December 31, 2014

Thamarassery Ghats...!!

Thamarassery Ghats snaking its way through the green canopy and tea gardens of Western Ghats on a cold misty morning. Kozhikode, December 2014.

Wishing all my readers a Happy New Year. May you travel to all those far flung exotic destinations in 2015!

December 26, 2014


The lush greenery, the flowing Cauvery and the hazy hills in the background made for a wonderful landscape. However, what caught my attention was the desolate structure amidst the greens. 

Karnataka countryside. November 2014.

December 18, 2014

Talakad- Land of Submerged Temples...!!

Covered in heaps of sand, an old town lies beneath, waiting to be re-discovered. This is Talakad for you! A prominent town which was once ruled by various empires (Gangas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagaras and Wodeyars) from the 8th to the 17th century, Talakad portrays only a part of what it once was. It resembles a desert with beautiful temples amidst the sands. Located by the Cauvery, a detour off the NH- 209 takes you to this popular pilgrim centre, where ASI is still excavating and unearthing temples.

Legend says this land was cursed by Alamelamma, queen of Ranga Raya of Vijayanagar empire, the ruler of Srirangapatana during early 17th century. Ranga Raya who was on a visit to Vaidyanatheshwara temple in Talakad suffered critical health conditions and was on his death bed. Hearing this, Alamelamma left for Talakad handing over the reigns of the kingdom to Raja Wodeyar of Mysore. Raja Wodeyar who was desirous of the jewels possessed by the queen, attacked Talakad sighting the opportunity. Gauging the situation she was in, Alamelamma threw the jewels into the Cauvery and drowned herself in the waters at Malangi. She cursed the land and the Wodeyar family before killing herself- "Talakadu Maralagi, Malangi Maduvagi, Mysuru dhorege makkalagade hōgali" (Translates to- May Talakadu be filled with sand, Malangi be a whirlpool and Mysore Kings shall not have offspring). The curse still holds good as Talakad is always covered in sand and the Wodeyars have never had rightful heirs ever since.

The popular temples in Talakad are Vaidyanatheshwara, Pataleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arakeshwara, and Mallikarjuna. All have Shiva as their deity and is known for its Pancha Linga Drashana which is held once in 12 years. Keerthi Narayana temple which is still under excavation and is rebuilt as per its earlier architecture by ASI has a Vishnu shrine. It is believed that there are about 30 temples beneath those huge heaps of sand waiting to be discovered.

As soon as I got out of my vehicle, authorised guides approached to show me around. Ignored them and went ahead, languorously over the heaps of sand to the once submerged temples of Talakad. Shelters along the walkway is a respite from the burning sun. Talakad gets quite hot during the day and it becomes tough to manoeuver yourself through the sand. One has to walk down the stone cut steps to Pataleshwara and Maruleshwara, the oldest of the temples, both found after extensive excavation. Though small, it gave goosebumps to take blessings at a shrine that was buried in sand not too long ago. One can see the beautifully sculptured Keerthi Narayana temple way down, as you walk along the pathway. The walk further led to Choudeshwri temple and culminated at a temple pond.

Pataleshwara temple
 From the pond I walked across to the most popular temple of Talakad, Vaidyanatheshwara which was never totally submerged in sand. This is the largest of all temples in Talakad, was built during the Ganga, Chola and Hoysala eras and is well known for its wonderful architecture and sculptures. Its intricately carved entrance and wall sculptures display in detail the Dravidian architecture. I lazed around the temple, gazing at the wonderful stone-works and craftsmanship. The huge 'Dwarapalakas' (guards) at the entrance of the inner sanctum, nicely carved pillars and the delicately hanging stone chain from a corner of the roof left me amazed.

Vaidyanatheshwara temple

Keerthi Narayana temple, behind the Vaidyanatheshwara temple is still under excavation and restoration. This Vishnu shrine built in Hoysala architecture is being rebuilt meticulously by the ASI post the excavation. Built in the 12th century, the temple has an impressively sculptured entrance gate. I wasn't allowed inside as the restoration work was under progress and had to be content with the views of the wonderful architecture from a distance. The remaining two temples, Arakeshwara and Mallikarjuna are within a radius of 8 kms.

