Thursday, August 19, 2010

Enchanting Mauritius

Mauritius trip – Feb 9-15, 2010

This is a long delayed write up on our trip to Mauritius in Feb 2010.

After sifting through a lot of locations, we zeroed in on Mauritius after a few of our friends gave good reviews about the place. We did our research about how to organize the trip and decided to take the 6 nights & 7 days package tour offered by since it looked like a complete package and economical at the same time.

Our flight was at about 0600hrs on Tuesday, Feb 9 from Bangalore. Vikram my friend had advised that liquor was expensive in Mauritius and hence we purchased it from the duty free shop in Bangalore airport. We then boarded the flight and there was a one hour stop over at Chennai for boarding passengers and then it was a non stop 6hr flight till Mauritius. We landed in Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International airport at about 1300hrs local time. The time zone in Mauritius is about 1.5hrs behind India.

As informed to us, we were met by a representative of Seaside Holidays in the airport. Our booking was made in a 4 star resort - Casuarina Resort & Spa, which was about 1.5hrs drive from the airport.

The first things that struck us about Mauritius were the serenity and greenery around and also the unending sugarcane plantations. We reached the resort and were met by the staff who were quite hospitable. We had a quick chat with them about the facilities available in the resort and then retired to our rooms to refresh ourselves. The resort was very well maintained with excellent landscaping and individual cottages. We were famished by then after the long flight and went to have lunch. Unfortunately the lunch buffet was closed by then and we helped ourselves with some awesome chicken and tuna sandwiches. It was then that we learnt that no water will be supplied for free anywhere in Mauritius and we had to buy a bottle for MUR70 (= Rs 100)…..!!! After the lunch we relaxed for the rest of that day and then we were informed that next day would be a rest day as well as our tour would start only from the day after.

On day 2, after breakfast we met Saif, the representative from Seaside Holidays. He briefed us about the agenda for the 3 day sight seeing tour and gave us the list of options we could try on the remaining two days. The options included submarine, lion safari, cruise to a nearby island and quad biking. We finally decided to go for quad biking on one day since it sounded quite new and adventurous . We made all the payments regarding the rides for the 3 day tour and quad biking to Saif to avoid last minute hassles. He also gave us some helpful info about where to get water cheap and some good restaurants nearby.

The rest of the day was left to us and we relaxed ourselves enjoying the greenery of the nature and blueness of the beach. The resort had a private beach and we could use their rides like peddle boat, kayaking, glass bottom boat etc at anytime during the day. We took the peddle boat and went around the beach sometime and had an excellent Indian lunch at “Tandoor”. We also had some excellent fruit wine which was a complementary gift for honeymooners….and then relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the day.

Day 3 was our start of Mauritius tour and this day we were to go around the city and heritage sites. We started at 0800hrs and our first stop was at “Aapravasi Ghat”. This is one of the world heritage sites and this was where indentured labourers from India had first set foot in Mauritius. This site is a souvenir to those labourers. From there we went to “Fort Adelaide” and “Citadel”, both of which were heritage sites again. It was almost 1300hrs by then and we went to “Caudan Waterfront”. It was a huge mall with a number of eat outs, shopping stuff and a good view of the harbour. This was actually the most boring part of the whole trip since we didn’t find anything great to shop and were just trying to kill time. We spent about 3 hrs in the mall and then proceeded back to the hotel….end of day 3…well…..not so exciting…:(

Day 4 - This was our most awaited day of the tour - the trip to an island “Ile Aux Cerfs”. This place was about an hours drive from our hotel. The first event of the day was undersea walk. This was perhaps the best event of the day. It was an amazing experience wearing a 22kg helmet and getting into the water…! We spent about 15min walking inside the 10ft water, viewing the corals, plants and fishes. It was a wonderful experience and the last thing we wanted to do was to get out of the water…!!

After the undersea walk experience we were taken to the island in a boat. The guy riding our boat was a cool chap and played some Carribean music and gave us a really enjoyable and adventurous boat ride. Our next event was para sailing. This again was really exciting and along with our ride, it was really funny to see how the other people landed….it felt serene being on the air in the parachute and see the blue sea from the top.

That was the end of rides for the day and then we had a relaxing lunch in the beach, had some fun in the water and took some snaps. It was evening by then and we headed back to the hotel….end of day 4….awesome fun…!!

