Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

December 27, 2019

Trip of a Lifetime: Antarctica!

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 12:28 PM

Earlier this month I completed a trip that I had been thinking about and planning on and off since 2007. Me, Jani and parents did a 9 day expedition trip to Antarctica! With this trip I have successfully traveled to all 7 continents on earth. Me and dad first started talking about going to Antarctica back in 2007, we explored the options and due to various constraints we didn’t travel at that time.

Then over the following years we would revisit the topic from time to time but again something or other would come up and we never seriously planned the Trip. I mentioned this to Jani and this year we started exploring the options to find out the costing etc. A few weeks later we were hanging out with Gaurang and Kangan and somehow the topic of Antarctica came up again. I mentioned that I had wanted to travel to Antarctica for a while and told the backstory. Kangan mentioned that one of her friends had a company that specializes in exotic trips etc and connected us to the owner. Jani connected with Prabhat Verma from Offbeat Travels and got us the details of the options available and the next time we were in Delhi I checked with dad and mom about them joining the trip. Dad immediately agreed but mom was initially quite hesitant but we all managed to convince her. I also checked with Surabhi & Vinit and they straight off refused. In Surabhi’s words “You want to travel where? Are you Insane?” Vir (my nephew) on the other hand was very upset that he couldn’t join us and kept trying to convince everyone that he should be allowed to join us.

Jani is writing a post focusing on the process, logistics, approvals visa etc for the trip so I am not going to go in much detail about that here so as not to duplicate the effort and reduce the amount of typing I will have to do. (This is going to be a long post as it covers 15 days of travel).

If you just want to see the highlights, George & Neill from Oceanic Expeditions made a video giving the highlights of the entire trip and you can view it here: Highlights Video.

The preparation for the trip took us a few months as it required us to get a lot of winter clothes, visa’s etc. The main item we had to work on was the Argentinian Visa as the ship departure was from Ushuaia in Argentina. You have two options for the Visa application, if you have a valid US visa or a Schengen visa valid for more than 6 months at the time of application (this will become important later in the story) you can apply online for an e-visa. Else you have to visit the Embassy either in Delhi or in Mumbai and apply there. If you apply in person, the visa application is free but when you apply online there is a cost involved. For folks in south India you have to apply in Mumbai and the rest of the country can apply in Delhi. Since both me and Jani had valid US visa’s and I had a valid Schengen visa as well we applied online as going to Mumbai was not really convenient and the cost we were saving by not paying the online processing fees was more than offset by the flight costs to-and-fro from Mumbai. For mom and dad, they didn’t have an option and had to apply in person, which wasn’t that big a deal as they were in Delhi itself.

Me and Jani, filled out the online form and submitted copies of the US Visa for her and the Schengen visa for me. What we didn’t realize was that my visa was valid only till April which put it at less than 6 months of validity from our travel dates. The online processing took 20 days and that is the standard ETA so you need to ensure you are applying well in advance just in case you hit issues. After 20 days Jani got a confirmation email and I got a note saying that I wasn’t eligible for online application and should apply at the consulate. Calls to the consulate didn’t give any additional details. I applied again online using my US visa but since by this time it was already Nov 1, I didn’t have any buffer in case the online application got denied again so Jani went to Mumbai to apply in person. The experience was not as good here as it was for mom and Dad in Delhi and they have this funny requirement that every applicant has to come for an in person interview. This meant that I would have had to fly to Mumbai for the interview, thankfully in some cases they do have the option to do a whatsapp interview instead and they agreed that I could give the interview virtually.

After all the formalities were completed and the day my interview was scheduled I woke up to find an approval email for the e-visa waiting in my mailbox and immediately notified the consulate about the same and asked them to cancel the application which they did and now all of us had the required documents to travel to Argentina.

