Friday, October 9, 2009

Lohagad fort

Oct 8, 2009

Brief stop to savor the Rajmachi falls at Khandala.
7 km on deserted rocky trail to Lohagad from Malavali.
Waterfalls many along the way competing with the green.
Virsapur fort on the the left and Lohagad on the right.
Some slippery steps dotting the last part on the hill.
Lunch at magnificent Vinchu Kata with monkey company.
Ophidiophobia preventing me from walking on the ledge.
Feeling truly on top inside the walls of the iron fort.
Easier return hike watching kids returning from school.
A refreshing shower at an accesible lovely waterfall.
Bhaja caves just uphill marked for a future visit.
Neat pictures recorded for sharing with the best.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Sep 27, 2009

Don't forget to see the pictures of this album; click Jp's Picasaweb.

Something has changed - I have become an impulsive traveler! This time it was green Orissa I had ignored in the past because it is just a bit too far from Hyderabad. Luckily, I had a long weekend to kill, my friend Smruti in Bhubaneshwar to arrange hotel and car, and a new 4GB SD card to click away. I took the sat evening flight instead of friday (to save to some $$$) :). 

Next morning I started my day in an old Indica at 5.30am! Another change in me - I am starting to dig the idea of going early to avoid the crowds (or even small numbers of people). First stop was at the Khandagiri and Udaigiri Jain caves 15 minutes away from the hotel. I did a leisurely walk around drawing little attention from the many "exercise/yoga" groups. Other than a little monkey, no one troubled me. I guess he was irked because I was climbing on rocks off-the-path (his domain) to check some angles for my shots.

Few minutes later, I arrived at the very old Lingaraj temple. In the able company of a Pundit, I checked the wood-burning kitchen (where they make free food for all 8 times everyday!); got tricked (kinda willingly) in front of the god to pledge 1/4 kilo of rice for the Pundit for a few months; admired the temple architecture (no camera allowed); whispered in the powerful Nandi's ear about my wish (sorry, can't tell you); and left with a small dry fruit prasad parcel.

Next stop was at the Raja Rani temple; 15 minutes, as many photos. And this temple started building up for the Konark fever. After a brief stop back at the Hotel (Royal Midtown), a quick tour of Dhauligiri (8km away from BB where Ashoka embraced Buddhism after witnessing the Kalinga war in the plains below), I reached Konark around 2.30pm. Checked in at the OTDC Yatri Nivas, ate a thali lunch and went to da temple. A guide latched on at the entrance (the guy turned out to be very good!).

What an impressive structure! All the pictures in the world cannot tell you how huge the temple is and how intricate the stone carvings are. My plan was to do the guided tour (I took about 2+ hours), do the evening under-the-lights walkabout and watch the sun-rays hitting the temple at sunrise.

I did all that, and along the way had to settle for some less than desired compromises. For example, the unpleasantness in dealing with the unfathomable rule that prohibits stands for still cameras!  And the mean weather that decided to blanket the sky with rain clouds at the instigation of a low-pressure bubble that arrived overnight. Minor irritants, but I came away filled with awe, wonder and photos at every angle I could think of. Please, I strongly urge you to visit this fantastic place - of course, you have to figure out how to deal with the erotica on the higher reaches of the walls that celebrates what we embarrassingly abdicate to the sneer and jeer today.

After my 5am beach visit (which was less than spectacular) I was overjoyed with my 6am peaceful visit to the Sun temple, that boasts 24 10-ft dia wheels. I was the first person to enter and the only tourist inside for about 20 minutes. If only there were a bit more sunlight...

We drove toward Puri in moderately heavy rain only stopping at a few places in the Balighai area to admire the scenery that you just cannot ignore. Very beautiful deer sanctuary. And soon I was at Puri - this time a bit  more savvy (and wet). The Puri temple was quite interesting - many, many architectural and actual statue similarities with the Konark temple; a different looking (me being a south-Indian) impressive set of deities; quite clean and less crowded than I anticipated. A Rs.5 ticket enabled me to avoid the pray-to-the-closed-door situation. Blessed by the many stick-wielding (yes!) priests, I made my way to the Grand hotel to grab a quick lunch.

Rain was still pouring; and my driver wanted to get back to BB because it was Puja day. And my heart was craving Chilika Lake. I almost gave up, until I realized the driver was making up stuff (like there is nothing, road is closed due to litigation etc); then I had to make the trip. The drive was pretty boring (for me) - I was reminded of the long monotonous drive in south florida that takes you to Key West. Now I know; I am not an open-water guy. I need landscape! The 50km drive to Chilika in pouring rain on a mediocre road came to a halt at the end of the road; but the two pictures of a blue boat I took erased my depression that was competing with the one dishing out rain in sheets. Without doing the customary boating trip and dolphin sighting, I headed back to BB.