Day 5 - Today was the final day of our tour and we went to the Southern part of Mauritius. We went to a dead volcanic crater first. It was raining by then and it was quite a romantic place to be in. We enjoyed the greenery there for sometime and then moved on to “Ganga talao”. This is a religious place for Hindus and there had been a big Mahashivarathri festival just the day before. We then proceeded to “Chamarel” – the place with the seven coloured sands. It was an amazing sight to see the sands in such varied colours and they had done a great job in maintaining the site. Luckily a rainbow also had formed on the sky by then and it was a once in a life time sight of seeing the seven colours on the earth and sky at the same time…! We then went to a small waterfall and that was the end of day 5 of sight seeing…….a great day again enjoying the beauty of Mauritius.

Day 6 – Another day of adventure…today was the day for quad biking..! We had another couple, Yogesh and Harshali whom we had befriended during the tour with us. The place was about 2.5 hrs of drive and we had to start early.
We reached the place by about 1200hrs and had some good Mauritian lunch. It was a beautiful location full of greenery and a stream. We then wandered around the property for sometime enjoying the nature and having some fun with the horses there. Then the adventure started. Each couple had a “bike” to ride. It was really hard trying to control the bike as it was very heavy and we were driving through rough roads….but it was good fun. It felt like we indeed were in paradise. The view from the hill was breathtaking …Mauritius at its best…! After more than a couple of hours our biking we ended the ride. It was an amazing experience and were glad we chose to go for this adventure….headed back to hotel….end of day 6…adventurous and rejuvenating

Day 7 – This was the saddest day of the tour since it was returning time…our flight was at 5 pm in the evening. We didn’t plan any outing and relaxed by the beach. We also went for the glass bottom boat ride on the private beach. It was a great experience too as we got a closer view of the life under sea, the corals and colourful fishes…

Finally, a few more words about the resort and the trip. First of all, thanks to & Seaside Holidays for organising the tour so well. We were never in doubt of anything at any point of time and help was always available. The resort was also nice with good facilities, food and rooms. Apart from the tours our best times were spent in the swimming pool in the evenings. The resort also organised some good dance and singing programs in the evening for entertaining the guests.

We were back in Bangalore on Feb 15 early morning. It was a very good break from the hectic schedules of work…looking forward to a trip like this again..!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Masinagudi - The Untouched Valley

Masinagudi is a small town situated 29km from Ooty at an altitude of 1000-1200mts from MSL. Its one among the five ranges of Mudumala ( 'first hills’)-one of the first wildlife sanctuaries established in India. The sanctuary is divided into 5 ranges - Masinagudi, Thepakadu, Mudumalai, Kargudi and Nellakota. It was a casual conversation with Dheeraj and Suhas which led to the plan of going to Masinagudi. It was long time we had been to a hill station. The team consisted five of us - Suhas, Dheeraj, Bhavya, Meera and myself. However, fortunately or unfortunately Dheeraj fell ill just before the trip and could not join us ;-) . The plan was to start by friday afternoon so that we can reach Masinagudi by 9pm, after which the forest road is closed for vehicle movement.

Though Masinagudi can't be called a typical hill station, its nearness to Ooty, awesome weather and a gorgeous view of the Nilgiris gives it a feel of being close to nature..

The drive:
July30,2010: As planned Bhavya and Suhas reached our place by 1515hrs and we started our journey by 1530Hrs. Masinagudi is about 250kms from Bangalore. The route was,
NICE road towards Mysore road - Mysore - Gundalpet - Nanjangode - Bandipur - Mudumalai - Masinagudi.

It was a nice drive in the evening and weather was cold and breezy.It was a 6 hr drive with no breaks in between since we wanted to make sure we don't miss the 9pm deadline...!! By the time we crossed Bandipur it started raining and that slowed our drive a bit. We then crossed the Karnataka and Tamilnadu checkpost by 8 30pm. Its worth mentioning here that we had to pay an "entry tax" to enter Tamilnadu although we were there well within the time. The amount of entry tax...well...the police told us whatever suits you...!!...So we paid a Rs.10 "entry tax" and proceeded.

The stay:
We reached our destination by 2100hrs. Dheeraj had already booked our stay in "Chalets farm & GuestHouse". The place was good with 5 cottages. Although the landscaping is not great, the rooms were very clean and the staff were hospitable especially Mr Senthil who was the care taker of the property.

Chalets Farm & Guest House, Achakkarai, Masinagudi, The Nilgiris. Cell 09486956551,09486189899,09486189996.
The food was also very good...especially the chicken fry...mouth watering...:)..It was almost 2230hrs by the time we finished our dinner and retired early to bed after the long drive...The weather was very cold and windy and it was really nice and relaxing being there..

