Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Short trip to Mamallapuram

A short trip to Mamallapuram

Our friends decided to visit Mamallapuram one day, since it has been more than 5 years that we went out together anywhere, though we meet occasionally during weekends. Since we decided to go anyway, we decided to catch a glimpse of the sunrise in Mamallapuram. This means we will have to start as early as 4:30am in the morning – I know, many of you reading it as mid night.

So we started off on Sunday morning at 4:45 – yes only 15 minutes later than what we planned – from Annanagar so we could reach Mamallapuram by about 6:00am. Now that should be apt for catching the sunrise.

With a short break of about 10 minutes after crossing the toll plaza, for having some coffee, we were able to reach Mamallapuram by around 6:00am – AS PLANNED!!!

But little did we realize that the short rainfall the previous night would have created so much dark clouds, that the sunrise was completely covered. Though it had become bright, there was no sight of the sun waking up. I am sure this is some sort of tit-for-tat. Usually it is we who never watch the sun rise, now that we want to watch, it denied us, by being under the blankets . Nevertheless Saravanan decided to take some video of the early morning scene of the Bay of Bengal.

Around 6:30, we decided to go through to the shore temple. The entry is allowed from 6:30am onwards. We got the tickets and went to the temple to take some snaps of the temple. Though we were disappointed that we were unable to catch the sunrise, we were able to get some decent photos of the temple with the sun moved slightly upwards. The view was fantastic with sun still rising. After spending about a hour and half, we went to the lighthouse and explored the places there for over a hour.

That made the morning for us. With partial success we headed back to Chennai after having a king’s breakfast at the Motel Mamalla at around 10:30am – why wouldn’t we? We were famished by then. Well let us plan for a return when we know for sure that there won’t be any clouds. That’s not a problem at all, since it is going to only a couple of months – MAYBE!! 

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Monsoon Trek - Tada

Monsoon Trek to Tada

What would you call it when a beautiful serene stream changes into a mighty, forceful forest river all of a sudden?
How would you feel getting drenched in rain for over 14 hours non-stop in a jungle on top of a hill?

Well, these cannot be just imagined; these have to be experienced!!

If I have to comment on the experience in short, I would quote Andy - "WE SURVIVED!!"

25 guys did have such an experience in the Tada hills on the 14th and 15th of November. The original plan of taking own transport did not workout as we did not have the number of vehicles to transport everyone. So the organizers had switched to plan B, which they usually have. It was to get a sub-urban train from Central to Tada and take share autos from there to the checkpost.

My boss Andy Packham had come from UK on a business visit and wanted to do a trek during the weekend at any cost. Little could he have known what the cost was going to be!

I arranged a taxi for him and joined him on the onwards travel on the morning of 14th November. Since the CTC team had planned to take the 7:30am train from Central and reach the checkpost by 9:30am and start the trek, we decided to go there early and explore the place for a while, or atleast be ready to welcome them. Andy too had plans of jogging / running along the trail while waiting for others.

Rajesh and Prem too were coming on their own in a two wheeler as they had plans of returning back the same day. Andy and myself started quite early (about 5:30am from OMR) and by the time we reached the Tada checkpost in the NH it was about 7:30am that is when the others would have boarded the train.

 Rajesh and Prem followed us about 20 minutes behind. Once we reached Varadapalayam, all four of us regrouped. Rajesh had bought the breakfast for us. We proceeded on to the checkpost on the base of the trail and found a suitable place to get rid of the vehicles and had our breakfast. Rajesh and Prem got past the check post, in the entry point, in their two-wheeler; while I and Andy jogged for a while and reached a point. We had our breakfast here. As if waiting for us to complete the breakfast, the rain started immediately after.
We found shelter in a hut and waited for about 30 minutes for the rain to stop. We then proceeded along the trail to the main falls. We walked for over 30 minutes exploring all the places and the stream that runs along the trail. Before we reached the first stream, Rajesh got a call from Bala and we were informed that we will be going to take a different trail and not this one. Since it was mentioned as a Photography trek as well, we thought it would be this trail and we were proceeding on this one. So we had to trace back and walked about half the distance to where the rest of the team were waiting. Since we had to catch up with the rest, we did not stop anywhere this time and made sure we walked in good pace to reach them without any delays.
It was a short regrouping. We started from there on the trail led by Bala and swept from behind by the mighty Sujai. Since it was not raining at that time a few people had their cameras out. Since I know better, I just had it inside the camera case, inside my backpack. It was rather an easy climb along an existing trail. The inclination should be about 10 degrees. Rajesh and Prem decided to go back after a climb of about 15 minutes. They had planned to go to the picnic spot and drive back home as they had their personal works the next day. They never knew what they were going to miss! J

Though the climb was not steep at all, I found it difficult in the beginning which is quite usual for me. I have to work for about 4 hours on my own pace to get the heath rhythm going. So I took the trail in my own pace, at the same time ensuring not to lose the team ahead. Took enough stop to get some breather and continued further. When it became very difficult for me to climb, Balaji offered to reduce my load by carrying my bag. Thanks a lot Balaji, that helped a lot in find some pace and reduced the burden a lot. I realized that I should not have brought my SLR kit, which alone weighed about 2kgs. All along Andy had been encouraging to move forward and gain a few more steps so I can reach my breakeven point at the earliest.