As an aside, I still am waiting to get the refund from on a botched debit card transfer through my ICICI bank. Nonetheless, I am a very happy and satisfied customer, especially for an unplanned buy I executed. And proud that India has such a wonderful monument (and taking decent care of it). And thankful of the stars that paved the way for this trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kuntala Falls

Sep 20, 2009

Click here to see the pictures from this trip. 

Took off sunday around noon with Mark to Kuntala falls after salivating at the pictures at this site. NH7 was awesome, and we were mostly over 100 kmph except for a 60km stretch. After a brief stop at Sriram Sagar project, we had lunch at the Udipi restaurant in Nirmal a little before 4pm!! Good timing for a 220 km drive in India! We booked a deluxe AC room at the Hotel Krishna Residency next door after inspecting the digs and finding it to be pretty decent.

Soon we drove toward Pochara falls; missed the left turn towards Boath after NeerediKonda because it was hidden in road construction. No road signs anywhere; not surprising though. After some asking around, we reached the place. There was more concrete (to promote the place) than water in the falls. Apparently, it is a seasonal stream; and few weeks back it was gorgeous. My timing script for visiting falls needs some tweaking :)

With a slight disappointment (me more so), we drove toward Kuntala falls. You have to take the road opposite Neelima dhabha right after Neeredikonda (if you come up from Nirmal). Again no signs, so one has to be alert. The one-lane road curves through green fields and small settlements for 8km. You find more cattle than people on the road that leads straight up to the falls. Since dusk was settling in fast, and technically the park closes at 5pm, we made our way down quickly. And were left speechless at what we saw. Fantastic valley and very, very beautiful falls! A small handful of people were hanging around, a few sitting in the water. I was gung-ho for an encore next morning before sunrise.

We made it to the falls at 7am (grrr) and started with the upper section. I cannot describe the feeling of awe staring at the open and hearing the music of water flowing. I hope you can go there someday soon and experience it! In the rainy days, it will be even more breathtaking. We hiked down the rest of the way, meeting two locals coming up with a 18-in long fish they had caught in the deep pools at the foot of one of the falls. Those two and then another two tourist types. Other than that we were the only humans for the entire next 2+ hours we spent in the water and clicking pictures absorbing the peaceful setting. I felt like I was in a backcountry hike in  the Yosemite National Park. I wish I had known about this place last year!

After a late breakfast and checkout, Marc drove us to Basar about 70 km away. Nice little Saraswati temple.  Luckily we made it in and out of the busy temple within 20 minutes. The short stop at the nearby Godavari was just that. Then it was time to escape the blazing sun and head back home via Nizamabad. And we reached by 7pm. Not bad at all for a no-plan trip on a long weekend. By the way, you can read more about other activities around Nirmal at this nice city website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Srisailam II

Sep 11, 2009

When I found a reference to the Uma Maheswaram temple in this thread, I had made a note to check it out because it fits nicely into a day trip. The temple is at the foothills near Mannanur, 80km before Srisailam. Friday morning, as I was mulling over the possibility of visiting that temple, I noticed TOI said gates 6 and 7 were open. It was enough for me to get into the car and go all the way to Srisailam about 210km away. The lure of the Krishna gushing out was too much to pass. 

We left around 10am from home, not quite the usual early departure I prefer. Nevertheless, using the shortcut through Shamshabad we arrived at the Mannanur check post a little after 1pm. No tigers or fancy wild animals on the road. Just the unsmiling groups of monkeys and a series of poorly marked speed bumps in the long stretch through the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve.  

Just before 2pm we were staring at the Krishna river valley from a vantage point, and I tried to hide my disppointment as I saw the silent dam. Apparently the gates were open only for a few hours because the inflow had dipped, but the paper failed to report it. Darn. The view, of course, was spectacular as usual despite the uncomfortable heat index. 

We went toward the river. The path to the banks just before the bridge I took just a year back had been washed away and broken concrete slabs greeted us. Chatting away with a local photographer kid, we cooled our feet in the river. Very picturesque spot (see my album :)). The water was not very clear though, probably due to the rains upstream. 

The day was slipping away; so we drove toward the Srisailam temple, 15km away. We parked and walked in the scorching afternoon heat  and arrived at the gates at just past 3.30pm, only to find out the temple had just closed. We did not have the luxury of waiting :(.

Our stop at the Paldhara and Panchdhara falls was less than interesting. I was imagining flowing water hugging the heights of the steep hillside. The saving grace - surroundings were quiet and green and worthy of any rishi to meditate.  

