Sunday, August 17, 2014

Anantapur District - Day01

An early morning breeze rushed through the half open window of my car, in which myself, my mother and my wife were traveling towards Anantapur district. In three days, I was to cover as much as I could in the district of Anantapur that I had researched before the travel day.

A few months ago, my mother expressed her desire to visit Lepakshi and other parts of Andhra. Having not traveled much in Andhra myself, I thought this would be a good opportunity to expand my district wise travel research beyond Karnataka. On July 27th, a Sunday, at around 6:30 AM we left Bangalore and headed towards Lepakshi on NH7. On our way, we stopped for breakfast at the Kamath restaurant where I always prefer to have Raggi dosa. Lepakshi, is a left deviation on NH7 as soon as you cross the state border. Well maintained signage will guide you to this small town of Lepakshi. We directly headed to the Veerabadhra temple. As I have covered this place in detail, in one of my earlier posts, I shall skip duplication and for further reading would guide you Here.

After a quick tour around the temple, we continued our journey ahead. Our next stop - Penukonda. To Penukonda, you have to get back on NH7 and continue on Bangalore-Hyderabad road which is in fantastic condition. Like to every town, you need to take exits on the NH7 to get to this town. Before you hit the main town, a left deviation would lead you to the fort. Tar road ended almost at the base of the hill and rest of the journey uphill are on mud road filled with small stones. After a little apprehension, we finally decided to go up and see what we shall find. And what we did, bowled us. A full fledged ancient city in ruins. The remains of the market place, kalyani (Pond), temples, and magnificent entrance made us feel thrilled and sad, both at the same time. Being the only ones up there and exploring the abandoned city by ourselves made us feel like we were on a journey to the past. I imagined how a kingdom would have once flourished here and how thriving with life this place would have then been. The fort was built during the Vijayangar empire and then taken over by several other rulers who attacked India.

After a nice time spent atop the hill, we drove back to the town. Here, we saw a few ancient architecture being excavated, renovated and preserved by the Indian archeology department. Amongst these were the following - 

Thimmarusu Jail

Water Tank

Basavanna Well!

Jain Temple being renovated

Gagan Mahal (Vijaynagar Architecture with islamic details)

Rama Temple

Shiva Temple

Gagan mahal and the temples were closed. Penukonda means a big hill and it is said that it had once housed 365 temples; perhaps one for each day. But sadly a handful still exists and rest are all in ruins.

We headed back to the town and enquired for Vegetarian restaurants. We were directed towards Hotel Vaishali located on the junction where the bypass road meets NH7. This place has both veg and non-veg food though. We settled in for a veg meal that included Chapati, rice, Chutney, Sabji,  Pappu, and more Pappu. A andhra meal is never complete without a Pappu, which is the local variant of Dal. The food was spicy and delicious. 

After lunch we headed towards Dharmavaram. Straight on NH7 until you see a sign with right deviation. Driving off the NH7 was a welcoming change. The roads took us closer to the villages and well cultivated fields. However, at Dharmavaram, the entire town seemed to be closed on this Sunday afternoon. We headed to the saree and leather puppet stores and after following several narrow streets ended up between closed shops. Well, they don’t seem to work on sundays here; not a single saree store! So we decided to revisit Dharmavaram during our return journey and continued our travel to Anantapura.

Anantapura, is the biggest city in this district and at it's cetner is a clock tower, surrounding which are the busy streets and crowded shops. Pretty much everything is in the four roads that meet the clock tower. We settled in at Namma lodge very close to the clock tower. I choose this place because it looked fairly descent, it was on a cross road and most importantly had car parking in front of the lodge which was guarded. It is also easy to communicate in Andhra, as most of them can understand or speak Hindi. 

After freshening up we drove to ISKON temple. To reach the temple, head back to NH7 and drive towards Hyderabad. In about 5kms you shall find the temple on your right side. The beautiful pink coloured, chariot shaped temple architecture added charm to the plain lands. In an hour or more that we spent there, we witnessed pooja, bhajans, and lot of devotion. It was not very crowded and everyone smiled a lot as they prayed to Lord Krishna, which seemed to fill the place with lot of positive energy. 