After climbing in this trail for over 3 hours, the climb became steeper and now we were going to climb through thick bushes and steep rocks. This climb should be for about 50 meters. Since I had still not found my breathing rhythm I just hesitated a bit. Seeing this Andy encouraged me to keep moving ahead and this is just a short climb and can get through without much difficulty. I also know that if I cross this, then I will get breathing right and prepared myself mentally for the challenge. I did cross this without taking a break. Yes it was difficult, but I managed it and as calculated, I did get my breathing in proper rhythm. After this a few more minutes of trekking came the first break for lunch.

This point provided a splendid view of the Tada valley and the fort on the opposite valley that we are going to reach after the lunch. We did not take much time for break. Took about 30 minutes for lunch and a short rest and then proceeded to the next destination. All along it was Balaji who was carrying my bag and still continued to do so. I should thank him for helping me out so much.

After a short climb upwards, we had to descend down the hill which we climbed. This was one challenging task as the shrubs were not just thick, but also thorny. We managed to wade through the bushes and at one point, since I had not had much water, I got a bad muscle cramp in the left calf muscles. I sat there with pain and later realized that I was right inbetween thorny bushes. Shiva and Alex asked to manage somehow and come a little forward so they can help me with the first aid. I somehow managed that, not without some scratches of course.

Shiva immediately sprayed some sprays to ease the muscle pain and started massaging my muscles. Alex in the meantime gave me some glucose water to ease the dehydration. Sujai reached the place in about 5 minutes and offered some salt. Alex mixed the salt in the Glucose water and asked me to drink. I thought it was going to taste like hell (certainly not as bitter as some of Ayurvedic medicines I take), but thankfully it was not. Five minutes from then, I was fine and was one my toes again. Shiva, Alex and me managed through the thick bushes and reached the next climb. This time inspite of the mild discomfort in the calf muscle, I did not have much difficulty in scaling this climb. I did a far better job than before. We climbed up this hill and again descended down on the other side to reach the small stream and the clear water pool created stream. By now it has started to drizzle and when we reached there, everyone were really excited about playing in the pool, swimming and diving into it while it was drizzling.

It was a small stream which was flowing down from the hill and has created a small pool below it. The best suited place for everyone, swimmers and non swimmers alike. The stream had clean and clear water, without any dirt, mildly cold due to the continuous monsoon rain and did had a mild force to carry the fun lovers from the rock into the pool. It was just a beauty! Did we forget that a natural beauty often comes as a package with some danger, just like a rose comes with thorns in its stems? We certainly did!

Everyone shed their luggage and started diving into the pool right away. Since I have not experience on swimming and haven’t got into a pool anytime before, I decided to keep at the shore watching the guys play. I was wondering if the drizzle would ever stop, so I can take out the camera and take some snaps. I really missed the convenience of a smaller P&S camera here. I could have sneaked it out, grabbed a shot and could have kept it back in covers in not time!

It was already over 4:00pm when we reached the place and the drizzle never stopped, rather started to get a bit heavy. Around 4:30 ‘Ford’ Bala, Senthil, Sujai and few other volunteers, put up the tent (a big tarpaulin sheet that they had bought in Varadapalayam). The rain was now getting heavier every minute and by around 5:15pm or so everyone were inside and had covered the backpacks with the plastics sheets they had bought. I think was the only over adventurous guy who did not cover the bag. When someone asked if my bag is waterproof, I said, I will know that tomorrow. How arrogant!!!

Fifteen minutes later, John Immanual, the other soul who had planned to club the photography trip along with this trek (the poor guy had already started regretting that decision), felt something is pushing him. When he saw below to check on that, he got shocked. The small and beautiful stream, due to the continuous heavy rains, took the form of a mighty, forceful forest river and was about to wash us away! The moment we realized this, there was an alarm for an emergency evacuation and within minutes we were on our foot. Climbed back the same cliff from which we descended, to about 20 meters, found a place, which we thought would be safe from the maddening stream and sat there, with the tarpaulin sheet covering the entire crowd. It was just over 6:00pm and we thought it should be already over 8:00pm or so. It was become so dark and things had taken so much turn in such a short time that we did not realize that we still have another 12 hours to spend there before we get some sunlight.

A few people suggested that we climb up further and find some other place for sleeping in the night. This place though comfortable for sitting, was not suitable for lying, as it was narrow and was laid out like a staircase. 6 people decided to stay back in the same place as they were already sleepy and were also capable of managing there itself. The rest of us climbed further up for about 30 meters and found a flat surface where the sleeping mats can be spread for the night sleep.

