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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Melukote & Shravanbelagola

On the 18th of January, My in-laws, Brother-in-law, Preethi and I left to Melukote at around 8:00 AM. Mysore road was fairly free that Sunday morning.

Just after you cross Mandy town, there is a small divider where you need to take a right turn to Melukote. The signboard is on the road that goes right, so its easy to miss it. I did miss it but then took a U-turn back. The divider is just after the green over head board when you cross Mandya town. On this road the signboards are all neat and clean. 

My previous visit to Melukote is recorded Here.

We reached Melukote by around 10:45 AM. We directly went to the main temple Cheluvanarayana swamy temple. A very beautiful temple and a very impressive and attractive looking idol. 



Outside, you can find several small stores selling the famous Puliogre. Well actually the puliogre made by the Iyengars of Melukote is very special. Last time that we had visited an Iyengar was selling homemade pullover but unfortunately you can’t find them anymore. Anyway, we settled in one of those shops and tasted some brilliant Puliogre, Sweet pongal and curd rice. Sweet pongal made with sugar was just yummy. I would highly recommend that to the visitors. 

After a quick and tasty lunch we drove to Danush Koti. Here, my memories of bee attack came back to me from our previous visit. 


Next stop Rayadwara; the main entrance that was commissioned to be built in a day and remains incomplete till today. 



And then the Yoga Narasimha Swamy temple on the hill. You can drive till halfway and then have to take the steep stairs. Its a very impressive temple as well with an idol of lord Narasimha in meditation. 


We got down and drove to Shravanabelagola which is about 30 kms from Melukote. On our way we stopped at Agalya to visit the Maleshwara temple. However, it was closed. We did get a glimpse of th main diety through holes carved on the outside wall for viewing. 


At Shravanbelagola, it was a good 600 plus steps climb to see lord Bahubali. It is one of the tallest monolith in the world (58 ft). Lord Mahaveera stands with a very tranquil expression. Gomateshwara idol to me represent simplicity and its nakedness does not embarrass but in turns makes me feel how bonded we are with our thoughts, our rules and our society. 





We had some snacks at a restaurant near by and took the Channarayaptna route to Hassan-Bangalore highway. By 7:15 PM, I was back home. It was a good one day trip with some descent and not very tiring driving and great historical places. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bannerghatta National Park

Bannerghatta national park is a great place to visit while you are in Bangalore. The safari’s are well planned and the parks are well maintained. Today (Jan 17th), was my third visit and the experience has always gotten better. My In-laws are in town and we decided to take them on a safari today. This being a Saturday,  I expected a crowd and hence decided to be there by 10 AM when the park opens. On the way, you can stop at the Meenakshi Temple if you wish. I have recorded my previous experiences here - 

Meenakshi Temple And Bannerghatta Park

There are several options for a safari. A normal crowded green bus will cost you Rs 264 per head. An AC bus with 13 people that covers also the visit to butterfly park and zoo will cost you Rs 500 per head. Or, you could hire a jeep for Rs 2500 with maximum four people. We choose the AC bus.

The safari is amazing that takes you to the elephant, deer, lion, tiger and bear camps. The elephants stared at us from the other side of the electric fence. The deers stared at us too.


Two bears had a quarrel about something really important.


The Lions were relaxing.


Two white tigers put up a fight for us.


A tiger heading away, saw our bus and decided to give us a closer look. Its walk with a very confident look and eyes fixed at us was the most majestic walk I had ever witnessed.




The butterfly park is well maintained too. Its does not have a lot of variety but sure does have a lot of butterflies. 



And then, there are animals in the zoo; several of them. It is always depressing to see them caged. Specially, the migratory birds like pelicans and storks. The leopard cared less for the visitors. The hippopotamus was busy chewing but occasionally gave a stare. And the himalayan Black bear had a bad headache and begged the visitors to let him sleep in silence. 




By the time we were done, it was around 1:00 PM. The park was getting really crowded at this time. But for us, it was time to leave after an eventful morning. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hong Kong Travel Tips

Planning - 


I booked my tickets two months in advance. I am not sure if that is late but I think it was just enough to get a good deal. There are flights that can take you to HK via Singapore or Malaysia but they double the time of otherwise 5.5 hours journey. So if you have time you could do that or simply take the direct flight - Dragon air or Cathay pacific. 