We drove back to the hotel, parked the car and decided to walk around a little. Had dinner at a Vegetarian restaurant. We enjoyed some Pessarat; a variety of Dosa special to Andhra. We bought some Karachi biscuits from a  local store close to the clock tower before returning to our room and calling it a day.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Kudremukh Trek

July 4th, a Friday evening was when I teamed up with my colleague Prem and his German class friends - Balaram, Priya, Amrutha and Karan and set off on Sugama bus to Kalasa. I had previously trekked with them last November to Kodachadri. It was good to see this energetic team again; three of whom are marathon runners.  After a little chat in the bus, we soon dozed off. You can also take the KSRTC Volvo to Kalasa but I would recommend the spacious seats on this Sugama sleeper bus. At around 5:45AM on the 5th of July, we were at Kalasa. We waited for our jeep to arrive that had been arranged through Rajjapa, our home stay owner. The quite little town of Kalasa was slowly waking up and I made use of this wait by having my must have morning tea, at a local tea stall. The jeep arrived after about 20 minutes and we drove 17kms towards the home stay  with a left deviation at Ballegallu on Kalasa-Karkala Road. Mullodi house is owned by Rajjapa ( 9481179008, 7353963826, 08263-249333). He could also arrange for permissions from the forest department and a guide for the trek apart from obviously providing shelter and food. Rajjapa’s house is located on a very picturesque location. 

At an optimum elevation, it stands amidst the mountains. Here, he lives with his wife, two daughters and another lady whom I presume to be his sister (I heard him call out Akka once) and an unidentified infant. The kids have to travel 15kms in a jeep to Kalasa everyday to attend school. The elder one is in the 10th grade and "the camera shy" little one, is in her first grade. Rajjapa’s brothers who live downhill also host guests but they do not have as many facility as Rajjapa. They might be less expensive but you may have to crash in their living room. On the other hand, Rajjpa’s house has two attached rooms and he was more than willing to offer, if required; as described by him to the couples in our group, "a first class bedroom" inside the house. They are priced Rs800 per person including food. If you eat animals, they charge you Rs 200 more.

Apart from us, there was another group of bachelors staying in the adjacent room. Lets call them "The KSRTC group" as that was how the jeep driver referred to them while waiting for their KSRTC Volvo bus to arrive at Kalasa. 

We paid Rs 1000 for the jeep ride and quickly freshened up. Local food, Pundi was served with sambhar and chutney. Coffee was offered along with the food. After breakfast, we took off on our journey to the Kudremukh peak with our guide Shivakumara which I heard has Sukumara due to his stammering problem (Guide fee - Rs 500). I called him Sukumara until I met his dad the next day, who told me his proper name. We started the trek at around 8:30 AM after paying the forest fee to Rajjapa. He told that the forest officials came by every day to collect the fee and issue tickets (Rs 275 Per person).

The trek route starts just behind the Mullodi house. The route immediately enters a very scenic uninhabited land. 

We cross 9 small forest areas spaced approximately equidistant from the base to the summit between the grasslands. During the month of Monsoon, these forests have some deadly blood suckers. Yes, the leeches! We had expected this anyways so we were kind of prepared. Our necks ached to keep constantly looking down at our shoes and pull away the climbing leeches but the view was unbeatable and worth all that pain. But one forest area (The last but one) really made us run for our lives. The dampness attracted hundreds of leeches; out of which at least a ten started to climb every shoe. Without stopping even for a second, we ran towards the other end. However, by then several leeches had successfully made its way to our socks. Some held on to the shoes, some sucked through the socks, some got into the socks. It was horrible! We had to drag each one out and clean the shoes before continuing. Some salt sprinkled on them made them feel drowsy and fall off on their own.

It drizzled most of the way and after we were done with the forest area, it rained heavily. The weather was marvellous. On our way we spotted a herd of Sambars who stopped for a minute and stared at us, the uninvited guests. 