Few people immediately found their way inside the tent and started sleeping; few guys did not get sleep immediately and were chatting lying inside. Few of us not getting enough space inside for lying down, sat outside the tent, after unsuccessfully trying to adjust in the space inside. Few people had brought dry clothes and changed over so they don’t have to spend the night wet, but I had not taken anything, so had to spend the entire night in the wet dress. It got worse when it kept on raining throughout the night. Even many of them who had changed to dry clothes, did not have much of luck as the sleeping bags and tent did not help much to cover them from the incessant rain. Only those who managed to get into the middle of the tent were able to keep themselves dry during the night. I spent the entire night either sitting and chatting or lying and chatting with people.

For most of us it was a completely wet and sleepless night. When the dawn broke, we had already decided to trace back through the same route we came and reach the base. The initial plan was to climb down along the stream we camped initially the previous day. Though the stream was back to normal course and the rains have stopped at the moment, we knew that another heavy downpour can once again change it into a mighty river, which could prove very risky.

So we started back on the same route, this time the steep climb was no challenge for me. Though I had not had anything for dinner the previous day and never slept the whole night and had only an apple on the morning, I never had any problems in climbing up the difficult phase. I was in fact among the leads along with ‘Ford’ Bala. We reached the same spot where we had lunch the previous day. Waited there for the rest of the team to group and then proceeded for the base.

When we reached the final phase of the climb down which had a proper trail, the rain started again. Now though I thought this is going to be a casual walk as it was not steep, the wrong selection of shoes, made the walk rather very difficult. I was wearing a jogging shoe with absolutely no grip at all (again misunderstanding that it was a photography trip). This made, what is supposed to have been a cake walk, extremely difficult for me. I felt down twice and got hurt badly. Though I managed to get safe across the difficult part, it was this relatively easy part which put me down due to bad preparation – another lesson learnt!!

After reaching the base we got into a share auto and took a bumpy ride to the Tada railway station and took the first available train to Chennai. We were so famished that the moment we reached Chennai, I bid goodbye to everyone and myself and Andy headed straight to the restaurant in the station. It was only after having a hearty late lunch did we think about heading home.

A weekend which will remain long in my memories and for many others too! The feeling that we had an experience which we do not get all that often really made everyone happy. I hope the same goes true for the rest of the trekkers. I am sure Andy will not spare me for getting him drenched the entire night. Andy, I will try to make up for this during your next visit to Chennai. Hope it will not be an exact opposite, but I not going to expect anything after such and experience. J

I was unable to take much photos during this trek. Here are a very few of them which I managed.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Baana Theertham

Baana Theertham
Last month, I had been to Tirunelveli, our native town, with my family. It has been quite long since we visited the place. We planned to go there on 2 different occasions last year and earlier this year, but had to drop off due to many reasons. Finally, we were able to go there last month.
I am not going to bore everyone with the details of the three day tour during when we visited temples after temples. But I was more interested in the Baana Theertham falls. This is situated near the Papanasam Dam in the Kallidaikurichi – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve forest.
A dense, low altitude reserve forest in the majestic western ghat, the reserve forest not just houses the tigers, but also houses the fast disappearing Langurs, Indian Peafowl (Peacocks and Peahens) and the spotted deer. From the time we entered the foot hills, we were able to spot so many peacocks roaming around freely. An easy target for senseless poachers!
The Papanasam dam can be reached through road. Best bet would be to take your own vehicle as I think the frequency of buses is very less! You can take the SH (State Highway) 178 from Ambasamudram to Papanasam.
On reaching the dam, we had to take the motor boat across the reservoir to reach the place. The capacity of the dam is about 145ft, but when we went last month the water was only 42 feet. I am not able to imagine how it will be if the reservoir is full. They send us in a group of 15 people per boat. If you think you want to be on your own, you can either have 15 people in your gang, or pay for 15 and take the boat if you are a bit less in number. NO! Don’t be ridiculous enough to take an entire boat just for 4 or 5 people just because you have the option for paying. J
It is a good 2km (approx) travel across the lake, which took about 20 minutes to cross. I am sure with good monsoon and more rains, this distance will increase along with the water level. Once we have crossed the lake, we had to climb up about 100 meters through a trail to reach the falls. This climbing will also reduce if the water level is high. We climbed up the 100 meters to reach the falls. It had good water and now there are railings for safety while bathing.
What we saw was a breathtaking sight. The falls was pouring from a height of 100ft approximately. We were not prepared for a bath and the crowd also was a bit unruly. So all we did was spend some time there, click as many photos as possible and return back. The place is worth visiting again and hoping to do so at the earliest, unless any external circumstances stop me…