For my travel guide, I bought both Eyewitness from DK and Lonely Planet. While DK is small, handy, filled with pictures and has a nice map, the Lonely planet guide is extensively researched and captures some of the smallest of the smallest details that may be considered off the tourist track.  I would personally recommend the Lonely planet guidebook.Perfect for those who want to explore a country on their own. It also lists what is free and how to get around. But, make sure you buy these books just before you travel to get the latest edition.  My DK was not of the latest edition and hence it did not even list the hostel I stayed in.


Accommodation - 

Before you travel you have to come to terms with the fact that HK is expensive. Even though a HK dollar will exchange to only Rs 8, it does not mean that it is cheaper. You get nothing for $1HK. Even a good meal will cost you HK$100. And as far as the hotels go they are very expensive.

If you are looking for a budget that is below HK$300 then you have to go to the guesthouses in HK island or Tsim Sha tsui in Kowloon. You will find several small guest houses in Chung King mansion as well. But what to know is that these rooms are very small; as wide as your two arms stretched and the places look really scary but having been in HK, I can say its very safe to be around there.

For an experience you could stay there but I would advice the youth hostel dormitories instead. Specially the YHA Mei Ho youth hostel were we stayed. They are just amazing. If you are looking at private rooms, then they are available too at around HK$600 (Includes breakfast). They have a few other branches around HK. There is one away from the city crowd at Mt Davis supposedly providing one of the best views of the harbour. But this is on a hill that does not have public transportation. You will have to either walk or take a taxi there. I also saw one on Ngong ping where the Big Buddha idol is. This Website should aid you better on their locations.

The advantage of staying in Mei Ho was that we could cook dinner almost everyday at their common kitchen. You can also do laundry for HK$30. The only drawback would be that it is slightly away from the harbour. You spend HK$20 up and down to get to the central district. But thats perfectly okay because the hotels cost a bomb anyways.

If you are looking of luxury, then book a nice hotel in HK island. They might charge you anywhere from HK$1200 onwards. The rooms cannot be expected to be big but will be spacious enough and have all the amenities. They also run free shuttles to central MTR’s. Macau Ferry terminals. The one we stayed in on the last day was Island Pacific on Centre street. 

First Thing You Need To Do After Landing At The Aiport - 

As soon as you walk out of the airport, the first thing you might need is the local currency. You could get them from a Forex at your home country or just land up here to find several counters that provide you the exchange. They accept cash only and for that you will have to carry that of your home country currency. But the best deal is to use your ATM cards that has Mastero or Visa to withdraw some big chunks of money. I have heard they give the best exchange as compared to all the others. But make sure your card works with withdrawals outside the country. My Citibank card worked where as the SBI card did not. You might have to activate that on the card before traveling. 

So once you have your money walk out and opposite to the airport is the MTR station. Buy an Octopus Card there. Its a must if you want to travel without counting change everywhere. Octopus card is your replacement for cash. It is accepted almost everywhere - In buses, MTR, in shops, for buying all kinds of tickets and many other places. It just deducts the exact change when you show it to the reader and has discounted fares too while traveling. You can put in HK$1000 max on the card and they take a refundable deposit of HK$50 to be returned when you surrender the card. These cards can be recharged in any 7-Eleven shop or many other outlets such as a reception desk in a mall or a MTR customer service desk. 

In any 7-Eleven you can also buy a SIM card. You might need a SIM card if you want to use internet while on road for google maps or something. I was recommended by a friend to buy This Card.

It costs you HK$48. But do not misunderstand. It says WiFi free but not 3G. So it drinks money if you directly use it for navigating. So what you need to do is to dial *131# and receive internet options for 1 day, 3 days or a week. Choose your required package. 

You will also need to buy an adapter for charging your electronic devices. This must be available in small shops everywhere or in the hotel you are staying. Make sure it works with the current and voltage of your device. 


Traveling Within HK - 

From airport you could either take the airport express that is really fast but charges you HK$200 or a taxi that might be equally expensive or just walk to the nearby bus station and take a really inexpensive ride to the city. Kowloon was HK$14 ticket and HK island central might be around HK$40. 