Finally it was time to start, me and Jani started the trip from Bangalore on the 29th Nov by flying over to Delhi. We got there early in the morning, finished a little last min shopping for winter clothes etc and then headed home. Our flight was late at night so we reached the airport around 11pm and checked in. We were flying Ethiopian Airlines and the lady who checked us in didn’t know what she was doing and during the check in she didn’t allocate seats for the second leg of the trip (from Addis Ababa to Buenos Aires). Instead our boarding passes said we were on Standby. As per her this was because the booking system for the second leg wasn’t open and they would assign the seats in Addis Ababa. This was the first time I had heard of this but since we didn’t have any options we accepted and started the trip.

When we reached Addis Ababa I went to the transfer desk who told us that the flight was overbooked and since it also involved another airline (we were going from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia via a local airline) she couldn’t assign seats. When the boarding started the gate staff would allocate the seats if they had any space on the plane. As you can imagine it was a big surprise and there were 3 other folks with the same problem. The staff wasn’t really friendly and so we had to wait for the boarding to start. Thankfully we got seats allocated once boarding started but all of us were seated separately for the 16 hour flight.

In total we had 29 hours of flight (excluding layovers) to get to Ushuaia. When we finally reached there we found out that they only had 1 room ready for us as the checkin time was 12 and we had reached there at 9am. But the owner of the B&B was very friendly and accommodating so we got the room and rested while the other room was cleaned & prepared for us. We didn’t do much the first day and just recovered from the marathon flight duration.


Us at the Ushuaia End of the World landmark


Family pic at Ushuaia

The next day we walked around a bit and then went and deposited our luggage for loading to the ship as you are not allowed to take it onboard yourself due to local regulations. After that was done, we had a few hours to kill as the boarding was starting in the evening at 4pm. So we explored the city, did a bit of shopping and had lunch. This helped us pass time and soon it was time to board the Hondius. The boarding was quite easy and smooth possibly because we boarded a bit before the official boarding time and there was very little crowd at that time. The ship left port at around 6pm and we had a great view from the cabins as we had splurged for two of the more expensive cabins. Mom & Dad’s cabin had a balcony and ours had a huge window giving us a spectacular view of the ocean and outside. We started the journey with a bit of movement in the ship and were warned to ensure that we took motion sickness tablets before going to bed as the sea would get more rough overnight. Jani, mom and Dad all took tablets and then crashed early after exploring the ship. As this was an expedition ship it was quite small and had limited facilities (no swimming pools, gym etc etc). Though they did have a great bar/lounge and a decent library.

The next day started early with the breakfast served at 8am and by this time the ship was in the Drake passage which is notorious for rough seas as this is where the cold water from the Antarctic meets the warm current from further north. The weather outside was pretty lousy as well at it was overcast and raining intermittently. Over the day we went through the required tasks for ensuring we were ready for the arrival in the Antarctic like attending mandatory briefings and several interesting lectures.

As it was my birthday the staff at Hondius made a cake for me and also decorated the room with a towel cake and some balloons. We cut the cake in the balcony in the parents cabin, and because it was soo cold the cake cutting finished in under a minute and then we were all back in the cabin warming up.



This is where I celebrated my Birthday (GPS Location)


Room Decorations for the Birthday


Cake Cutting in the Balcony

Since the weather in Antarctic is very fickle all schedules and planned activities were subject to change due to weather not cooperating. We ended the day with a briefing from Ben on the Camping we were planning to do the next day. (more on that later).

On the 4th, we were out of the Drake passage much to the relief of most of the passengers as the ship motion smoothed out and people stopped feeling motion sick as much as earlier. After breakfast the first thing we had to do was head down to the mandatory Bio-Security check for all our external gear and clothes. This is done so that to avoid introducing any foreign contaminants/seeds etc to the Antarctic which is a very fragile eco-system. It wasn’t too complicated and basically made us check all the pockets/seams of the clothes and vacuum our bags and clothes. After the check, we had some free time followed by a very interesting lecture on the Imperial Transantarctic Antarctic expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Hearing about what those people endured while trying to explore the Antarctic was an eye opener. Here we were in a modern ship with all the anemities possible including heated baths, internet, great food etc and these folks were on ships burning coal not able to contact anyone and depending on each other for survival. At one point they were frozen in ice for months during the Antarctic winter which meant that the sun never rose for those long months and all they could do was hope that the frozen ice shelf was floating in the direction they needed to go. If you are interested in reading more about this amazing trip, I recommend that you check out ‘South: The Endurance Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton’. This was followed by a session on how Photography & Videography in the Antarctic by Neil & George and then dinner. I read quite a lot during these two days as there wasn’t much to do and Jani & parents were on sea sickness meds which made them all quite sleepy for the most part.