Friday, 4 September 2009

ChitraDurga Fort and Vani Vilas Sagar Dam

Chitradurga & Vani Vilas Sagar
Yet another weekend and yet another travel planned. This time specifically for the shutter bugs. Anu came with the idea of Vani Vilas Sagar dam and with some checks on the internet we found that there is a fort some 30kms away from the dam. So we decided to explore the fort and the dam in the same day.
The plan was to start on the early morning of 8th August; reach Bangalore in the afternoon; have some sunset photography from Anu’s place in the evening; put up there in the night and then start the next day as early as 3:30am.
Now knowing about such a plan, do you guys really think it would have been fun if everything goes by the plan? Or when was the last time we have planned something and walked by it? Never is the answer for both these questions!
For the Saturday morning, I had some very important work waiting at home, which I cannot postpone or procrastinate. Worse enough I came to know about this only on Friday evening. So I had to call up Rajesh and inform him that I may not be joining them in the morning due to this work that has come up. Everyone include Rajesh would have come home and bundled me up had they not realized the importance of the work. But they did tell me that I had to be in Bangalore atleast by Saturday night and absence is not excused! It was rather a strict order so I had a deadline to complete the work, as if I was in total control of it.
Somehow, I managed to complete the work by around 2:30pm, went back home, freshened up, had lunch and started out by around 3:30pm. Luckily got a KSRTC bus to Bangalore by 4:00pm and was on my way to Bangalore. I reached the Silk Board Junction by around 10:30 and called my friends who were staying in Anu’s place in KR Puram. Suresh was my rescuer. He was in the Silk Board junction within 30 minutes and we headed to Anu’s place. All our friends were already there after shopping and shooting since afternoon. Except a couple of them most of us were in no mood of sleeping. It was already around 12:30 when I reached Anu’s house and if someone expects me to wake up at 3:30am in the morning, I would call them morons. So decided keeping awake is the best option.
In the morning, or rather the extended night, Anu prepared coffee for us. This needs to be mentioned otherwise I am going to be in serious trouble. After having coffee, some of us took the pains of taking bath. 3:00am in the morning is no time to take bath for me, and definitely not in Bangalore!! We were supposed to start at 3:30, but I would be surprised if 10 people get ready within an hour’s time and sets off. The cab that Suresh had arranged for had come on time. But we started out from the house only by 4:30. Not too late though.
We set off on our journey and proceeded further in the NH4. Around 6:30, after crossing Tumkur, we stopped to take a glance of the rising sun (not son). After the shutters clicked for about 10 to 15 minutes, we proceeded to our first destination – Chitra Durga Fort. On the way we made one more stop for breakfast. After having breakfast, we decided never to stop in that place again, even if we are starving.
In the next 15 minutes we were outside the Chitra Durga Fort. Suresh got hold of a guide to walk and talk us through the fort. Once in, we were in complete disbelief about the size of the fort. It was just huge and had seven levels of entrances. Really a Fort!
The name Chitra Durga is means “Artistic Fort”. It still has some leftover of the excellent architecture of historical India. Though some inscriptions trace it back to the era of Emperor Ashoka and the Maurya Empire, it gained prominence only during the Nayakars regime. The initial fort was by the Rashtrakutas and kept on expanding by other rulers until 18th Century. Chalukyas, Hoysala, Nayakas and the kings of Vijayanagar Empire are some of the well known kings who did the expansion.
Bharamappa Nayaka was the most famous of the Nayaka rulers who was famed for building forts, palaces, tanks and temples. He also made sure that the Mughals are kept away from the fort and the arts within the fort. Hyder Ali was the last to capture the fort from the Nayakas of Chitradurga and further expanded it followed by his son Tipu Sultan. This is currently under the supervision of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) as a protected monument.
It took some effort for the guide to explain about the fort and more effort from our side to understand what he says. Once we started venturing into the fort, we realized what the guide has shown us is only a portion of the fort. The guide showed some of the important parts of the fort and went on to describe the history of it, the battles fought, hits the fort has taken and so on. He also showed us how the fort has been hit by cannons and withstood the impact.
Another interesting thing, not actually related to the fort or the history, as the feats of Jyothi Raju. A natural climber, who learned the climbing skills by observing monkeys. He can leap into any wall in any fort and within seconds he can reach the top, just like a monkey. All this he does with absolutely no safety latches or ropes. Everything is done with bare hands. He is in his quest for making a guiness record in climbing and our people are using him for monkey show sort of business. What a recognition for talent!! For more information on this guy, you can visit Shrinidhi Hande’s blog.
We started exploring the fort in our own ways; making sure to take photographs of everything that we felt was interesting. This carried on till noon, with people exploring on their own the various parts of the huge area where the fort was. Around 2:30pm we decided to get moving from there. We found a hotel in the same locality and had a good lunch. By around 4:00pm we started to Vani Vilas Sagar Dam.
It was around 4:45pm when we reached Vani Vilas Sagar Dam and the setting sun was already setting the water to glitters. We made use of this beautiful lighting for photographing the dam and the lake for over an hour. It was a beautiful place. Though we did not have much time to explore the dam as such, since we arrived there late, we made use of whatever time we had with us.
The sunset at the Vani Vilas Sagar Dam offered some excellent lights and we tried some various techniques with whatever cameras we had, to make the lightening look more appealing and beautiful.
That was the end of a wonderful one day trip. Once again, I had the feeling that we need more time for entirely exploring the Chitra Durga Fort. It was really huge and one day is certainly not enough to explore all the palaces and the arts within the fort.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Jaipur - The Pink City

Jaipur - The Pink City

It has been quite some time since I visited my team in Noida. So I decided to visit them in the last week of July and informed them that I am coming there for a week. Since I am visiting them after over a year, we all decided that we make full use of the trip and decided to go on a tour the following weekend. After exploring all the options, the team decided on Jaipur – The Pink City.