I always prefer the part of the trek that is above tree line. The dampness of a tree line area makes me suffocate but the grasslands on the other hand, makes me feel liberated. Rest of the journey was mostly uphill and was reasonably steep as compared to the previous leg. At one of the streams, we found a skull of an animal. We concluded that it was of a deer or a Sambar. All through the trek, I secretly desired a friendly visit of a Tiger. By the time we reached the summit after an extremely steep last stretch, it was raining heavily. But, that did not stop us from eating our packed lunch even with our ponchos on. That day, in the time of such hunger, Pulliogre that we carried from the home stay seemed the best lunch ever. We had taken 4 hours to reach the summit on an approximately 9KM trail. From two kilometres  to the peak onwards, you shall see milestones to KMP (Kudremukh Peak). 

Disappointingly, it did not stop raining for a long time and we never got to see a view from the peak. After about 40 mins, we decided to not wait any longer and head back. But, in about an hour’s walk downhill, the sky cleared and displayed a scintillating view of the nature. In ever direction greenery was in abundance. That’s when I realised that how different this place was from my previous treks. This was a proper forest area with no sight of human interference. However, extreme conditions do not support a healthy wildlife here. In a recent survey held by the Forest department, that invited civilians to participate, counted a diminishing number of Tigers in this area.

All through the return journey I was bowled by the beauty of this place. I think these images could express in a better way than I could, in words.

Thanks to the shower, the leeches had been washed away and we confronted less of them on our way back. During our return, we were accompanied by one of the members of the KSRTC group who was unwell and did not want to spend anymore time at the summit like his friends. He kept walking without attending to the leech attacks. By the time we reached the home stay, he had brought back, a badly bleeding leg and several leeches. All of us cleaned our shoes and socks, dragged away the remaining leeches and cleaned up. We were served hot onion pakoras with some much required coffee. We had taken almost the same time back as we had taken to climb - 4 Hours.

There was another group who were visiting and two among them had trekked to the summit while the rest returned, unable to handle the leeches. They kept enquiring about their friends but we had not seen any other team except for the KSRTC group whom we met very close to the summit. They feared that their friends might have lost their way in the woods as they were trekking without a guide. Apparently, those two had met the KSRTC group midway and were with them while we met the group near the summit. Obviously, we had no way to distinguish the members. Anyways, their friends returned and they left to Kalasa to find a hotel to stay. 

At around 7:30 PM, we were served dinner. Chapatis, Rice, Sabji, Sambhar and Curd. It was more than what we could have asked for. During the dinner I had a small conversation with Rajjapa about the types of trees in the forest, local cuisine and its similarity with that  in Mangalore, Forest department and researchers staying at his place to spot wild animals and a variety of frogs that are all around the forest. We also discussed how Tigers find it difficult to catch a prey in the hills as compared to the flat lands, where it could easily chase its prey. And how it was equally difficult for the elephants to find bamboo or food of its interest in these regions. During the conversation, Prem mentioned that I blog and Rajjapa wanted me to create and maintain a website for him. I politely refused to his request by saying that I could publish his home stay details in my blog so that people are aware of it. He also suggested that if we had time next day, we could visit by jeep, another beautiful place called Kyathana Mekka. Which we did not get time to though due to our planned retuned trip.

While enquiring about the Forest department, I learnt the it was about few kilometres downhill on the Kalasa-Karkala road. They too have a stay area and they do arrange treks to different peaks around the place. He also informed that December would be the right time to visit and witness a beautiful display of greenery without leeches. However, I think a Monsoon trek is an experience on its own. Tired by the eventful day we retired to bed early. Apart from the occasional waking up due to the heavy rains that made the plastic which covered the window flutter madly, the sleep was fulfilling.

Next morning, I was up by 6:30 AM and decided to take a walk. There is a small waterfall near the house. Being all by myself at the waterfall capturing images, I hide a quite and peaceful moment with nature.

It was while returning that I met our guide Shivakumara’s dad who is the brother of Rajjapa who informed me that there were few men staying at his place too. We had a short conversation that discussed the crops he was growing before he took leave to attend to his affairs in the paddy fields. 