Jani’s first time seeing Snow/Ice

The 5th morning started early morning with the wakeup call at 6:45am followed by breakfast at 7am. The agenda for the first day in the Antarctic was quite packed with 2 landings lasting about 3-4 hours each and the overnight camping at night. The first stop was a very small island called ‘Useful Island’ which was named so because it was useful to the whalers who had setup an outpost on the island to spot whales for the whaling industry. As the Antarctic treaty limits the number of people who could go on-shore at the same time, all the passengers were split into 4 groups (Red, Blue, Green and Yellow) and the landings were split with red & blue groups landing together and the Green/Yellow groups were grouped together. The groups departed from the ship within 15 mins of each other but the first batch would land and explore while the second batch would do a Zodiac cruise which was basically riding the zodiac around the island looking at the scenery and trying to spot marine life like whales, penguins, seals etc.


Jani getting ready for the first landing in our Cabin

We were in the red group and so were in the first landing for the our trip to the Useful island. The weather for the landing was phenomenal and the sky was crystal clear with a few clouds scattered around to give us a spectacular view. When we landed on the island the first thing that hit us was the smell. The landing side was near a penguin colony and you won’t believe how much it stank. For the first few mins I was afraid that I might actually throw-up from the smell. Thankfully I didn’t throw up and after depositing the life-jackets we started the climb up to the top of the island. The guides had marked a trail out and it was a little slippery but was a good hike. When we reached the top there was another colony of Penguins at the top but due to the strong wind it didn’t smell that bad. We took a few photos and recovered from the hike. The island was basically rock with a very little sand/mud. There was absolutely no vegetation except for a few small colonies of moss & lichen.


Us at the first landing with a penguin nest in the background


Claiming the top of Useful Island for India 🙂


View from the top of the island

Once we got back to the zodiac for the cruise we found out that the reason the nests stink so much is that the digestive systems of the penguins is quite inefficient and they only digest ~60% of the food they eat, the rest is passed out as waste and when it decomposes it creates the lovely aroma we were welcomed with when we landed. In fact there is a species of bird that has evolved to eat penguin shit and I don’t really remember the actual name of the species but they are called ‘shit eaters’ in the common tongue.


Scenic shot of a cliff I really liked

The cruise was very cool (no pun intended) and we saw a couple of seals just relaxing, one of them was a tiger seal and I don’t remember the name of the other species. The first one was relaxing on the ice right off the island and we spotted the second one in the water swimming around the boat. After a few minutes it jumped out of the water and on to an iceberg about 5-10 feet away from our boat. We hung around for a bit taking some amazing pics and then roamed around the bay looking at icebergs, some really intimidating cliffs and the awesome scenery. The drive around was about 1 ½ hours and post the completion we were back on the ship to defrost before heading down for lunch. The lunch on the ship was quite decent with a good variety of food available and the staff was super friendly and helpful.

Post lunch we got to rest for about 2 hours before heading out for the second landing of the day in ‘Orne Harbor’. This was a continental landing meaning we were going to land on the actual continent of Antarctica. Not many expeditions are able to do this due to the difficulty in landing and getting to the continent but thanks to the skill of our captain we were able to land on the continent. This was the only continental landing of the expedition as the rest were island landings.