Next we scaled the few Shikharam steps; the pathway was well controlled with a user-fee collected somewhat forcefully from us in the guise of aarthi-ticket. On top, the 270 degree view of the valley is amazing. You can look between the ears of the little Nandi serving as a fixed telescope to spot the dome of the Srisailam temple. Cool stuff. The gaudy wire prop 60+ feet high obscuring the view is not so cool, especially if you want to capture the scenery in a camera. Add to that the sign that says no cameras are allowed. Sigh.  

We headed back right after that to beat the fading light, this time artfully spotting the speed bumps in the forest. The drive to Hyderabad was not too bad considering the average road. A small handful dipped their headlights proving that there is a considerate bunch on the streets.  

All in all a short, yet memorable trip. Srisailam III is still on the cards - I have to cover Bheemuni Kolanu, Mallelatheertham falls and the 3+ hr boat ride upriver to some caves. Want to join?


Sep 6, 2009

Click here to see the photos from the trip.

The pleasant memories from the Narsapur trip had me thinking about planning another one in the same direction; of course, the road further leads to the quaint litte town of Medak, home of a famous church. I arrived there in the afternoon after a beautiful drive along Medak road from Balanagar junction and a couple of unforced stops to breathe the fresh air and take in the scenery. The weather and company were perfect as well.

The church grounds were clean and well-maintained, and surprisingly, for a Sunday the place was not crowded.  My friend's theory on clean churches is centered around the lack of abhishekam. I don't buy it though :). There was no way for me to capture the pictures of the nice interiors with stained glass windows depicting events from the Bible. The infamous no-camera rule was posted prominently yet again, grrr. We spent about half hour leisurely doing the pradakshinam (strangely, some were doing that), clicked a few shots and headed toward the market area. 

Off the market, travel across narrow lanes brought us to the foot of the small hill housing the Medak fort (or remains of it). There is a prominent signboard announcing the inauguration of some govt preservation project by the late CM YSR. Other than that, there is no sign of any care of this historic place, held by many generations of rulers. Don't be fooled when you hear someone tell you the car can go half-way up the hill. And yeah, watch out for the human waste lined at regular intervals till you cross the second switchback. Focus on the presence of monkeys and the lush green hillside to keep your inner calm intact. Aaauuummm!

The hill is not big by any standards, but steep nonetheless. A good workout in the humid air, if nothing else. There is not much to see from the fort perspective; there is a mosque at the top like in many of the South Indian forts I have visited. Very little is left today of the fort (or may be there was little to start with?). But the view of the town is spectacular; the distant church reminds one of a castle in an European setting. So, even if you don't care about the fort, I recommend you go to the top, feel the strong breeze and enjoy the view.

We decided to come back on the highway and on locals' advice took the shortcut to Chegunta; which was probably shorter, but the road is good only on a few stretches. We might have been better IMHO to have gone to Ramayampet and taking NH7 south from there. After a fantastic drive on the modern highway, and hunger ignited by the sight of all the family dhabas lining the road around Kompally, we arrived back home satisfied and stoked at the same time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


August 08, 2009

Click to see the pictures from this trip.

On the way to Bangalore from Salem, I stopped at Krishnagiri, just before Hosur, a hill fort town seeped in history. Don't confuse this with Krishnagiri in the Gingee fort complex about 2-3 hours away. Three years back I had climbed the hill half-way through when visiting from the US. This time I was determined to get to the top.

An hour's climb on a not so great trail with a few stops to help my huffing and puffing rest and take in couple of sips from the precious half-liter water bottle we were carrying brought us to some structures barely standing. But the view of the hills around is absolutely fantastic. I wish the day were a bit more clear because the mountains were so hazy to the naked eye, and worse so in the camera. We spent some time walking along the fort wall, checking out the dargah and looking down the steep rock edges all around. Not much to see or do here; not much shade either, but the breeze is good. The climb and the view is worth the effort. I wonder how all those soldiers lived up here, worse, how the enemy had to navigate the slippery steep rocks. We headed back down relatively easily, me suffering a bit more with my ailing knee.

Sometime in the future, I should check out Rayakottah fort and Mallachandram (megalithic site). Check this website as well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ajanta and Ellora

July 31, 2009

Click on Ellora and Ajanta to see the pictures from this trip.

The best trips happen with either little or extensive planning. This time around, with a visiting friend at home, I got a sudden urge to convert the idea of eventually visiting the world famous Ajanta and Ellora caves into reality. Within a few hours, I had my regular taxi, a few printouts from the web and two friends ready to head out for a roadtrip.