After completing our work on 31st July, we started on the early morning of Aug 1st (as early as 1:30am). Shalabh had managed to hire a Tempo Traveler for a very good deal, while Himanshu managed the entire trip very well.

We stopped at McDonalds, Manesar, around 3:30 am and packed some burgers and sandwiches to keep our stomachs from growling. Most of us had dinner quite early in the evening and some of them did not have dinner at all. None of us had the idea of sleeping and all were on our own talking with each other. Surbhi tried her best to get everyone involved in Antakshari, but few of the more notorious fellows (including me) were interested in ghost stories. The talking, chatting and fun continued on till we reached Rajasthan border. We had to stop there to pay the inter-state permit charges. We utilized this time to have some refreshments, as it will be taking about 15 minutes. We had some tea in the roadside tea shop and then continued our journey further. We traveled for about 2 hours, when we decided to halt for a while for the driver to get some refreshments. He was feeling very tired and sleepy. I utilized this time by shooting some birds that I found there.

After a halt of about 10 minutes, we proceeded on our journey and reached Hotel Shika in Jaipur at around 09:30 hours. It was decided that we will freshen up, have breakfast and start for sightseeing ASAP. It was already 10:30 before we settled in and relaxed. So did not have much time to start.

I should take a moment (or may be a paragraph?) to mention something about this hotel. It is relatively new, about 2 years old. Right opposite to the hotel was the Deer Park, which has a herd of spotted deers. There were lots of birds around that area as the park looked big from the hotel and also seemed to have lots of trees. So it was obvious that there will be birds. Occasionally I also heard the scream of a peacock or peahen.

This means there is enough to motivate me to get ahead of others. I freshened up and got ready in about 15 minutes, finished off my breakfast and started off to the park. Taran and Nikhil also had finished their breakfast and started with me. We went across the road to the park and entered in. We realized that the area where the deers were freely roaming around was locked and fenced, but can get a very good view from within the park or from the adjoining road. Within 15 to 20 minutes we were called back by Shalabh and Himanshu as everyone were ready and we had to leave, if we had to cover some places.

It was about 11:15 when we started from the hotel. Our first destination was Amber Fort, built by Maan Singh, the Commander-in-Chief of Akbar. It was a 500 years old fort adjoined by Jaigarh Fort. The Amber Fort was so huge that the moment I saw it, I became doubtful whether we will be able to explore the entire place in the 2 hours time that we planned. We explored as much as possible. We did not have a proper guide to show us around and describe the various places within the fort. So we just went through the place and were admiring the Moghul arts and architecture of those times.

Around 2:00 we realized that it is getting late and had to leave if we have to visit other places. Since it was already past noon, we thought of skipping Jaigarh Fort (bad decision I guess) and head to Nahargarh Fort. By the time we reached there, it was around 4:00pm and everyone were famished.

We saw a board for Cafeteria while reaching the Nahargarh Fort and decided that we first have lunch and then proceed to sightseeing. To our disappointment we found that the lunch time is over. There was another restaurant nearby but that too was closed since it was too late. The only option we had was a lime juice. Due to the heat and hunger we just thought of having whatever is available.

For the unwary travelers – please make sure you have enough stock of water and food if you want flexibility in timing, or plan in such a way that you reach the right places at the right time.

We really did not have enough time to explore the place since it was already 4:30pm. We decided to move back to Jaipur to have lunch as there is no place where we can have lunch there. We went back and on the way caught a glimpse of the beautiful Jal Mahal. Stopped for a while to click some photographs and headed back to Jaipur. We had food in a restaurant (a very late lunch) and proceeded to the old city. We stopped in front of the Hawa Mahal only to realize that it has just been closed for the day.

So we decided to stroll in the bazaar. The place is famous for handicrafts and textiles. You can get colourful and good Rajasthani materials, but you will have to be very cautious about the prices. One thing that caught our eyes was a man calling out people to take photographs from his camera. He had his camera in the roadside platform. He did not have any studios. We were reluctant initially but when we realized that it is a 150 year old camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, we could not resist. The developing and printing was done then and there in the open platform and the photos are ready in about 10 minutes. All that he charges for this is Rs.20. A few people decided to take photos with that camera and I decided to take a snap of the oldest camera known to be working (at least for me). We then shopped for over an hour and decided to go to the much awaited Chowki Dhaan.

Chowki Dhaan is a resort. Not the luxurious one on the sea shores that most of us are used to. But this is more of a village than a resort which shows the visitors how the traditional Rajasthan will look like. No glaring lights, no jarring music, no techie gadgets and giant roller coasters that will make it look like a theme park. It is just the traditional village. The light sources are from 40 or 60 watts bulbs that is surrounded by thatched baskets acting as lamp shades.