HK has a beautiful public transport system. They have MTR’s, Buses, Green minibuses and ferries everywhere. So with your octopus card in hand, you can just travel like a local. Just get accustomed to the rail lines and bus routes and you are all set. The buses charge you a fixed price from your stop to the last stop no matter where you get down. So the trick is to know the last stop of the bus you are traveling in. If its a long distance bus you may end up paying more for a shorter ride. If you are traveling only few stops then choose a bus route that is traveling within the city and you might save half the price.

In HK island, take the trams. They are slow but they are cheap and  a lot of fun. HK$ 2.3 from anywhere to anywhere. 

To cross the harbour, the cheapest way is to take a star ferry thats around HK$2 but obviously they are slow. Buses and MTR add HK$9 to just cross the harbour tunnel. 

Lantau island is well connected by road and MTR while for Lamma and Cheung Chau islands you have to take ferry from the Central piers. There are two piers spaced away from one another to avoid confusion. One is called the Central piers. 8 of them have ferries to cross the harbour or go to the islands. The other pier near Sheung Wan MTR station is Macau ferry station that runs turbojet to Macau. 

Just outside the Central piers you shall also find the City tour buses. They take you on tours around HK island. If you are traveling for few hours then that may be your best way to see some of the important places.

In the new territories, you can travel by light rails. They are just awesome. You could also take a bus ride. Every station, every train, tram or bus have maps and announce in both English and Cantonese. So not to worry. 

At every MTR station are maps telling what exit has what nearest tourist attraction and once you take those exit there are signboards in pink colour that will lead you to these places. 

To the Victoria peak you can either take a tram or a bus. Tram is more expensive but they are very fast as compared to the long but fun ride uphill on a bus; specially if you sit in the first row of the upper deck of a double decker.

Culture and People - 

People of HK are extremely disciplined and friendly. They almost never interfere into your affairs but if you need help finding something, they try their best to help you. If they cannot speak English they will direct you to someone who does. It is absolutely safe and there is no fear of theft at all here. Even on the 31st night when it was horribly crowded, they walked to the nearby metros on the designated path, following a queue. 

Most youngsters speak English. But somehow it is not difficult to communicate here. 

What to Buy - 

I think its always important to buy something or the other where ever you go. For yourselves and for your family and friends. HK has a lot to offer from Cheap products from China in the small street markets to top global brands at IFC mall. Temple street night market, Jardine's crescent or Apliu st flea market can offer you really inexpensive china stuff. But you need to bargain here and try your luck with the authentic products. I would recommend electronic shops in Mong Kok which sell good Hong Kong brands. Of course they too are made in China but is recognised in HK. 




I am a big fan of shops that sell only custom products. Like I found one that sells only tea and tea pots. Another that makes perfume and some creative items. It is easy to find small interesting shops. But somethings that I bought based on my interests are - Lots of tea, a tea pot, art materials, a monopod (selfie stick) and some other random stuff. I am sure HK has something or other for everyone.

What not to miss - 

There ar many top sites listed in several websites and travel guides. So I  do not wish to repeat them here. Apart from them here are some rather small things that I experienced and found interesting.
  1. Night view of the island from the Victoria peak.
  2. A shop in the main street of Cheung Chau island that sells everything related to tea.
  3. Trek on Section 8 of the HK trail that includes the most scenic Dragon’s Back.
  4. Family trail trek that covers entire Lamma island.
  5. Tai O, a beautiful small village in the west coast of Lantau island with its stilt houses and a creative shop called Chamber fairy store that sells some custom products.
  6. Light rails, MTR and tram rides. Bus to the peak, of course.
  7. Temple street night market to see their interesting display of products.
  8. Tiny shops of Mong Kok inside the tall buildings.
  9. Free view from the 65th floor of the Bank of China tower.
  10. Firework during New year.
  11. Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple to see the practice of fortune telling through chims.
Vegetarian Food - 

There are a lot of Indian restaurants around HK. Your Lonely planet guide can help you locating them. Chung King mansion has several of them with two pure vegetarian restaurants. (Smrat and Sarvana) Tandoor nights in Tsim Sha tsui, Clay oven in HK island close to Kennedy town are few others I went to. Ocean park has two restaurants near cable car station that serve indian option. Morocco’s Indian restaurant in Cheung Chau island offers some good vegetarian options as well.