After tea and breakfast, we booked a jeep to Horanadu (Rs 1500). On our way, we stopped at a tea estate and then made another quick stop at Kalasa to buy some local tea powder and Asafoetida. Others bought some local Papads made of Sweet potato, Jack fruit and Palakh. At Horanadu, even though it was crowded, we had a quick darshan; thanks to the system that handles a crowd properly. We get to view the beautiful idol of goddess Anapurneshwari from very near. Delicious free lunch served at the temple of goddess who’s name signifies "The giver of food and nourishment" is not to be missed.

We had booked our return journey through a Karnataka Sarige bus from Horanadu. It leaves Horanadu at 1:45 PM and reaches Kalasa in 15-20 minutes. You could choose to board the bus there as well. Or you could even take the night bus. We had decided to return to Bangalore by night to catch some good sleep. 

From Kalasa to Bangalore, Prem and I had a non-stop, seven hour long debate and discussion on several topics. We shared several thoughts; some converging, some diverging but overall presenting a very healthy dialogue on current issues. A continuous discussion between us surprised everyone else as otherwise, Prem is mostly silent. Our talk made the long journey go by without tiredness or notice. We reached Bangalore at around 10:30 PM.  would not fail to mention that this team is extremely adventurous and very accommodating which is what made this trek so enjoyable.

Like every other travel that I have been on, I felt moved by this experience and like in every such experience, there has been a change in my personality. Kudrekukh would always remain one of my favourite treks for it is a trek in true nature, at least in Karnataka. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Filling the gap

I was planning to write about the trekking i had been on last weekend, when i realised that there would then be a significant gap of approximately one and half month between the events of my  posts. So, that made me think of what i had been put to during this period. It definitely was not hibernation. 

My French classes did not motivate me to continue, hence, I decided to call it an end. But not before preparing and writing my DELF B2 exam. I made plans to keep in touch with the language through books, movies, staying connected to friends from class and meeting travellers. Thanks to the website -, I have been able to meet quite a few French travellers. I also had a nice experience of hosting for the first time a Canadian couple. Ryan and Liane. Ryan spoke French as he came from Montreal. I also happened to meet Yogo, who has been hitchhiking around the world for few years now. His intention is to meet people and interact with them more than seeing places. I was impressed with myself for conversing in French for a full hour and a half.

I read - « To kill a mocking bird » that i enjoyed very much. It was filled with good humour and treated serious flaws in the society with a masterful wit through a perspective of an 8 year old. I also finished reading the entire « A Song Of Ice And Fire » series. I can’t wait longer for the next two books to be published.

I watched a few really good movies - « The Perks of being a Wallflower », « Le Grand voyage » and « Les quatre cents coups » 

A weekend in Surathkal was refreshing. I hoped to see the mansion showers but the weekend i spent there, it was dry. However, i spent all day watching a few good movies, reading books, taking a walk to the beach and tasting some of the local delicacies that my mother prepared. At the beach i came up with the thought.

"La destination n'est jamais atteinte. Après avoir frappé la roche ou le sable, les vagues se reculent."
"A destination is never reached. After having hit the rock or the sand, the waves recede."

Meanwhile, my garden bloomed with jasmines and lilies. Green chilly, Malabar space and pathrodey leaves flourished.

A wall painting is in its way. With my time off on weekends i started to paint one of the walls in living room. Tired of just running in Lalbagh, I decided to join gym that makes sure my entire body gets the exercise it needs. I enjoy my morning visits to the gym. The workout makes me feel lighter and happier. 

During one of the earlier visits to Surathkal, while my sister and her family was there, i got a chance to revisit my grandmothers house. Now turned a PG, it might not have the familiar faces and feel but it definitely has not lost its charm. Several good memories of childhood came rushing. I realised how these small day to day things can eventually turn into something memorable that in future, we shall cherish. Hence in my blog, not a single event shall be regarded as insignificant . :-)

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Kokkare bellur

Kokkare Bellur is situated in Maddur taluk of Mandya District in Karnataka. It is about 83kms from Bangalore. Around 10 Kms after Channapattna, you would find a left turn towards the village and all through the route you can spot sign boards guiding you to the destination.