Inspite of all these, the place certainly an entertainer for any age group. The activities start around 6:30pm and go on until 11:30pm. There are lots of activities like Rajasthani folk dance, magic shows, dances and shows with themes etc. The most attractive of all is the puppet show. Though the shows does not last more than 15 minutes, it is worth a watch. The last part of the Chowki Dhaan visit was the dinner. Again everything served in the traditional way. Food served in leafs and not plates, water and buttermilk served in earthen cups and not glasses. It has been quite some time since we had such delicious food. Food was served by hospitable people and they keep serving till you get tired of eating. Even the great Taranjeet was defeated in this and had to confess that he cannot have anymore. If you are famished and not had food for a long time, this is the place to go. J

With that we returned back to our hotel in the heart of Jaipur city. Most of us were unable to sleep and decided to hunt the coffee day in the ground floor of the hotel. Though there weren’t anyone the shopkeepers let us in and spend a while there. The next day being Friendship Day, we decided to wait till mid night to wish each other. At midnight the Coffee Day guys offered us a big chocolate cake. Nothing more was needed to celebrate the Friendship Day. We spent some time chatting and making fun of each other and around 1:00am we decided to retire.

The plan for next day was to start by around 10:00am from the hotel and head straight to Delhi. As usual I got up and got ready before everyone. I had packed my bag the previous day itself, so did not have to worry about packing. Once ready I again set off to the deer park opposite to the hotel. This time I had lots of time to explore the park. It was really a beautiful place, well maintained with lots of trees and plants. The park, apart from deer, houses lots of birds. I even spotted a peahen somewhere in between the shrubs, but was not lucky enough to get even a single decent photograph of the shy bird. It is a huge park and I was just wandering there over half an hour and took a few photographs. After about 40 or 45 minutes I returned back to the hotel to join everyone for the breakfast and started our journey back to the capital. We stopped just twice on the way, once for fixing a flat tyre and once for having lunch in Haryana border.

Though we did not get to visit all the places we intended to, it was a very useful tour for all of us. Though we had interactions everyday over the phone, it was really good to meet everyone personally after over a year. The major agenda of meeting the people after a longtime was served successfully and there could not have been a better way to accomplish this. Hats off the Himanshu who has been organizing the entire tour and for making sure that everything went as per the liking of everyone.

As far as the tour to Jaipur is concerned, I did not expect there would be so much to see there. Hope I will get one more chance to visit the beautiful place, but it will certainly be more planned and for a longer duration.

Click here for more photos

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Yelagiri Photography Trip

Photographie de voyage à Yelagiri

I signed up for this within an hour the invites were sent out. Such was the expectation for this trip, especially with photographers like John Immanuel, Rithwik, Samyak (aka) Sam and most of all “The Portrait King” Viki (though he dropped out in the last moment) were part of the trip, organized by Viki and Sam.

The plan was to meet one set of people outside Tidel Park at 4:00am on 27th and proceed on to Guindy and catch up with the other part of the gang and start from there.

My day started at 3:00. Some call it early morning, but for me it is mid night! I started from home at 3:15. Ansar picked me up at Tirumangalam at 3:30 and we went to Guindy. We were the early birds there and within 5 minutes we got calls from John and Samyak asking us about the meeting point. We caught up in 15 to 20 minutes and called Rajesh, who was coordinating the team from Tidel Park in the absence of Viki. In the next 30 minutes, after a few phone calls to various people and few last minute drop outs, we were 20 of us. We parked 2 bikes and a car since they were in excess and started to Vellore in 4 cars. Vellore was the first stop for breakfast.
Rajesh, Karthik Yadav (I better get the last name of some people as there were couple of them), myself and Ansar were in the lead car. We were driving at an enjoyable leisurely pace on the beautiful Chennai Bangalore highway. People who know me would have already guessed that by now my camera shutters would have started warming up. Yes, after crossing the first toll gate, I clicked a couple of shots on the run experimenting with different White Balance (let me try to use some jargons, after all it is a photography trip) and making use of the early morning light, just before sunrise.

We did a quick pit-stop around 6:00am near Kancheepuram to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. A few shutterbugs went clicking, taking in the beautiful sunrise and its colours. Then we proceeded nonstop to Vellore, but had to slow down a bit when we came to know one of the cars had a minor mechanical problem.

After the breakfast, we proceeded to Ponneri, a village in the foothills of Yelagiri. This is the rendezvous point for the Chennai Super Kings and the Bangalore Royal Challengers (Still not out of IPL). When we called Ravi Ghosh, who has been coordinating the team from Bangalore to know their whereabouts, we were told that they had just crossed Krishnagiri and that a bike had a flat tyre so it might take some time for them to reach the point.

It was just over 10:00 by then.
We then had a more elaborate introduction with each other and did not waste a minute to start warming up (the cameras of course, it is going to be a very tiring day for the shutters). We spread out on the nearby field and started experimenting what little we know about shooting (with cameras).

We never knew that we had been doing this for more than an hour. Around 11:30 or so, the Bangalore team joined us and we wasted no time in starting the journey to the ultimate destination - Yelagiri

The ghat road was well laid out and negotiating the 14 hairpin bends was no big deal for the guys behind the wheel.

We stopped twice on the way. Once in a view point to get a picturesque view of the landscape below and once in the telescope house to get a full view of the Yelagiri hills. We spent about 15 to 20 minutes in each of these stops and then proceeded to the Tourist Information Center in Yelagiri.