Apart from that, many monasteries provide vegetarian meals. There are also a couple of vegetarian Chinese restaurants. But sometimes they also consider fish as vegetarian, so you may want to check before ordering. 

Macau - 

From HK island Macau terminal you can board a turbojet for HK$164. Or take a helicopter for a lot more money. Frequency from Kowloon is less and I have heard that you might have to walk a kilometre from the nearby MTR station to get to the pier there. So advisable is to take them from HK island. Make sure you book the return tickets also because its crowded like crazy here. And you might end up  getting a journey time that is lot later because of the crowd. Carry your passport as you are exiting HK and you need to return the copy of the  immigration form. Make sure you stay till dark in Macau to view the night life in the casinos. You can also exchange your HK$ to Macanese pataca here. Many accept HK$ but it is advisable to carry some local currency. The Macau ferry station also has ATM’s if you want to withdraw there. There are free buses run by casinos so use them as the mode of transport rather than paying for it on a local bus. And take a ferry back not later than 10:15 PM from Macau to reach HK on time for the last train or bus. Else, you might have to depend on taxis.

You do not need a visa for Macau but you might need it for other one day trips to mainland China like - Shenzhen and Guangzhou. 

Links to my Posts related to HK & Macau- 

Hong Kong
Macau

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Last Day in Hong Kong

Day 12 - 1st Jan 2015 (I Continue from here...New Years Eve, Hong Kong )

So the last day in HK had arrived. Everyday was so eventful that we had become part of this city by now. We woke up really late the next day, got ready and checked out of the hotel. The hotel has a baggage counter were we left our bags and decided to head on our last stroll around HK. The free bus service from he hotel took us to the admiralty MTR station. We directly headed to the Chung King mansion and had brunch at the Sarvana hotel again run by a punjabi. I told the guy at the main entrance that I had tried the restaurant as promised and told him that the food was very good. He was happy.

We then went to Temple street night market thinking of doing some shopping. But in the afternoon the shops were being slowly setup. We got a few things and left. By 5, we were back in the hotel. We had to walk two blocks to board the A10 bus to the airport. The only other option is the Airport express train that is HK$200 or something as compared to the bus that is HK$40 from our HK island. As we drove away we bid farewell to the lovely city.





HK is one of the most beautiful places I have been too and will always remain special. It was so easy to communicate and get around here even without much help. I specially loved the people for their discipline. Its truly a city where the east meets the west. All though Chicago remains for me the most beautiful city, I think HK is almost there. 

Our flight was at 21:05 PM and was uneventful.

New Years Eve, Hong Kong

Day 11- 31st Dec 2014 (I Continue from here...Kowloon And Hong Kong Island )

On 31st, we had to change hotels. We had our last breakfast at the youth hostel (The western breakfast without meat, without egg) and took bus 905 to Central. At Central, the bus stop was very close to the hotel Island Pacific where I had requested for a early check in. We checked into our semi harbour view room in the 12th floor. This place was half the size of the youth hostel room but more than twice the cost. 

We took the tram to one of the Indian restaurants called Clay oven. Had some good lunch and then set off on our exploring of the HK island. Trams are supercool. You can travel almost anywhere in the main business district for just HK$2.3, thats like incredibly cheap in HK. 



We directly headed to the Bank of China building. We sure di not want to miss the view for the third time. The view from the 65th floor is amazing. 


We continued on the Happy valley-Kennedy town tram to reach Jardine's crescent, a street filled with shops. The place was heavily crowded. We went to the time square but all the places were terrible crowded and that made me really uncomfortable. We took the tram back to Arsenal stop and then walked to the golden bohemian square following the sign boards. Somewhere midway I got some great captures of the traffic from an over bridge. I tried some low exposure shots here.



On our way, we also chanced upon a small park from where the buildings looked spectacular in their night look. 