Entrance gate at Keerthi Narayana temple
Keerthi Narayana temple
All these gorgeously sculptured temples display the reminiscence of a bygone era and also flashes a glimpse into the world beneath the sands. An ideal way to end the visit would be to take a coracle ride on the Cauvery which flows peacefully alongside Talakad.

Signing Note- Stroll through a world of sands and sculptures...!!

Distance- 135 Kms
Bengaluru- Kanakapura- Halagur- Malavalli- Talakad

November 21, 2014

Bali- Places to Visit and Things to Do...!!

The tiny island of Bali sprouts out of the azure colours of the Bali sea bringing together a unique blend of exotic culture, wonderful architecture, beautiful landscapes, friendly people and delicious food. Here is the list of interesting places to visit and activities to enjoy while in Bali.

Kuta/ Legian- This is the heart of Bali with a beautiful beach and a vibrant main street which is lined with shops, art galleries, massage centres, pubs, restaurants and hotels. The electric night life and a plethora of pubs and restaurants to choose from, makes this street one of the top places to visit in Bali. Kuta beach, though devoid of shacks (beer is available) is a great place to spend the evenings as the sun creates a splash of colours. It usually gets crowded during the weekends.

Ubud- The art capital of Bali has slowly become as popular as Kuta and attracts hordes of travellers. The numerous art galleries, art streets and a wide range of shops with excellent display of art and wood works is a haven for culture vultures. Ideally, Ubud is the best place to buy a souvenir to take back home. Ubud palace is also quite popular and is well recommended. The step terraced paddy fields in the outskirts of this alluring little town is another big attraction. The lush green fields makes for a serene landscape.

Tegal lalang- Tegal Lalang is known for its terraced paddy fields which offers beautiful vistas as one sits by the many coffee shops that overlook the landscape. Gaze over the beautiful fields in oblivion as you sip your Balinese coffee.

Kintamani- The small hill town of Kintamani is a pleasant surprise from the balmy beaches of Bali. Tucked away from the crowds of Kuta and Ubud, Kintamani has a cool climate, offers spectacular vistas all around and is an ideal place to stroll around doing absolutely nothing. Enjoy an afternoon at any of the numerous restaurants that offer delicious food and magnificent views.

Lake Batur and Mount Batur- Both the lake (the largest crater lake in Bali) and the mountain are best seen from the hill town of Kintamani. The expansive vistas of both are a delight to watch from the view points of Kintamani. However, it is an enthralling experience to trek Mount Batur- an active volcano, to witness the spectacular sunrise from its summit. There are numerous trekking and adventure companies that organize the sunrise trek and this is a must do activity while in Bali.

Beratan lake and Ulun Dhanu temple- This pristine lake situated in northern Bali has mesmerizing panoramic vistas all around with magnificent mountains in the backdrop and serene surroundings. The climate is quite pleasant throughout the year and the beautiful Ulun Dhanu temple with an interesting architecture by the lake adds to its charm. The temple does seem like its floating on the lake when seen from a distance.

Tanah Lot- This is one of the most spectacular temples in Bali. Located on a rock in the sea, this temple can be visited only when the tide is low as it is a precarious walk over a few rocks to this lovely temple off the main land. It is well known for its spectacular sunsets and the myriad colours that appear over the evening sky. It gets quite crowded during the evening.

Uluwatu temple- Though the temple is small and one has to walk through a small monkey forest, the breathtaking vistas from here can leave you spellbound for a while. The temple is located on a cliff which has a sheer 100 meter drop and the clear azure waters way below and the never ending horizon are a delight to watch.

Besakih temple- Besakih temple is the most important and mother of all Hindu temples in Bali. With Mount Agung as its backdrop, this beautiful temple complex has many uniquely built temples amidst a serene setting. 