On May18th, P and I drove to Kokkarebellur. The drive got interesting as we took the deviation towards the village. As soon as we got there we spotted some pelicans, painted storks and Herons. There seemed to be a descent crowd of visitors too. Small kids from the village would circle you requesting for pens and books. 

It is interesting to notice that the birds have nested around the village so close to human habitat. Every tree is filled with nests and at this time of the year, the young ones are learning to fly. So the air was filled with cries of the little ones trying to beat their feathers in air and learn how to fly. It was a beautiful sight. 

Villagers seem to be very friendly and cooperative with this habitat of migratory birds and seem less disturbed by its presence. They have also created a small area for the wounded birds to rest and here one could find themselves very close to the birds. In fact all the birds seem very friendly and allow one to approach very close to them hence making it possible for you to capture closeups.

After spending an hour or so walking around the village, we returned back. We stopped at Kamath yatri nivas for a good Karavali meal.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kabbala Durga - Night Trek

On the 30th of April, at around 9:30 PM, 17 of us left Office in 4 cars. We took the Kanakapura road and after some confusion finding a dabha for dinner that has been apparently closed for sometime now and taking several U-turns to find it, we finally settled in at a restaurant. By the time we had had dinner, it was 11:00 PM. We drove straight to Kabbala Durga. On Kanakapura road after Sathnur, is a right deviation towards Channapattna (Channapattna-Sathnur Road). On this road is the village of Kabbalu (Approximately 80kms from Bangalore). The Temple seems to be very popular to be missed. By the time we noisily parked our car and got down, we had woken up a few villagers who directed us to the base of the hill from where the trail began. They told, it was a road next to a "Mold Mane" i.e a concrete house. We very easily missed that tiny road that they were referring to and took a paved road around the hill. That was when we met another group of villagers driving by who directed us back to the trail but warned us of cheetahs and bears and requested us to trek in daylight. 

Once we were on the trail, we setoff with our usual chats, jokes and laughs. The climb was very steep but had a proper trail till the top. The view of the surrounding villages was beautiful as we gained height but it was depressing to see so much of electricity wasted in every small village for street lights. I wondered how exponentially large was our wastage in the cities. Lots of talk, jokes and laughs made the trek very enjoyable and less difficult; at least for most of us. Often through the climb, we counted numbers to verify everyones presence and every time we hit 17.

At the top is a small temple of Kabbalamma beside which we camped on a rock. I had carried a mat that came handy to sleep on. It was 3:00 AM when we reached the top and I almost immediately dozed off but not before watching a few shooting stars. At 4:30 AM almost everyone started to wake up. It was the cold that was getting unbearable. We searched for dry wood and made fire. While others went back to sleep, some of us collected more wood to keep the fire burning. We had carried some food that is always an essential during such treks that saved us from early morning hunger. 

Photo Credits - Vidya Suryanarayan

Due to the clouds, we did not get a sight of sunrise but the experience of spending a night atop a hill with no disturbance from the inventions of man, is by itself the most exciting part. In broad daylight, we decided to count ourselves again and found out that we were only 16. We never found out who was that 17th member with us during the night. Some say it is a ghost, some claim it to be Kabbalamma herself guiding us but, nothing remains confirmed. 

Photo Credits - Vidya Suryanarayan

On our way back we heard a bear roar by a faraway cave and several monkeys scream and flee. We also realised in daylight that we had actually climbed a wrong way in the dark making our climb more steep and difficult. That is what I love about night treks. We are bound to find a way to the destination even if there exists an easy trail, making us thus an explorer in no less way.

Kabbalamma temple seems to be a popular pilgrimage and during this time the temple was getting ready for it's yearly festival. The place is well equipped with rest areas, public dinning hall and even paid toilets. 

We drove back to Kanakapura where we had our breakfast. After which we returned home. It was an amazing experience like every other night trek I have been on. The best part of a night treks comes when I sleep all of next day with the memories of the night.