July 31,2010...
We woke up by around 830hrs and it was a lovely morning. The view of Nilgiris was breathtaking from the cottage. We enjoyed the weather and view for sometime and had breakfast. We then went to a stream nearby and spent some time there.

It seems wild animals came to the stream to drink water and it was quite apparent when we saw the dead remains of a cow attacked by a leopard there....The next getaway was for an evening safari...

Before starting the safari we went to a nearby hill to enjoy a panaromic view of Nilgiris. With such an amazing weather it was just the place to be.....cold and breezy.....

The safari was nice and adventurous. Our guide Mr Pramod, was a friendly guy and very familiar with the forest and the wild animal behaviours.

We saw a group of elephants first and when we went nearer to see them, one of the elephants came charging at us.....that was scary..!!...Pramod dealt with the situation quite well and soon after we realised the elephant was being protective of its kid.....well after a while the family posed for a few snaps as well ..:)..We then spotted a lot of deers, monkeys, bisons, peacocks and more elephants. Although the safari was enjoyable, we were a bit disappointed that we could not spot any wild cats and that too when a gang that went on a safari the previous night spotted a leopard....anyway the heroes don't show their face often...!!
Well that was the end of the first day...adventurous and relaxing...
Aug 1,2010 ......
The second day was unfortunately the returning day and we decided to head back after breakfast...we started back to bangalore by 1100hrs. We halted for lunch after Mandya and were back home by 1725hrs.

Masinagudi is a great weekend getaway and you can thoroughly relax and enjoy your stay....looking forward to our trip there again....

Please make sure you are carrying enough cash with you as Masinagudi town doesn't have an ATM.
Sharing some captured moments of our trip......
Please Click here .

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ooty Trip with CTC

Date : Feb 20 & 21 , 2010

It was Rithwik who had sent me the notification about the trip. I had immediately registered for the same.

The schedule was hectic as the previous week I was in Mauritius and was really tired. Still the excitement of capturing Ooty rejuvenated me to go for the trip.

Thanking Samyak and Nara from Chennai trekking Club, for taking the lead and arranging such a nice trip. Anu was the point contact for people coming from Bangalore . The tickets and accommodation were arranged by the club. The cost incurred inclusive of everything was some where near to RS 2500 per person.

We were a group of 5 from Bangalore. We boarded in the bus on the night of 19th Feb. The bus from Bangalore goes through the Mandya-Mysore-Bandipur route. The bus has to halt before Bandipur as it is a Wildlife Sanctuary and does transport is restricted from 9:00pm to 6:00am.

The Chennai team in the meantime had planned to travel till Avinashi (near Coimbatore) and take 2 private vans for the travel to Ooty. By the time we resumed the journey from Bandipur, the Chennai team had reached Avinashi and were having their breakfast.

We reached Ooty around 9:30am and had our breakfast in a small tea stall. When checked on the return tickets booked , could understand that the bus would reach blore only by 10.00am in the morning. Went to the reservation centre to check the other options available. We were happy to hear that Tamilnadu State Transport runs two buses with special permit and can go through the jungle and we can reach blore early morning. Booked the tickets in the TNSRTC and moved towards botanical garden as that was the place fixed for meeting with the Chennai team.

Just about 15 minutes after we reached Botanical Garden the team from Chennai (22 people) arrived there to join us. I was meeting Rithwik there after our our Silent Valley Trip. His new cam was really a masterpiece.

We had an initial round of introduction and were really excited to have Mr. Hopeland (yes that is his real name!!), a zoology student with tremendous knowledge about flora and fauna. After the initial introduction, everyone went on our own way exploring the garden and taking photos of whatever we saw and liked. We regrouped at around 2:00pm to have lunch. The lunch was not so rich but was very tasty as our hunger was at the peak. After lunch we proceeded to one of the tribal villages in Ooty.

We spend a good 1 hour there talking to the people there to understand their culture and way of living. Myself and Rithwik were able to get some good portraits of the tribal girls. These tribals are supposed to be the most beautiful ones.

We then proceeded to 9 mile a famous picnic and shooting spot in Ooty. Upon reaching there we saw a film shoot happening . It was Sura - starring Vijay and Tammana. My tele lens helped me to get a glimpse of both of them.

We took some random shots and was waiting for the sunset. The wait was worth it and the reward was great. We got some great sunset shots.

We went to the forest guesthouse which was booked by Anu, for our stay. Ram and Nara went to the town to find some food. They came back with some chapatti's and egg omelet. It was really fun to stand in ques and get the food. After that myself and Rithwik decided to go to City for dinner. We had our regular dose of medicine to kill the cold and had great biryani . By the time we reached back most of the team members were asleep. It was a huge hall where people spread their blankets and got into their sleeping bags. We found ourselves a place to sleep. Fortunately we got a heater from the girls room. The medicine plus the heater dint make us realise how chill it was in Ooty. Otherwise I had only one thin blanket and a jacket on me to save me from the chill during my sleep.