Thirtha Empul temple- Also known as Tampak Siring temple as it is located in the village by the same name, it is well known for its holy spring water and is considered sacred by most Balinese to take a dip in its holy pool. There are a couple of shrines and most visitors give offerings here.

Taman Ayun temple- This is the royal temple of the Mengwi dynasty and is a popular attraction in Bali. Interesting roof structures blended with Balinese architecture makes this a very attractive temple. The temple also has a surrounding green garden area with fish ponds.

Goa Gajah- Goa Gajah which translates to Elephant cave is a popular cave temple with a beautiful entrance. The attractive entrance to the cave has numerous carvings of various mythological figures and animals. There is also a holy pool next to the cave and a large garden nearby.

Goa Lawah- This bat cave is an important shrine in Bali and a popular place of interest. The cave also acts as a dwelling for thousands of bats and hence the name Goa Lawah (bat cave).

Thirtha Ganga- This beautifully maintained lush garden has numerous ponds and fountains. There is also a wellness spring which many locals consider as sacred. The beautiful natural setting makes this a very popular tourist attraction.

Nusa Dua- Lined with numerous beach resorts, Nusa Dua is a well known tourist spot in Bali. There are many long white sandy beaches such as Greger beach, Blue point beach and Pandawa beach. Apart from being quite safe for swimming, the beaches are also well known for its water sport activities.

Seminyak- If you are keen on luxury shopping, spas, boutiques and bars, Seminyak is the place to head to. Located further north of Legian, Seminyak is well known for its high end accommodations and restaurants. The beach here is quite serene and beautiful.

Jimbaran- Jimbaran is one of the popular beaches in Bali and has numerous beach shacks lined up along its shoreline. The beach is serene, less crowded and offers a wide range of sea food to choose from. Being located close to the airport, you can watch various kinds of air crafts land and take off every other minute as you sip your chilled beer in the scorching sun. 

Sanur- Located along the eastern coast, the beach at Sanur is less crowded, has numerous open air restaurants and water sport facilities. It is serene and offers wonderful vistas of the blue sea and the distant hills. Definitely one of the best beaches on the island.

Lovina beach- Lovina beach is one of the most popular beaches in north Bali. The biggest attraction here is the dolphin watching tour. Numerous dolphins can be seen not very far from the shores of Lovina. There are also many accommodation options, restaurants, bars, art shops and water sport activities here.

Gitgit Waterfalls- Located amidst tropical trees and thick vegetation, Gitgit waterfalls at a height of 35 meters is one of the most beautiful falls in Bali. Water gushing through the green surroundings at an enormous pace is a delight to watch.

Monkey forest- Bali has a couple of monkey forests, which are infested with notorious monkeys, who, if not careful are sure to run away with your belongings. Alas Kedaton near Taman Ayun temple and the Monkey forest in Ubud are the most popular ones.

Kecak and fire dance- This interesting and old ritual dance is not accompanied by any orchestra but by a choir of more than 60 people. The dancers are in a state of trance and communicate with deities and ancestors. A portion of the epic Ramayana is included into this and is played daily at Uluwatu temple during sunset. Make sure to reach early to grab the best spot to view this dance.

Barong and Keris dance- This is a play which enacts the the eternal fight between the good spirit (Barong- a mythological animal) and the evil spirit (Rangda- a mythological monster). Jambe Budaya in Batubulan is the best place to enjoy this wonderful play.

Celuk- Celuk is well known for its silver wares and visitors can enjoy guided tours and are briefed about the creations. They also have a huge display of various silver wares to choose from to add to the list of souvenirs. 

Mas- This tiny town is known for its wood works where one can visit the carving workshops and see the artists in action along with the numerous wood work displays.

Nasi Goreng- This fried rice is the most popular dish, not just in Bali, but across Indonesia and is a must try. Along with rice, it also has eggs, chicken and prawns. Delicious and filling, it is not without a reason that it is known as the national dish of Indonesia.

