage of time. We were also yet to take a break for lunch which would definitely be time consuming. We would not have got back before dark had we continued to the summit. 

With drooping shoulders we walked along the palace estate track to the starting point of the shorter route. This stretch seemed much easier and was mostly devoid of leeches, but a few were spotted. The big attraction was the numerous monsoon waterfalls which we passed by. With monsoon at its peak, all the streams and creeks were at their glorious best. They were full and gushing down the hills. Each time I passed a waterfall, I looked at my camera and gave a sigh. This part of the trek was definitely a walk in the lap of nature. When I waded past the ankle high waters, I could feel the slimy blood suckers inside the shoes getting active and wriggling through my toes. The rain had receded by then and the first thing to run into my mind was Murphy's law. 

In between we stopped by for lunch at an abandoned house en route. I was amused when I removed my shoes and blood soaked socks as five or six blood drunk leeches rolled out of it. They almost resembled balls and were half the size of my index finger. People pay a big price for a leech therapy and here I have it as a compliment with my trek. After all the cleaning and gulping down the lunch that was carried, we began our walk further down to where the resort vehicles were to take us back. The vehicle came in some time and we clambered into it along with our local guides and the dogs. This was definitely a tailor made monsoon trek. Rains, mist, vistas, vantage points, greenery, waterfalls, leeches and wet earth all made it a perfect one. Except for the low point of not trekking to the summit of Tadiyandamol, the trek was an absolute rejuvenation. Now I have a reason to trek Tadiandamol again.

Woods are lovely, dark, deep and misty too!
The next day began with our drive from Honey valley estate to Barapole river for rafting. River rafting was something new to me and after the previous day's disappointment of not trekking to the top, I was definitely looking forward to this adventure. After the declarations, instructions and guidance, we geared up to lift take the rafts into the cold waters of Barapole. The river was at its flowing best and the rain which had not stopped ever since we landed in Coorg, helped it. Being amateurs and beginners, we were sceptical in the begining but slowly turned confident and rowed according to our guide's guidance. 

After an initial stretch of calm waters of more than half a kilometer, our guide stopped rowing and asked us to take a plunge. The river was mostly stagnant were we had stopped and one by one all just jumped into the cold waters of Barapole. This was to get ourselves accustomed to the water in case of a topple. We swam, frolicked, clicked photographs and played for about half an hour before getting back on the raft. Then began the rafting with instructions flowing from the guide along with quirky names of rapids like The Big Bang and Ram Jaane. Each rapid has a name but these two were the prominent ones and as the name suggests, were definitely the most adrenaline rushing ones. Each rapid had dips and rocks which we had to raft through and the excitement grew as we passed each rapid. Our already soaked bodies were further drenched and the two hour adventure was definitely exhilarating. The adventure finally came to an end after almost a two and a half kilometer stretch of rafting. We then drove back carrying the rafts for a hot cup of coffee by the free flowing Barapole river.

Signing Note- Coorg is undoubtedly an adventure seeker's paradise...!!

Route- Bangalore- Mandya- Srirangapatna- Hunsur- Gonikoppal- Virajpet- Kabinakkad
Distance- 270 Kms

August 2, 2013

Nandi Hills- The Hill Fortress...!!

It was a spur of a moment decision to take the road to Nandi hills. It had been five years since I last visited the nice little hill and six years since I rode to it. The cloudy cold climate fueled it further and before we could plan anything, we had crossed half way, gobbled an Ambur biriyani and had taken the detour off NH-7. After the deviation, it was a ride through the villages with small gatherings and shops popping up at intervals. The route was adorned with wine yards all the way till the base of the hill. Distant hills confused us as to which was the actual one that we were about to climb and the guessing game went on till we reached the top. However the road that led us had no such qualms and we rode on past the villages on to the ghats.

Eucalyptus trees, chill breeze, bonnet macaques and magnificent vistas welcomed us as we went higher past the curves on the smooth tarmac.  There were no big hair pin bends but a couple of them were steep. The wayside view points made us break for a photo session before lunging forward towards the hill fortress. We were soon at the entrance of the fort which lies atop the hill. The 18th century fort which belonged to Tipu Sulthan has a beautifully carved entrance gate. We went inside, parked our bike, bought tickets and then strolled inside the fort.

Tipu's summer lodge was the first place we visited. It looked slightly dilapidated and neglected. The rooms were locked and after peeping through the windows of the same we walked ahead to the stepped tank, Amrita Sarovara. Though it is devoid of carvings and architecture, the steps looked beautiful as it goes down to the waters. There is also a small park near the tank. Arkavathy river and Pennar river has its origins in these hills.

From the tank it was a climb up the steps through thick vegetation. Though it was not raining, the effects of monsoon were clearly visible as the place was green, looked fresh and smelled of the earth. The hike took us to the top of the fort which has many elevated resting places. Further up its rocky and there is a temple right on top, the Yoganandeeshwara swamy temple with beautiful carvings and stone works. The authorities have also created a seating area which gives brilliant vistas of the plain below. We found it a bit tough to sit there for long due to the strong cool breeze. However to sit there and stare at the horizon, the blue sky, the grey clouds, the green paddy fields and the greenish brown hills below was truly a surreal experience. To its left there is a small sky walk to help the visitors get a different angle to the vistas. Another interesting point of visit is the Tipu's drop. Tipu Sulthan used to punish his captives to death by pushing them down a 2000 feet drop. Though exciting, it might not be a very safe place to wander around. The edges of the rocks have also been fenced for the safety of tourists. This also gives everyone an opportunity to get close to the fences and gaze at the vistas in oblivion.

There is a restaurant next to the sky walk which faces the plains below. It also provides options for stay. Boghanandeeshwara swamy temple at the base of the hills is another popular point of visit and has numerous visitors during the day. The ride back was equally exciting with winding roads and the cool breeze.

Signing Note- Head up the hill and listen to the chimes of the wind...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Devanahalli- Nandi Hills
Distance- 60 Kms

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