We checked with Mr. Sudhakar about the places we can visit and also enquired about the possibilities of getting an accommodation in the YMCA dormitory for the night stay. It turned out to be that Swamimalai, a small hill in Yelagiri which has a cave temple atop is the most famous trekking point and also offers lots of opportunities to use our cameras.

Since it was already around 1:00pm, we decided to have lunch in a small eat-out just opposite to the Tourist Information Centre. Ansar quickly enquired if food is available. We had a good lunch there and in-between had the opportunity to picture a few birds. We started from the eat-out around 2:00pm to Mangalam village, which is in the base of Swamimalai. We dumped all our bags (it was already dumped into cars in Guindy itself) carried only our cameras and started the trek uphill. Ansar stayed back at the base to check with the villagers for a night stay. Karthik Yadav and Nachu joined him, in case they had to roam around looking for a camping site.

We proceeded on to climb the Swamimalai at around 3:00pm. Ravi and Samyak were leading the team and Rajesh and I were sweeping (literally means ensuring that everyone is take car off, till the last trekker). It was pretty climb through a good jungle trail with lots of bushes and trees. We did not feel exhausted as the weather was really good. The sun was covered by some gray clouds threatening to open up anytime. There were loads and loads of butterflies of numerous colours, sizes and varieties. We took our own time clicking lots of photos on the way. By the time we reached the top it was around 4:30. Again some photo sessions of the beautiful landscape.

Around 5:30pm, as we feared, the clouds opened up slightly and there were a few drizzles of rain. We immediately covered our cameras and put it in the shelter of the caves, but decided to stay on the place. That decision to stay back paid off in a few minutes. The drizzling stopped and we saw a colourful rainbow coming showing up on the eastern sky. The cameras were out again to capture the rainbow and everyone were successful in getting at least a couple of shots. Again there was a slight drizzling, but this time no one felt like keeping the cameras inside as we knew that the cloud would clear up in a minute or so. But what we did not expect was another rainbow above the first one. Though it was not very bright there was a glimpse of it. So more clicking of the rainbows, some trying out silhouettes of people with the valley backdrop.

Soon it was about 6:00pm and due to the overcast conditions, it was getting darker. So we decided to head back to base. Once again Ravi and Samyak doing the lead roles and Rajesh and I swept from the last. Before we could reach the base it again started raining, this time a bit heavily than before. Around 5 of us took shelter under a big tree, mostly protecting our beloved electronic gadgets, than ourselves. We waited about 15 to 20 minutes and when the rain slowed down, we dashed towards the base. There we were welcomed by some hot tea in one of the village tea shops. By the time we reached back, Ansar and co had spoken to the villagers and had managed to get their consent to sleep in the verandah of a small temple and the community hall which is being constructed just near the temple.

We decided to back into the town as there was no way of getting any food in Mangalam village. The town in about 5 km from the village, so had to take our cars and bikes. We had a good dinner at Hotel Hills in Yelagiri and requested them to make arrangements for the next day’s breakfast. We returned back to the base at around 10:30 and spread out our sleeping gears. Myself, Rajesh, Ansar, Karthik and Nachu decided to play cards for some time, while others had already called it a day. We played until about midnight and then went to sleep.

There were 2 plans for the next day. A few decided to back to Swamimalai for a sunrise shoot and few decided to venture into to village to get some shots of birds.

People who know me would have already guessed, yes I was one of those who chose to go on bird watching and was fairly successful.

Rithwik, John, Abdul and Venu had woken up early and had started for the bird watch by around 7:00am. We were a bit lazy and started around 7:30. We were fairly successful in spotting some birds. Again there were lots of colourful butterflies, which I am sure John and Samyak would have loved to click. By the time we caught up with Rithwik and others in the YMCA campus, it was around 9:30am. We just then received some angry calls from Samyak and Ravi asking us to head back straight to Hotel Hills in the town for the breakfast. By the time we reached there, almost everyone had finished their breakfast.

We had a quick breakfast by which time Samyak and Ravi were debating whether to go into the Nature Park or the Nature trail just next to the Tourist Information Centre. I suggested that we take the Nature Trail, as I had been there 3 months back and know that place houses lots of butterflies, birds and views that we can photograph. When we reached the end of the road and were about to park the vehicles and get into the trail, we saw the pavement in which we were about to park (this is the place we parked our vehicles before entering the trail, when I was here 3 months back), was leading to a resort. It was cut off from the road and had been laid out in a very calm beautiful place. We immediately changed plans and went into the resort and sought the permission to use their premises for some theory session. The owner was very hospitable and more than willing to let us use the space. We found a huge tree with shade for the session.

Samyak started the session with some most used jargons and technical aspects of photography. Soon he was joined by Rithwik and John and they too shared their tremendous knowledge and experience with all of us. We discussed about framing or composition, Aperture, Shutter, ISO and how these three are inter-related, exposures, metering, white balance, bracketing, shooting landscapes, portraits, shooting in low light etc. it was a very interactive session with everyone participating, unsurprisingly. The session went on from 11:00am to about 01:30pm. By the time Ansar had again pitched in and had organized for the lunch in the resort itself. After the session people wandered off to try out what they had learnt. Some within the resort itself and some outside. People were given time till 2:45 to experiment and then to be back for lunch. I checked the accounts, tallied it and then set off into a field next to the resort all alone in search of more birds.