A work-related conference call forced us to leave home around 9.30 in the night, delaying our start by almost two hours. We screamed through NH9 hoping to reach Sholapur area at a decent time to steal a shut-eye on a bed. Google had plotted some stars on the map near Osmanabad; and we were planning to take the shortcut about 45km before Sholapur. The one hotel that looked decent gave us the creeps; it was like walking through a bhooth-bungalow. We had a decision to make at 2am; sleep in some random place or continue. A loaded choice, of course. And, we continued on with one of my friends taking the wheels giving the driver some much needed rest.

We arrived at Aurangabad a little before 8am and checked in at Hotel Athithi; the back side rooms by the pool were pretty decent for the price. As an aside, Lemon Tree Hotel, down on the same road seems like a much better place probably at a higher price. By the way, wikitravels has excellent information. Anyway, after a quick shower and a mini-breakfast at one of those sheltered pune-style road-side eateries at Nirala Bazaar, and a brief stop to admire the Daulatabad fort, around 11am we reached the nearby Ellora which hosts 34 caves carved between 350 A.D and 700 A.D.

Armed with an English-speaking guide, which I think is a must, we spent the first part of the morning at Kailash, Cave 16. Unbelievable architectural feat. The carved miniature Ramayana, Mahabharata and the little Ravana lifting Kailash in my opinion are the best. We checked out the two-storey temple from the sides, the insides and also did the complete hike on the hill around the temple. Gorgeous views of this gigantic structure from every angle. And silent mutilated sculptures everywhere to make you pause and reflect on the human race.

The MSTC Canteen was pretty decent. We relished the piping hot food and headed over to the other caves. Every one of them has interesting stories, documenting the mythology of three religions in elegant ways. We managed to see most of the caves that housed the sculptures with the help of our knowledgeable guide.

At the end of the day we made a visit to the nearby Ghrishneshwar temple (a Jyotirlinga), one stop outside the Daulatabad fort to catch another glimpse of the impressive fort, a leisurely walk through Bibi Ka Maqbara (Taj Mahal look-alike), grabbed dineer at nice veg place on Jalna road and settled for the night.

Next morning we headed to Ajanta about 100km away. Very beautiful unspoiled country along the way. The road is not bad either. An hour later we boarded the bus for a short drive to the Ajanta caves. Forgotten for the last thousand years, the caves hold 2200 year old paintings destroyed equally by nature and man. The tourism department is doing a commendable job of restoring and preserving this place, although some of their rules seem bizarre - like not allowing tripods! How is one supposed to get long exposures in semi-darkness? I heard someone say that soon (couple of years?) the tourism department will restrict access to the Ajanta caves and redirect traffic to a replica site they are building. If you want to see the real deal, plan soon.

Honestly, I could not enjoy Ajanta as much as Ellora. The paintings are exquisite, the place is serene, the temple structures are fantastic - but I was overwhelmed by the destruction by man. Also, the guide was annoying; pure businessman trying to finish the tour in less than an hour at his pace. May be that contributed to my frustration as well. After learning how to steady my body to take 0.5 to 1.5 second exposures at funky angles (some of which were ok), I spent most of my time in cave number 1 housing the Jataka tales.

At 2pm, we were ready to head home because we could not figure out a way to explore Daulatabad fort in the remaining daylight hours. We thought we will take a short cut by skipping the NH; bad idea. Eventually after losing an hour we got back onto NH 212 just before Beed. Our driver was possessed suddenly; he wanted us to visit the powerful Tulja Bhavani, the goddess who blessed Shivaji with his sword. At 9.35pm we arrived at the temple, and ran downhill to the temple and got to see the last pooja just as the temple was closing.

We reached home around 1am after a few tea breaks and braving the Indian night road with the help of an experienced driver. I am glad I was able to see these exotic places, which were off my priority list. Probably would not have happened but for the inspiration from someone who recently visited these. And some good luck on the timing. Hope you get to see them as well.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ananthagiri Trip

July 19, 2009

Click here to see the pictures from this trip.

As usual, googling for Ananthagiri pointed to a place near Vizag. The one closer to Hyderabad (near Vikarabad) that I was interested in, just about 80km from my house got very little mention. The few sites that talked about it basically said there is not much there. But, I had heard about this place from someone who took a photography class - they had a photo walkthrough at this site. It was enough for me to plan a trip and a hike.

Three of us left around 11am from home. A little after noon, we arrived at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple at Ananthagiri. We were not sure if we had reached the final destination, given there was nothing - no sign other than one proclaiming medicinal forest area.