Feb 21: We were supposed to be ready by 6.00am. All were in a rush to clean up themselves. We were ready by 6 and were waiting for the forest personnel to come. The forest guide came only at 7:00am to take us to Avalanche – it is a place about 30km away from Ooty. Avalanche Valley Named after an `avalanche’- a landslide, really- in 1823, Avalanche is a riot of shola trees, rhododendrons, orchids, magnolias and a trout stream: absolutely lovely .

We then headed to the place where river Bhavani starts. This was a really tough trek . The sun was at its peak, no proper breakfast , but the thought and the anxiety to see the river pushed us. We were supposed to leave the place by 2.00pm but later the plan was changed and time was extended till 4.00pm. We reached the place and the sight of the river was awesome. By the time we reached back the bus, we were really tired due to the lack of food. We somehow managed wit the available chocolates and snacks and headed towards the city. As the sun light was harsh , I could get much good pictures.

Reached Ooty, had lunch and energised ourselves. The guys who had to return back to Chennai had their buses starting at 10:00pm from Avinashi, which means they had to start by Ooty not later than 6:00pm if they have reach Avinashi to catch the bus at 10:00pm. Immediately after lunch the Chennai team headed back to Avinashi in the vans and we 5 returned back to our guest houses.We refreshed ourselves in the guest house and left by around 8:30pm, had a light dinner and headed back to Bangalore and reached here by 6:0oam next day.

The trip was great, made lot of new friends and was very economical. Only problem some of us faced were with the food and the time planning. The scheduling could have been better.

Sharing some captured moments of our trip......
Please Click here .

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hampi - Word Heritage Site

HAMPI, the seat of the famed VIJAYANAGARA empire was the capital of the largest empire in post-mogul India, covering several states. The destruction of Vijayanagar by marauding Moghul invaders was sudden, shocking and absolute. They reduced the city to ruins amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description.The ruins of Hampi of the 14th Century lies scattered in about 26 sq. km area, amidst giant boulders and vegetation.
In March 2002, the Government of India has announced that Hampi would be developed as an international destination centre.

It was long time we were planning to get out of the hectic work schedule after our wedding. During a tele-conversation I and Srijith decided to go to Hampy – The world heritage site. Thanking Meera for helping me with data to publish this travel log.
Day 1 – Dec 25 2009
6:00 am – Srijith and Rashmi arrive at my place at Jalahhali Cross.
6:30 am – Started our journey in my Black Stallion.
9:00 am – Stop at new Kamat for breakfast. As usual very refreshing spot.
Took NH7 & NH13.
NH7 – Well maintained road (toll of Rs180 till chitradurga). Took diversion due to traffic jam and hence lost way in Tumkur. Spent some extra ½ hr getting back to the highway
Took diversion for NH13 .
NH13 – Road bad as heavy trucks ply in that route for mining.
Totally about 7hrs drive. As there were no proper sign boards nearing Hospet we lost our way at the end of NH13. Some how managed to reached Hospet at about 2pm. Srijith had booked our stay at SLV YATHRI NIVAS through one of his friend. Decent place to stay. Had our beer and lunch at a near by restaurant.
Went to Tungabhadra dam in the evening at about 5. Nice place, good view of the dam. It was cool and refreshing to just look at the river. Lot of school students had come for excursion so place was crowded.
End of day 1. We drank and dined at the hotel itself. North Indian food not recommended.Hampi is a legacy left by the Vijayanagara Empire. The Vijayanagara empire spanned over four centuries and was divided into four dynasties – Sangama (1336-1485), Saluva (1485 – 1505), Tuluva (1491 – 1570) & Aravidu (1542-1646) dynasties. The empire is known to have flourished and reached its peak under Sri Krishna Devaraya when Vijayanagara armies were consistently victorious and the era was called the Golden Era.
Finally in 1565, the “Battle of Talikota” happened and Vijayanagara was defeated by the Sultanates. They went about destructing and plundering the empire for five long months and brought it to a state of ruins in which it remains until today. It was never re-occupied.
We first visited “Sasivekalu Ganesha” and all the other small temples nearby. It was indeed saddening to such great sculptures in a ruined state.
Went to Virupaksha temple next. This temple existed from the 7th century, well before the start of the Vijayanagara empire. However, it was built from a small shrine to a much bigger temple during the Vijayanagara empire. For some reason this temple was not destroyed by the Sultanates and continues to be a place of worship.
The most fascninating place in this temple is a small dark chamber where the light comes through a small brick hole and the shadow of the shrine appears upside down.
We then visited “Kadaekalu Ganesha” and “Lakshmi Narasimha” temple. This magnificient monolithic Lakshmi Narasimha , the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu stand 6.7m tall. The roof of the chamber enshrining the statue is missing, which has led to weathering. The four arms of the statue with various attributes has been broken and the seated figure of his consort, Goddess Lakshmi, on his left lap is missing. The face too has been damaged, making him look ike “Ugra Narasimha”(Angered Narasimha). The presence of the right hand of the Goddess, embracing the Lord at the back is a proof that it is indeed “Lakshmi Narasimha”.We then went to “Badivilinga Temple”. This is a 3m high shiva Linga, carved in one stone. Our next stop was the “Underground Shiva Temple”. This temple was intentionally built below the ground level so that the Shiva Linga would be always surrounded by water.