Orne Harbor landing site on Continental Antarctica. We climbed all the way to the top after landing

For this section of the landing we took the zodiac cruise first and saw some truly spectacular icebergs and scenery. Soon it was time for us to set foot on the continent and we soon took our first steps on Antarctica. With this landing I have officially traveled to all 7 continents. This landing was a bit different than the previous one as we had to climb a hill to get to the top of the cliff to see the nesting sites Gentoo penguins and this hike was a longer one that the previous attempt. Mom decided not to climb to the top and just relaxed at the foot of the hill while me, Jani and dad climbed to the top. It took us a while because the path was slippery but it wasn’t too hard. Once we got to the top the views were phenomenal and definitely worth the climb. With this hike I have now hiked on all 7 continents😊 I wasn’t looking forward to climbing down as I knew from experience it was going to be painful and hard. Thankfully we didn’t have to climb down as they gave us the permission to slide down the hill and it was a lot of fun. Infact I was tempted to climb back up and do it again, but we didn’t have the time or the energy to do that. So we took a few more photos and then headed back to the ship to defrost and have dinner.


Us at the Continent of Antarctica


Sliding down the hill in Antarctica was quite fun

The last activity of the day was the overnight camping and we back headed out from the ship around 8:30pm. This camping was especially fun because we were not using tents. All we had was a hole in the ground (that we had to dig) and a sleeping bag (it had a lot of layers). Digging the hole wasn’t that hard as the snow was fresh and easy to dig in. So we dug a hole about 8 inches deep and about 6 feet long. We could have slept without hole in the open but this helped get us out from the wind making it more comfortable. After setting up our sleeping bags we just relaxed and enjoyed the view. Initially when we had planned the camping I was expecting to be able to do a bit of sky watching and there was a meteor shower which was peaking that I was looking forward to observing as there wouldn’t be any light pollution in Antarctica. What I had forgotten was that we have almost 24 hours of light in the Antarctic at this time of the year so at 10pm it was light enough to be around 5 or 6pm in India. This dashed my hopes for observing the stars but gave me enough light to watch the penguins nesting near our camp site.


This is how we camped in Antarctica, without Tents

I was quite comfortable in the night due to ensuring that my sleeping bag was closed correctly and ensuring that I didn’t open it multiple times. Unfortunately Jani wasn’t that lucky as she was quite cold (in her words, she froze) mostly because she kept sitting up to blow her nose and didn’t close the sleeping bag correctly after that. Dad also wasn’t super comfortable but wasn’t as miserable as Jani. The temperature wasn’t that bad either at about -10 with a windchill of another 5-10 degrees. I was woken up in the morning by the sound of whales clearing their blow holes and when I looked around I saw 3 whales just swimming around in the bay in clear sight. They were visible for almost 15 mins but I didn’t feel like coming out of the sleeping bag to take photos.


View I had from my sleeping bag.

At 5am our ride back to the ship arrived and we had to fill the holes we had dug. It was a lot more difficult to fill the holes than to dig them as the snow had frozen solid overnight into ice and digging it was hard with the shovel we had. After we finally managed to fill the holes we boarded the Zodiacs and were back onboard the ship. The first thing we did after we got back was have a nice hot shower to heat our bodies back to the normal temperature range for humans and then had hot chocolate followed by a nice breakfast.

The agenda for the 6th again had 2 landings but since we had a pretty packed first day and Jani had developed a slight cold we decided not to do any landings so that we all could recover and this ensured that we would all be ready for the rest of the voyage without falling sick. We spent the day relaxing and sleeping for the most part. (I read some more). For dinner we had a special surprise. Since the weather was nice and sunny the galley team had setup a barbecue on the deck. We had nice hot food and drinks outside in the open and it was quite nice. Dinner was followed by lots of dancing and drinks.


Outdoor barbeque at sub-zero temperatures is fun (This is about 8:30pm)

The 7th morning dawned with a cruise through the famous Lemaire Channel which has been identified as the most photographed part of the Antarctic as the channel is narrow and the cliffs/ice on both sides of the passage combined with icebergs in the water make for some spectacular photos. We got up early to take some photos followed by breakfast.