Kopi Luwak- This is supposedly the world's most expensive coffee and is made from the droppings of wild civet cats, who hog on coffee berries. They are available at most cafe shops and is well recommended.

Bintang beer- This is the most widely available and most popular beer across Bali. Interestingly, this lager beer is easily available on Kuta beach, despite the beach being devoid of shacks.

You can read more about Bali here-

November 6, 2014

The Photographer's Pose...!!

I find it quite amusing, but isn't this half squat pose quite popular among East Asian tourists?


Ellora Caves, Maharashtra. October 2013.

October 21, 2014

Binsar- Where Wilderness Blends with Snow Mountains...!!

At an elevation of 2000 meters, Binsar sits peacefully with magnificent snow clad mountain views and deep valleys. It has a heavily forested hill terrain and is an ideal place to spend early mornings listening to the chirping of birds. The encapsulating twinkling skies of Binsar looks like the gorgeous work of a highly skilful painter.

Binsar sanctuary is quite well known for its avian fauna and the best time to visit would as early as the sun rises. Mist hovered around the tall pine and oak trees early in the morning as the gates opened for us, the first guests of the morning. The winding road of the sanctuary took us to the highest point in Binsar along with many birds that flew alongside. The view of the imposing blue misty hills with the mist rising up on a cold morning was undoubtedly a sight to behold. Absolutely a photographer’s delight! All that we could see were mountains wrapped in blue hue. The distant peaks of Nanda devi, Panchachuli, Trishul and others seemed like blue mountains bathed in snow. A trek of 2 kms through a forest patch leads to Zero point (2345 meters), the highest point in Binsar. Barking deer, macaques and birds are quite frequently seen en-route. The machchan at zero point offers a panoramic view of the expansive Himalayas in the distance and gorgeous valleys way below. More than the vistas, it is the numerous species of birds that bring nature lovers to Binsar wildlife sanctuary.

View from Binsar sanctuary

Trail to zero point
View from Zero point
Blue mountains as seen from zero point
Behsodi village offers great birding opportunities in the morning with flycatchers, bulbuls and doves being the most common ones. Enjoy a village river trek which can be quite refreshing and an informative one too. This evening trek winds its way through a narrow trail along the ridge of hills and goes past the pine trees and Basoli village to Binsar River. I smiled at the amiable villagers and listened to the interesting information that the guide passesed on before the trail ended at the bank of the river. We sat by the gurgling river for a long time and gazed at the setting sun in oblivion as serenity prevailed all over. This also makes for an ideal picnic spot to spend a peaceful evening.

Village trail

Golu devtha temple en- route Jageshwar is a nice little temple amidst the tall pine trees of Binsar. The route is lush green and beautiful, and offers magnificent sunset views. The road further snakes its way through a forest, hills and valleys to Jageshwar. Situated in a valley, Jageshwar temple complex is a protected monument comprising of more than a hundred shrines with intricate architecture amidst a serene setting and has numerous visitors seeking blessings round the year.  The place also has numerous food stalls where one can relish the local kumaoni cuisines. 

Shrines at Jageshwar
To break away from the serenity of Binsar, we took the road that climbs its way past the magnificent vistas and Almora town to Bageshwar. Bageshwar gets its name from the famous Bagnath Shiva temple and has a beautiful landscape formed by the confluence of Sarayu and Gomti rivers. Another 20 kms took me to Baijnath temple complex, a protected monument by the Gomti river. A beautiful setting where I fed fishes near the temple and gazed at the far off hills as a school of fishes gobbled down the throws. 

Bageshwar town way below
Shrines at Baijnath
The winding road further led to Kausani, a beautiful hill station snuggled amidst the tall pines of Kumaon. The majestic mountain vistas turned magnificent as the bewitchingly picturesque Kausani approached. A tea plantation walk with a tea factory visit just before entering Kausani is an ideal way to begin exploring this hill town. Less than half a kilometer ahead, the shawl factory offers some of the best local hand designed shawls using wool from the local sheep.  The outlet also boasts of a host of other local products made by local women folk. Anasakthi ashram is where Mahatma Gandhi spent 14 days of his life and the insides of it have pictorial displays of Gandhi’s life in detail. The panoramic vista of the expansive and stunning Himalayas from the ashram is absolutely a stunner. Nanda Devi, Pancha Chuli, Nanda Kot, Nanda Khat, Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Neelkanth and many more stood tall bathed in snow, and I gaped at the various peaks in admiration as they soaked themselves in the orange light of the setting sun. 