At the Bohemian square crowds where slowly pulling in. We found a store inside and packed some bun for later. We picked a nice place to watch the fireworks. 


Form 7:30 PM to 12:00 AM there was lots of activity in the area. People started to occupy spots by 8PM. Next to me sat an Indian couple worrying how they had to wait till 12 and how they had not found a restaurant anywhere close. I suggested them to pack some food from the store inside the building behind the bohemian square. They did that. A westerner and his HK girlfriend sitting behind us were emptying one bottle after another. It was very cold out there but the crowd did not stop gathering. At 12 when the countdown began everyone got really excited and at zero there was an explosion of fireworks from he harbour. It was truly a mesmerising view. 





For 10 minutes the cracker burst from all directions. They were fired from some some launch tools in the water. By the time it was over, the entire sky was covered with smoke and took a while to clear. But what was shockingly surprising was that after the fireworks, the crowd began to walk out in great discipline. There were thousands of people there but no one touched one another, they walked following each other calmly. There were people bringing kids in trolly and dogs too and all walked without any issue. I wondered if this was in India, a stampede would have killed several. The cops had arranged the barricade since evening and the public neatly walked the designated path.

We walked the Metro and took the train to Sheung wan and walked few blocks to our hotel. It was a long but exciting day filled with spectral views. I had watched the fireworks several times in the US but i must admit that this was the best till date. As they burst in the sky, the reflection of them in the water create a scintillating view.

Continued Here  - Last Day In Hong Kong

Friday, January 09, 2015

Kowloon & Hong Kong Island

Day 10- 30th Dec 2014 (I Continue from here...Macau )

As we approached the new year, the hostel was also filling up with visitors. We had to switch the room for one day as I had not got the one we were stating for that extra day. We checked out and left our luggage in the common locker room and headed on our daily tour.


Having finished lots of the outskirts, it was now required that we explore the main island and areas close to the harbour. So we headed to Tsim Sha Tsui in the morning and went to the Hong Kong Museum of art. Just outside the museum was this display of a beautiful structure created with Bamboo. 


This museum has some interesting display of contemporary art. Some very creative ones were of video displays of day to day life. Some noted works of Tong King-Sum and Zhang Bu were also in display. Ancient Chinese art of cherry flowers and bamboo plants painted on silk are just brilliant. 

After here, we walked to the promenade and got a bright sunny view of the HK island. 


A regular crowd puller, this promenade starts with avenue of stars where many celebrities have left their hand impressions on the pavement similar to the ones in the Hollywood street. I could only recognise that of Jackie Chan. There are several other sculptures with which the tourists love to take pictures. This place was full of action.



We walked back to Nathan road and decided to go to the Chung King Mansion that Stefan had suggested I must visit. Chung King Mansion has several guesthouses which are really cramped. But it also houses the highest population of Indians. There are Indian restaurants in every floor. Since this place is so cramped and confusing, there is a representative from the restaurant standing at the main gate to lead you. But thats part of the problem because there are many such people. We had read reviews of one restaurant called Smrat and were looking for it when another guy from a restaurant called Sarvana took us saying that his restaurant was the best in Hong Kong. On our way, we met the guy from Smrat who then took us to the third floor. It would have been impossible to find this place otherwise. Both the restaurants are pure veg. Smart is a Punjabi restaurant and serve amazing Parathas and dishes. While returning the guy from Sarvana requested me to visit his restaurant at least once. I promised him to come there the next day.  We also found a grocery store in the first floor where we bought some ready-to-eat Dal. 

After lunch, we went to the HK museum of science. It was impressive to see such an active place for the kids. It has several interactive displays for kids to learn basic physics. It was fun simply watching all the kids play with them. The museum is huge; three storied.

Our next stop was the Bank of China not he other side of the harbour. Bank of China has free viewing lobby for visitors at the 65th floor but it is required to carry your passports or any photo identity. Last time we had tried to go up we had not carried our passports with us. But we did not have any luck this time as well. By the time we reached it was 5:30 PM, half an hour past the closing time. Sadly, we just walked out and near the admiralty station took a bus to the peak. It is then that we got a glimpse of how many tourists were pouring into the city for the 31st night. The bus was full at our stop. At the top there was a long queue both for buses and trams going back. It was crazy. We ran up to the sky terrace to catch the night view. The prices for the viewing had also been doubled but the view was worth all that. It was spectacular night view of the city with the most number of skyscrapers. I think these pictures will speak better. 





