Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Yearly Trip to Tirunelveli

A Trip to Tirunelveli

Click here for photos

It was the usual, yearly, family trip to Tirunelveli. Only this time it was that decided it would be more of sight-seeing and less of temple visits. Even though we visit Tirunelveli every year, we had not done much of sight-seeing around this southern town. That changed this year.

The first place we visited was the Padmanabhapuram Palace near Nagercoil in Kanyakumari district. Typical Kerala architecture within TN. It certainly did not have the bells and whistles of a palace that comes to our mind. But it was rich in heritage, architecture and of course the size.

It took a solid 1.5 hours to go through the various sections of the palace. It was already 2:30pm and all of us were famished from walking and walking through the Palace. We had to skip the museum which houses some of the weapons and articles used by the kings. This would have taken another 1 hour.

It has to be noted that the Palace is closed for visitors on Mondays and on other days it is open from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM and then reopens around 3:00 PM. Keep the time in mind if you are planning a visit.

We had a quick lunch in a small eat out near the Palace and then decided to head to Tiruparappu falls which is about 30 km from the Palace. Since we had to go through town and village roads it took us about 1 hour to reach the place. It was around 4:00 PM.

I have heard about the place from my father but have not seen it before. I was already imagining a small falls with lot of people taking bath in it. Since we had good rains this year adding to the fact that it was raining in Tirunelveli till the previous day, the water flow should be good.

But what I saw just took my breath away! It was a small fall and not that popular as some of the other falls near Tirunelveli (Kuttralam, Manimuthaaru etc.). The water was flowing in such a great force that bathing or even going near the falls had been prohibited. This is unheard of in that usually calm falls. There were people posted everywhere to ensure that people do not cross the makeshift barricades.
We spent some time in falls, just taking in the beauty of the falls. Since it was only about 4:30 PM in the evening we had abundance of light. Mix that with the abundance and trees, you will have to be there to enjoy the beauty of nature!

The next agenda was to return to our hotel, but on the way we decided to take a detour to the Perunjani Dam. Permission was restricted to enter and strictly no photography on the dam site. Knowing that we have come from Chennai, the guard just allowed us to take a quick look but informed very clearly not to take any photographs. When I walked up to the dam and reached the top, what I saw there was just stunning. I was quite tempted to click a photograph, but there was a guard always there watching us and hence could not click anything. This was by far one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen!

The capacity of the dam was 77ft and the water was 75ft, lapping slowly on the walls. The other 3 sides was surrounded by the mighty and beautiful western ghats. Most of the part was in shadows, since it was already around 5:30 PM. The sun’s light was hitting the hills on the far side of the hills, exactly opposite where I was standing and the colours reminded me of the fall colours I have seen in US. Another beauty that cannot be described in words.
The second day we decided to get into Kerala through Tenkasi, as this is a very beautiful route. We headed straight to Thenmala through Tenkasi and Shenkotta. I was quite aware of the beauty of Tenkasi, as we have been through those places quite a lot during my childhood days. Even though we had decided to take that route, we did not have any particular agenda or place in mind to visit. So we thought we will just explore the place. We headed straight to Thenmala dam and took tickets for all of us to get into the dam site. Yes, even for entering the dam site, you need to take tickets. Once again, photography is strictly prohibited here as well. I guess as a rule it is prohibited in almost all the dams in TN and Kerala. It was almost noon when we reached the place and it was quite hot.

The walk up to the dam was not so difficult, but it was a good walk. Typical of Kerala, everything was a tourism opportunity for them. Even the dam site had been one. Another breathtaking view from the dam with the western ghats surrounding the dam. But certainly not as spectacular as the view I saw the previous day.
But what Kerala tourism has done is convert this site to a good walk way. You can walk through the dam and cross it over to the other side and continue the walk along the meadows and come back out of another gate, which is about 100 mts from the place you entered. This is a very good walk irrespective of the time of the day. Once you cross the dam and get into the meadow you will forget all the heat outside.
When we enquired with a guard whether photography is allowed in the meadows away from the dam itself, he mentioned that it is not allowed, but Kerala tourism provides a day-long eco-tourism package. This will take us through Deer Park, Butterfly Park, a hanging bridge and a few other adventure activities. I am not quite sure what those activities are, but I understand photography is allowed in those packages. The rates are also quite nominal. The activities start at 9:00 AM and ends by 7:30PM. Unfortunately we did not know about this before so were not able to make use of it. Another place added to the ever-growing must visit places!
It was already past 2:00 PM and all were famished after the long walk. So we decided to have lunch. Now there are not much options here. You need to make do with the small eat-outs that serve some rotis or Kerala type meal. So if you are sensitive about food, it is better to pack something. We had a light lunch in one such eat-out and then proceeded to Palaruvi falls near Aariyakaavu. The walk up to the river was only about 150 mts from the parking space. Though we were able to hear the falls from quite some distance, we had to walk up to it to see the full height of the falls. I am not sure if the falls was in its full flow, but at least we were able to see quite some people taking bath at the bottom of the falls. Since we did not have any specific agenda and saw about the falls only when we were driving past, we did not have clothes to take bath. So decided to just spend some time there.
This falls reminded me of the falls in Kolli hills. It was a sheer drop of about 100ft and standing under such a fall should have given rejuvenating. The stream that had formed by the falls was flowing through the rocks and if one is not so interested in standing under the big falls , then the stream can provide a good alternative for relaxed bathing. The water neither had too much current and nor was too deep. There were rocks at quite some places, which can help in a relaxed bath in a pool.