We all returned back to the resort on time and the lunch was ready by 3:00pm. After having a good meal, I settled the accounts with everyone and we started back home. We bid farewell to the Bangalore team and headed back to Chennai. There comes the end of the wonderful two day photography trip to Yelagiri. Hope we would soon get another chance to gather again, maybe in a different location.

For more photos click here

Thursday, 4 June 2009


Kodaikanal - The Princess of Hill Stations.

Here are more pictures from Kodaikanal

This particularly may not be my travel experience as a single blog is not enough to describe my experience in Kodai.
This is a tribute to Kodaikanal, a place which has never failed to amaze me with its beauty each time I go there. I have tried to put up some places of interest, for people who wish to spend their vacation in Kodaikanal.

Kodaikanal is one of the most sought after and most famous hill stations of South India. It has a pleasant weather that makes it suitable for a holiday throughout the year.

No doubt that Kodaikanal is the most preferred escape during the summer, but even during winter, there are people who prefer to enjoy the raw beauty of Kodai.

Apart from the places which can be visited casually, there are places which also through a treat to the more adventurous lot!

Some of the well know picnic spots in Kodaikanal are

1. Suicide Point - Well now this place is known as Silent Valley view. This offers a spectacular view of the entire hills and valleys.

2. Guna Cave - The place where the Tamil Film Guna's climax scenes were shot. After the movie this place became the hot spot of Kodaikanal.

3. Kodai lake - The most visited place in Kodaikanal. I am not sure there will be much people who return without a boating in the lake and stroll around the lake. There are bicycles for rent, which anyone can take and go for a ride along the lake. There are numerous shops along the lake, where we get clothes, toys, home made chocolates and a whole variety of things.

4. Bryant Park - Just adjacent to the lake is this big park which has a variety of flowers.

5. Kurunji Andavar Temple - It is said that the hills are the abode of Lord Murugan. So you always can expect one. A small but well maintained and calm temple.

6. Chettiyar Park - Though not as big as the Bryant Park, the Chettiar Park too has quite some unique flora which are rare to find elsewhere.

7. Bear Shola Falls - Though you cannot find even a trickle of water in this place today, it is a very nice calm and beautiful place, surrounded by very tall trees. Situated amidst a thick forest, this place is perfect for spending a calm day, with absolutely no disturbance whatsoever.

8. Dolphin Nose - The formation of rocks looking like the nose of Dolphin has given it this name. This is considered to be a very mild trek for the enthusiasts. You will have to walk down about 200 to 300 metres to reach this spot. From here you will be able to see the entire valley.

9. Green Valley View - Another place from where you will be able to see the misty mountain tops and the villages sprawled here and there in the middle of distant mountains.

10. Pine Forest - This place features in most of the south indian films for a duet sequence. So I am sure this will not be a new place for a regular movie goer. A thick forest full of pine trees, offering a spectacular view of the mountains, pillar rock and the Guna Caves situated in between the Pillar Rocks.

11. Pillar Rock - A single rock formation which runs from through to the foot of the hills. This stands straight without any support.

12. Moir View point - Yet another place from where the entire collection of mountains the valley can be viewed. In fact this point offers a 360 degree view of the mountains. Such views do not come easy. We will have to descend a slope for about 400 to 500 metres to get this view. Getting back to the road again can be a very difficult task as this slope is quite steep. This place is now closed for the public due to the high risk involved. The last time I saw this place was in 1997.

13. Berijam Lake - This is situated about 20 to 25 kms away from the town on the road towards Munnar. A forest lake which is situated amidst a really thick reserve forest, this offers everything that you can expect from mother nature. You will not find a speck of pollution. Keen observers can spot lot of birds which you normally do not see in the towns. We will have to get the permission from the forest department to get to this place as this comes within the reserve forest. Generally permissions are not given that easily during the summer time as the place is prone to forest fire.

14. Mannavanur Lake - Not the usually visited place. But a very popular shooting location. You have to travel about 20km from Kodaikanal. This place offers excellent view of the lake and you can relax at this place for a while. Be sure to carry some snacks / food along, as you may not get anything to eat until you return back to Kodaikanal

15. Poomparai Murugan Temple - Enroute to Mannavar is the Poomparai village. All the major "English vegetables" like potato, carrot etc are cultivate here and transported to all part of the state. This is the major source of these vegetables for entire Tamilnadu. But that is not the only speciality of the place. The Poomparai Murugan Temple, a very less known temple, but quite an old one. This is about 3000 years old and the actual deity is sculpted out of "Nava pashanam", just like the Palani Murugan and sculpted by none other than Bhogar! This temple is a small one and currently under the administration of Palani Murugan Temple. If you have planned a trip to Mannavanur, do visit this temple!