While returning we did not even attempt the bus route. Instead took the long but fast moving tram queue. We had to wait about 45 minutes to get the ride but the ride was only 8 minutes long compared to the bus that takes 30 minutes or more in heavy traffic. In this mad crowd, I think tram was a life saver.

Continued Here  - New Years eve, Hong Kong

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Macau

Day 09- 29th Dec 2014 (I Continue from here...Dragon's Back Trek )

We started a little late this day expecting a long day and night ahead of us in Macau. So when we reached the Macau ferry station on the HK island side, it was around 11:30 AM. The Macau ferry terminal are different from he star ferry. You can easily tell the Macau ferry terminal with the red strips on the building. Here you have couple of options; A few ferry operators and a helicopter ride. The most popular however seems to be Turbojet. As Stefan had warned me this place was heavily crowded. And already tickets upto o 12:45 was sold. Hurriedly we stood in a queue and got tickets for 1:50 PM. 

The ride was of exactly one hour and you could hardly feel a jerk, it was that smooth. An economy ticket would cost you HK$164 for one way. We also booked out return for 10:15 PM. Make sure you do that if you are returning on the same day as it can be easily sold out and you might get stuck in Macau.

While leaving Hong Kong, you return the immigration form. 

At Macau you get a fresh permit. At the ferry station I got withdrew some cash. Many places accept HK$ but it is advisable to have some Macanese Patacas. Here, at the bus station, opposite the ferry stop are free buses from each casino. There are free rides around the city in them. So instead of paying for transportation make sure you plan your ride in these buses. We took the bus to Grand Lisbon; a very big casino in the centre of the city. We saw some of the action there and walked directly to see the ruins of the church of St Paul. There are signboards here too so its easily to find places. The streets are narrow and the architecture has a very european feel to it due to the Portuguese rule here for a long time. The tiled paths leading to the ruins of the church of St Paul was filled with tourists and shops selling baked biscuits. They were offering free ones for taste. All most everything was served free for tourists. We passed by the church of St Dominic.



Result of a fire, all that is left of St Paul Church are its impressive main facade and staircase. 



Towards one side of it is the Monte fort.



We walked on the narrow streets filled with shops and boutiques. We chanced upon an art gallery where an exhibition was in process. It was interesting to see some fresh and good work of art in display.


We also stopped at the church of St Augustine (Igreja de Santo Agostinho) where the mass was in progress.

There are quiet a few interesting ancient architecture to visit here but I think the most interesting now would be the casinos. The income here is said to be more than in Vegas. But unlike Vegas, here the casinos are not all in a street they are spread across the island. We walked to some of them and then headed back to the main stop near Ferry station and boarded the bus to Venetian, a casino not to be missed. This sis in another side of the island and takes 20 minutes to reach there. The interiors of Venetian are very interesting to resemble venice but what we missed is the cafe at the top which is believed to have false roofing to resemble a day sky similar to that in Casino Paris in Vegas. There was interesting laser light show here displaying winter in Venice. We walked to some other casinos through free bus rides between each of them before heading back to the ferry station to catch the 10:15 turbo jet back to HK. 



At HK we got another 14 day permit as we entered again. It was almost midnight so we ran towards the MTR station. The last train was waiting of us. You could also choose to ride from Kowloon but the Kowloon Macau ferry station is 1km away from MTR station and also the frequencies are less as compared to Central. Macau, another special administration of China, is again a very different kind of a place. Narrow tiled roads and the architecture took us close to Europe.


While taking the subway from MTR station to get to hostel we were stopped by a group of youngsters as there was a movie shooting in progress. It was a Ghost movie and many girls had dressed in traditional chinese attire but had a scary face makeup. They were supposedly attacking a human. One of the locals got really angry and walked while the team took a short break between repeated shots. It was interesting to get a glimpse of this from nowhere.


Continued Here  - Kowloon And Hong Kong Island