After spending time to our heart's content here, we decided to head back to our hotel and call it a day. It was a good 2 hour drive to reach the hotel and all we had in mind was dinner and sleep!

The next day we spent time visiting one of my dad's childhood friends, whom he was thinking of visiting for a very long time. The rest of the trip was spent in visiting temples. Of course, our ancestral temple at Rengasamudram was on the top of the list. You can read about this in my blog about this temple.

Overall this time it was a good mix of temple and sightseeing, which I was thinking of making for a very long time. There are still lot of unexplored place around this beautiful southern city. I hope to make those trips as well, in the coming days!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Photography Trek to Coonoor – Ooty

The team on the way to Mulligoor forest
Photography Trek to Coonoor – Ooty
Click here for photos of Ooty

It has been over a year since I went on a trip with CTC. Not that I am regular, but passed some of the interesting trips / treks due to work. But I decided I will not miss this one.

The long weekend on May 1st ensured that there is no rush and I had a feeling that I am definitely going to spend some good time in the queen of hills. Not to mention the fact that this is an opportunity to escape (at least for 3 days) from the sweltering.

We were supposed to assemble at Chrompet Saravana Stores at 9:00pm on April 30th. The organizer, Dinesh, had clearly mentioned the participants to have dinner and be at the point so there are no delays. Wondering what gave him the idea about our obedience! Some of us who arrived a bit before / on-time decided to have a quick grab of sandwich in a nearby shop while waiting for others. Well that quick grab extended till Dinesh called out for everyone to board the van that has been booked.
Start the day with a Sunrise

Our first stop was early in the morning of 1st May before Salem. We refreshed ourselves and had coffee at a coffee shop while the sun was slowing waking up! The next stop was at Mettupalayam for breakfast. After finding some space for brushing we had a good breakfast. Some of us even ensured that we waited and get some fresh idlis and chutney ;)

This was the last stop on the plains and we proceeded on Coonoor. Our next stop was at the scenic Chamraj Tea Factory. The tea was worth the stop and took a few photographs as well. Going further we stopped at a small waterfall before Manjoor. As it is an unwritten custom in CTC, the moment we see any waterfall we just plunge into it. With the exception of a very few, including me, everyone else did take the plunge. This is the only time some of us actually bother to bath! It was midday and the cool water was definitely a welcome break from the long travel.

The stream near Manjoor
After spending about an hour of playing in the water and once everyone started feeling hungry we got into the van and headed to the Manjoor town. To our relief we managed to find an eat-out that was still serving lunch, even though it was well past 1:00pm. Who bothers how the food was when the stomach was growling with hunger. We just wolfed down whatever was available and proceeded to Bikketti village which was our final stop.

Our accommodation for the night was a shack in a garden being managed by Siva, a local resident and an acquaintance of Dinesh. We took only the necessary bags from the van. We explored the place for an hour or so and returned back to base. The real thriller was in the night. Don’t expect any supernatural events. But it was a bit close to that. Some of them started preparing for BBQ. Dinesh had brought a grille just for this! The girls and guys who were in the kitchen at Siva’s home missed the fun. Though the BBQ was a failure, the fun part never was! After trying our best, we had to give the chicken (or what was left of it) to be properly cooked. Thankfully our expert chefs had also prepared some dosa for dinner which served the purpose for most of us. While most of the team slept in the shack in the sleeping bags,  me and a few others decided to spend the night in the van itself. Turned out to be bad idea considering it was quite cold and I did not have anything thick to protect against the chill weather!