View from Anasakthi ashram
The local cuisines of Binsar are a real treat for the taste buds with Madve ki roti (ragi roti), palak ka kappa, Bhaat ke daal, Kaudh ke daal and kumaoni raitha being some of the most preferred ones. You can explore these dishes at any of the food stalls near Jageshwar temple or at Kausani. Buransh, the local squash is a lovely drink which should not be missed. 

Signing Note- Gaze in oblivion and soak in the surreal natural setting...!!

Route- New Delhi- Ghaziabad- Hapur- Moradabad- Bazpur- Nainital- Almora- Binsar

New Delhi to Binsar- 380 Kms
Binsar to Jageshwar- 60 kms
Binsar to Bageshwar- 42 kms
Binsar to Kausani- 82 kms

Binsar wildlife sanctuary timing- Sunrise to sunset
Tea estate timings- 9am- 1pm and 2pm- 6 pm
Nearest rail head- Kathgodam (115 kms)
Nearest airport- New Delhi (415 kms)

October 15, 2014

Dream Home...!!

That tiny house in the middle with expansive surreal views of the snow clad Himalayas undoubtedly has one of the best windows in the world. Uttarakhand, November 2013.

October 8, 2014

Naukuchiatal- In the Lap of Nature...!!

The nine cornered lake nestles itself comfortably in the lap of Kumaoni hills in Naukuchiatal making it an enchanting one for its visitors. Though there is more to Naukuchiatal than the lake, this small town in the lake district of Uttarakhand boasts of this gorgeous water body as its main attraction. It also forms a part of the Lake District along with Nainital, Bhimtal and Sattal.

Situated amidst tall pine trees, the Club Mahindra resort where I stayed, is a walk away from the lake. Gaze at the serene lake as the reflection of the hills and the trees kissing the waters make a beautiful frame before the mist wraps it up. Take a boat and pedal yourself on the cold shimmering waters of Naukuchiatal and don’t be surprised if you feel like parking yourself in one corner of the lake and letting you mind wander away. As you distance yourself away from the jetty, the expansive frame spreads before you and makes it all the more surreal. If a pedal boat bores you, get geared and canoe or kayak away into any of the secluded corners of this beautiful water body. Walk around the lake and try finding all the nine corners. The locals say you can tick off only eight, a mystery that remains unresolved. If your tired legs need some rest, a ride around the lake on a horse would be an apt way to see the surroundings.

Naukuchiatal Lake
 A nature walk early in the morning from the resort through the nearby villages is an ideal way to begin your day. Blooming flowers and swooping birds welcome you, not to forget the ever smiling villagers. Do not hesitate to give them a broad smile and they are sure to return back a broader one. Take your binoculars along and you may be lucky to spot a naughty macaque or a barking deer grazing by. The aerial view of Naukuchiatal lake comes up in a while and that indeed is an enchanting vista. The trail past the open fields and stepped terraces lead to a forest patch where you can enjoy the morning rays that seep through and listen to the chirping of birds. 

When in Naukuchiatal, the quirkiest way to explore is to have a bird’s view of this quaint hill station. Strap yourself and paraglide over the expansive hills, the minute villages, the deep valleys, the glistening Naukuchiatal lake and enjoy the magnificent vistas that is on offer. Let the fresh mountain air throng your nostrils and lungs, and sway yourself to the wind as you glide over the stunning landscape.