After a little enquiry at the local shop, we heard about an easy pathway that descended from the temple toward two tanks. Since we had come all the way, we took a chance and started walking down. Soon, to our pleasant surprise we were on a wide trail through lush green semi-thick forest. A lovely 25 min walk lead us back to the main road we came in. There are a few big trees along the way which one can convert into a picnic spot.

We got back into the car and drove further about a km or so and took the turn off on to the mud path just before the road starts to descend to be treated by the view of an absolutely beautiful wide valley. Rain god decided to have a loud word with us, and we abandoned the idea of a walking through the trail that started there and headed back home. Of course, the hike is now pending in my book.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Narsapur Trip

July 12, 2009

I saw a note about Narsapur (not the one near Vijayawada, but closer to Medak, the place of the famous church) in the Hyderabad oracle travel distribution list. Despite the note in the mail saying little, I could not wait to check out the place especially since it was just about 40km from my house.

(To see larger pictures, click here go to the album directly.)

After going through the sea of apartment construction north of Kukatpalle, I arrived on the road to Medak at the Gandi Maisamma X roads along with my golf instructor. Both sides of the road are flanked by nice trees and it is a pretty drive - not too much traffic and a decent country road. About 15 km on the road past Annaram (Dundigul air force base) the vegetation changes a bit and green is everywhere.

We spotted the lake on the left side of the road; first we took a mud road to an ashram, walked a bit to the lake. Nice winds; clean air; clean water; ultra peaceful! We spotted a road flanking the lake and assuming it will lead us to the little hill we headed back to the main road and took a left at the Dangoria hospital road. Unfortunately the road ends abruptly at the damming wall by the lake. What we should have done is take the left at the main road about a km earlier onto a well-paved road with a sign listing 4 or 5 towns. Another day; especially since I know this is a picturesque spot, although with not much shade around. If I can take off earlier on a cool day, I can fit in a nice hike on that hill, a dip into the lake and a picnic lunch on its shore. May be you can join me too :).

I decided to take the Medak Road to Balanagar on the way back. Had Andhra meals for a late lunch at Anupama Pure Veg restaurant on SR Nagar road just past the left turn to Ameerpet road. Delicious food. Bookmark for the future.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Talakadu Trip

June 06, 2009

At 7am, we left for Shivanasamudra falls. A set of falls in the cauvery river, which is quite a sight apparently, when the season is right. We were a tad bit early (the rains have just started), but there was just enough water to let our spirits swim, if not soar. This link has some awesome pictures of the falls in full force.

The Gagana Chukki, with the treacherous rocks, looks beautiful! Because there was not much water, the left branch of the twin falls is barely visible in the pictures. Not much to do here though other than enjoy the view. When you drive around the falls and come through the Durgah area, you can see the water leading toward the falls. With the right shoes (or barefoot), one could theoretically hop the rocks to access the water upstream before it drops vertically quite a bit! A few kilometers away is the Bhara Chukki area which sports a whole series of falls on the ridge line. We took a coracle ride to the base of one that flowing well and dreched ourselves in the mist. Cool!

As we approached Talakadu, we were quite hungry and needed a clean place as well. The bad roads don't help much in this matter :). Unfortunately, the one resort (Jaladhama) across the river does not allow walk-ins (very strange); and neither my pleading nor my forceful tactics to talk them into it letting us in went anywhere. They have no idea of customer service (esp. for one who is willing to shell out the bucks). Anyway, we reached the temple(s) area. Read about the interesting history of the Talakadu area here first.

The temples are all 10-12 centuries old and the carvings are on hard granite! Unbelievable. The guide was quite useful and took us around in the pouring rain. There is a whole city buried in there; every year, the archaelogists unearth more and put the structures back together. Kinda like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. After enjoying the temples, we headed toward the beach area by the river.

The river is wide and expansive here and flows very smoothly. And it was time to get wet :). I managed a few laps till the middle of the river with chest-high water. No undergrowth. No rocks. Ultra clean.

Apparently, during the festival times, about 15-20 lakh people descend on this little town. I suggest you stay away from the water, if not from the town, during that time.

The plan was to see the famous Somanathapura temple boasting of the Hoysala architecture as well. But they shut that place down at 5.30pm in the evening. The 20 km bad road ride in front of us while we stared at 5 o' clock made it clear that it had to be deferred. What a shame! So, we had to just head back to Bangalore. Of course, after a pit stop at the now familiar Cafe Coffee Day at Maddur. As usual, the Bangalore traffic slowed down the return by quite a bit.

Another trip is definitely in the books to see the falls in full display, cover the Somanathapura temple and may be see a few more unearthed temples in Talakad. Just don't know when. May be you can join me too.