Colourful wild mushroom
On the morning of 2nd May we had planned to explore the Mulligoor forest after having breakfast. Siva had information that there is a herd of elephants somewhere in the forest and it would be a good opportunity to spot some. After driving some distance in the van we got on foot and explored into the forest. Not before spending some time taking group photos and landscapes. After venturing into the forest for some distance, Siva got information that there is only a single elephant near the river that we were about to visit and it is not advisable to go anywhere near. So instead of taking photos of the wild creature, we took photos of ourselves in the wild and returned back in the afternoon. We also spotted some wild colorful, but dangerous mushrooms. Beauties I had seen only in the movies till then.

We returned back to Bikketti and after relaxing for a while, we headed to a small water fall in a picturesque location near the village. The trek involved walking in paved road, unpaved road, gravel and a steep climb downhill. But it was definitely worth the trek. The falls was hidden well in the jungle and immediately everyone were into the water, with one a few keeping guard of our belongings.

There was a minor incident where Karthik slipped down and injured his forehead, but thankfully it turned out to be not-so-serious. He was given some first aid and a cloth wound around. Later in the evening after returning we moved over to Ooty. It had just rained in Ooty to the weather was very pleasant and not so cold.

Dinesh had managed to get three rooms in a lodge, after quite some fight, since the guy who booked the lodge had some goof up. We dumped our bags in the rooms and went on our own to explore the town for about an hour. Around 9:00PM we returned back to a restaurant to have our dinner and went back to the hotel. One of the rooms had by then become a war room with Dr. Sindhu (really???) was giving some more treatment to Karthik’s wound. None of us know how the night went as everyone were really tired and slept as soon as we hit the bed (or sleeping bags).

On the 3rd May morning some the guys and girls woke up quite early to get a good idea of Ooty weather and had started walking around. I woke up around 6:45AM and along with a few others went to Botanical garden for another round of photography session. While most of the team stuck together having fun, I decided to slip out on my own in search of some of the endemic birds that I had spotted in my previous visit. Though I was successful in spotting those, I was not able to photograph mostly because of lack of light and the mediocre lens I am having. Nevertheless, it was a good outing.

By 9:00AM we returned back and had our breakfast and packed our bags and check-out from the rooms. We moved out into the town and had more than an hour to spend. Some of the team went for shopping, some of them for boating in the lake and I decided to visit the Tree Park on the other side of the lake. This was another place I had visited in my last visit and had fallen in love immediately. But this time was a slight disappointment. The place had become more popular and there were lots of people in the park shouting and yelling, spoiling the serene surrounding of park. So not bird spotting here this time! Last time I had the entire park for myself for about an hour! Not so this time. But the place was as cleanly maintained as I had seen it. So not a big disappointment, after all!

We all returned back to the van around 1:00pm and started our journey back. We stopped in Kothagiri to take away some food from a restaurant. Stopped on the way and finished off the lunch and proceeded. Just one more stop near Mettupalayam and we proceeded on the journey. We reached Salem around 8:00PM and had a good dinner and then visited Praveen’s house which was about 10 minutes away from the restaurant. Since it was his birthday the following day, Dinesh had planned to have a cake cutting at his house. After a quick celebration and attempt at pulling Praveen’s leg in front his parents we headed back to the hottest city – Chennai, with loads of fun, happy memories and new friends!

A beautiful sunset can be a perfect end for the day!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Birds in Aurangabad

Red-vented Bulbul
Birds in Aurangabad
During my visit to Aurangabad late last year, I managed to take some time out to roam around the place to try my luck on spotting some birds.
Though it was a family trip and most of the time was spent in travelling to popular sight seeing and tourist places, I sneaked around to near by parks to check on the habitat. Though the park was relatively small, there was no dearth in birds.
Since I was able to go out for bird watching most in evenings only, I was not able to photograph all the birds due to bad light. But whenever I ventured out in the early morning, I managed to capture a few of them through my lens.
Here is the list of birds that I spotted in and around Aurangabad, in whatever limited time I had.
Marshall's Iora
Short Toed Snake Eagle
Large Grey Babbler
Black Kite
Purple Sunbird
Purple rumped Sunbird
Indian Robin
Booted Warbler
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Green Bee Eater
Blue-tailed Bee Eater
Large Grey Babbler
Jungle Babbler
White-throated Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
Common Sparrow
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Spotted Dove
Collared Dove
Common Myna
Barn Swallow
Black Drango
Marshal Iora
Oriental White-Eye
Ashy Prinia
Commom Tailorbird
Asian Koel
White-browed Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Rose ringed Parakeet
Indian Pond Heron
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-Whiskered Bulbul
Even in the short span of time I had, I was surprised to have spotted so many birds. I am sure with dedicated time, much more of these beauties can be spotted.
Purple rumped Sunbird - Female