It was almost 3pm. Now, that was enough for a half day, so we stopped for lunch. We could not find any good hotels since we were not anywhere near the Humpi city. After some search we saw a “Karnataka Tourist home” and decided to go there. Since it was already late, we had almost missed the lunch buffet and the man at the counter told us that there was no more lunch. Since we were really famished, after some bargaining he said we could have whatever was left in the Buffet. One of the best lunches we had although the number of items were very less…J But to quench our thirst , chilled beer was available. After an hours break and relaxation, we set out for the second round of exploration. It was much better since the sun was down and the heat had subsided.

We went to the Lotus Mahal” next. The decorations and architecture is a curious mix of Hindu and Islamic styles. Lotus Mahal’s Islamic style arches and the Hindu style multiplayer roof and base structure are often quoted for the ingenuity of the Vijayanagara artisans. There is a large lawn made around the Lotus Mahal. This is a nice place to relax for a while and take some nice pictures.
We then went to “Mahanavami Dibba”. Many festivities and competitions were said to be celebrated here. The Stepped tank or “Pushkarni” is also situated nearby. The surroundings of this place is a classic example of how advanced and contemporary the water irrigation systems were at that time. There are clearly built water channels which flowed into the ponds and used for irrigation. A lot of these methods and ideas are said to be useful in today’s world as well. We then proceeded to the “Queens Bath” .
Then it was time for some enjoyment and we went for a catamaran ride. After much bargaining he agreed to four of us for Rs.150. We were quite concerned since we four “big” people were being taken on the ride in a small catamaran steered by a boy not older than ten..!!...but it was well worth the ride. A good view of the scenery around as well as some “merry-go-round” antics by the small boy for some entertainment…

Next we visited the “Vittala Temple” and the “Stone Chariot”. This is one of the best sculptures of the Vijaynagara empire and is famous for the “Musical Pillars”. However the Pillars are not open to public viewing anymore .Spent some relaxing and educative time there and also some good sunset pictures.

The last stop was at going through the “Soolai Bazar” or the “Dancing Girls Street”. There is a also a small tank near by which has a pavilion in the center. The tank was believed to be used by the dancing girls.
It was almost 7pm and we were ready to go back to Hospet. Another ½hr drive. But we lost our way a number of times before reaching our place of stay. It was more because the people were not giving proper directions. We were quite perplexed as to whether they were intentionally misdirecting us since it was such a small town and each person was giving completely different directions…!!!
It is worth mentioning here that we had our dinner at “Krishna Palace”. This is a must visit because where else can you find a luxurious candle light non vegetarian buffet with a nice swimming pool on the side…all for Rs.200….!!!

After a nice dinner, we ended our journey to past and dreaded the arrival of the next morning since we were to come back to Bangalore hence to the present routine of life…..

Day 3 – Dec 27, 2009
7:00 am – Had a nice breakfast at Yatri Nivas and started the drive back to Bangalore. Took the same NH13 & NH7. Had lunch at Kamat Yatrinivas and was back home by about 4pm.

Even though a heritage site , Indian govt has not maintained it well. There is no proper route directions for tourists coming in here. Very badly managed. No proper hotels in Hampi.
I had been to Mauritius and had visited Apravasi Ghat, which is also a world heritage centre. Its only approx 2500sqft area but so beautifully maintained by Mauritian govt that I felt ashamed thinking about Hampi. I think we should learn from other countires how to show case our riches. The last words what I could think is -- those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Sharing some captured moments of our trip......
Please Click here .