Gliding over Naukuchiatal Lake

From the boats of Naukuchitalal lake, hop onto the shikaras of Bhimtal lake for an enjoyable ride on this placid one. Gorgeous white ducks swim along with the shikaras to the wonderful aquarium at the centre of the lake which exhibits colourful and exotic fishes. The glistening lake in itself is a gorgeous one and the hilly backdrop makes it all the more enchanting. The adjoining Bhimeshwar temple and dam offers great vistas of the lake. Bhimtal has more to it than just the lake. Be ready to get awed at the butterfly and moth museum at Bhimtal run by Peter Smetacek. A workshop with him is a complete encyclopedia into the world of colourful butterflies from across the globe.

Bhimtal Lake
Butterfly and moth museum
 Sattal lake, a few kilometers away from Naukuchiatal, left me speechless for a long while before I gained my composure when a few naughty macaques intruded into my thoughts. The place gets its name from the seven lakes that it comprises of. Sattal is cold for most part of the day with hovering mist and the green surrounding hills accentuates its beauty. Give the boat a miss, take in a lungful of fresh air, gaze at the natural surroundings in oblivion and get encapsulated by its serenity. A hot cup of tea or a steaming delicious local cuisine beside the lake is an apt way to spend an afternoon. Be cautious of the notorious monkeys or you could end up losing a packet of chips or two. If you are tired of gazing around, walk around the lake or hike up to a small church nearby. One can also try flying fox over the lake if you need some action.

Shikaras on Sattal
Sattal Lake
A lovely winding drive from Naukuchiatal, past the tall pine trees, deep valleys with stepped terraces and distant hills to Almora and further ahead to Ramgarh would be quite rewarding with magnificent vistas all along. Golu devtha temple at Ghodkal, an interesting temple with magnificent views has devotees offering bells to the deity. Tea estates are not commonly seen around Naukuchiatal, but the road that leads from the temple goes past a tiny a tea estate before the valleys and pine trees resurfaces on the landscape. More expansive vistas open up, and without a cue, snow clad Himalayas make their appearance to a pleasant surprise. The expansive range of more than 300 Kms spread  a sight to behold. Nanda Devi, Panchachuli, Trishul, Nanda Koti and many more wonderful peaks glow as they soak in the rays of the morning sun. The magnificent vistas take the road to Mukteshwar, a beautiful hamlet snuggled cozily amidst the giant hills of Kumaon. Walk the bridle trail through a small forest patch to Choli Ki Jali, a rocky protrusion that offers a panoramic vista of the hills, valleys, plains, Almora town and the snow clad Himalayas. Choli ki Jali is undoubtedly a photographer’s delight.  Amidst the pine trees further ahead lies the well known 350 year old Shiva temple of Mukteshwar. 

Offerings at Golu Devtha temple
Snow clad Himalayas
View from Choli Ki Jali
Do not miss out on the local cuisines like Karhi chawal, palak ka kappa, butka  jhola, aloo ka kejwa and rajma chawal that can be relished at any of the numerous food stalls near Bhimtal and Sattal lakes. The famous Bhuransh, a local squash made from rhododendron can be picked up from any of the fruitage shops. Local products from Himjoli (an organization supported by NGOs) like body care creams, hand woven fabrics, spices, tea, herbs and handicraft items would definitely be a great souvenir to take back home. 

Signing Note- Lose yourself amidst the hills, lakes, pine trees and stepped terraces...!!

Route- New Delhi- Ghaziabad- Moradabad- Bilaspur- Rudrapur- Haldwani- Kathgodam- Naukuchiatal


New Delhi to Naukuchiatal- 310 Kms
Naukuchiatal to Bhimtal- 5kms
Naukuchiatal to Sattal- 13 kms
Naukuchiatal to Ramgarh-35 kms
Naukuchiatal to Mukteshwar- 62 kms

Himalayan Adventure Institute (paragliding) - 09412906780/ 09897538668
Butterfly museum, Bhimtal- 09359948490
Nearest rail head- Kathgodam (26 kms)
Nearest airport- New Delhi (320 kms)

Another version of this article appeared on the Hello magazine of Club Mahindra.
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