Some amazing scenery on the way


Icebreaker in action. This is from the rear of the ship as we weren’t allowed at the Bow during this time

After breakfast we got to visit the ‘Vernadsky Station’ which is the permanent Ukrainian research station in Antarctica. The scientists at the base were quite happy to see us as they don’t get many visitors and as this was right after the winter ended we were the first new faces they had seen in over 6 months. Looking at the way they live I have to say that they deserve a big round of applause and credit as it is not an easy job. There are only 6 people who stay there all year round and most of the time they meet each other only during the meal times, the remaining time they are working on their own projects without interacting with each other. Now at least they have very limited internet connectivity ~1.5 GB per person per month but before that became possible they were completely cut off from the rest of humanity.


Vernadsky Station

The base is well supplied and has its own library, bar, souvenir shop and post office. We bought a couple of small souvenirs from the shop and also got our passports stamped with the Antarctica Entry stamp. This is not an official stamp but it is cool and something we had wanted to get since we started planning the trip. If we had not been able to visit the station we couldn’t have gotten the stamp so in a way we were lucky that the station was accessible and the base commander was amiable for us to visit.


Dad at the bar in Vernadsky Station, Antarctica

After the station tour we took another Zodiac cruise and had the good fortune to see a whole raft (group of penguins in water) of Penguins swimming around our boat and fishing. We even got to help our Acoustic scientist with taking sound recordings of their interactions. The best part of the outing was the whale that swam around our boat and surfaced not more than 20 mts from the boat. Whales are majestic creatures and this one was no different.


Raft (group) of Penguins fishing in water


A majestic seal just chilling on an Iceberg


A flock of sea-birds fishing with the Vernadsky Station in the background

After we got back we had our lunch and in the afternoon we were supposed to visit another island but couldn’t do so because the entire island was locked in ice and even though the ship we were on was an icebreaker it was too thick for us to go through so Adam (the expedition leader) took the call to not risk it and instead we started sailing back towards Argentina and instead of having just one landing the next day we now had two planned.


Jani and me at the Aft deck

On 8th Morning we again woke up early to watch the ship sail through the entrance to Deception Island, the narrow Neptune’s Bellow’s which was quite picturesque. We landed on Deception island in the Whalers bay which is located in the middle of an active volcano on it. In fact it had erupted in the early 60’s killing one person and causing the base on the island to be abandoned. The island has a rich history and it was a humbling experience to walk around the island to see all the works of man destroyed by the volcano. The island is designated as a historic site so apart from removing any equipment that could be hazardous to the environment it was left as is. We got to see the location from where the first powered flight in Antarctica had taken place along with the remains of the Aircraft hanger.


Historic hanger located at Deception Island where the first powered flight in Antarctic was held

After a walk around the island it was time for the most important part of the voyage: The Polar Dip. Basically we striped to our swimwear and took a dip in the Antarctic water. The volcano raised the temperature of the sand a few degrees so it wasn’t as freezing to walk on but it was still very cold. A majority of the passengers took the plunge and it was amazing. Jani and mom took a single dip while me and Dad went back for a second dip.



Polar Dip, in Antarctica
(Click to view the Video on FB. Message if you can’t access)

As soon as we got out from the water and finished dressing, we were rushed back to the ship where we jumped in the hot shower immediately. The water was cold enough that my body temperature was lowered by a few degrees just from a quick dip. If I had stayed in the water for about 2 mins I could easily develop hypothermia. But the risk was worth it, and the video came out very nicely.

Once we warmed up and were no longer in danger of hypothermia we had lunch and soon it was time for the last landing of the expedition to ‘Walkers Bay’ which is famous for ‘Elephant seals’. Elephant seals are the largest as the largest extant marine mammals and the males can weigh between 2,200 to 4,000 kg each. The bay was very small and we saw about 20-30 seals each of which was just chilling. The island also had some petrified wood and whale remains and a few different varieties of lichen and moss.
After spending about an hour on the island we started the last Zodiac cruise of the trip and it was interrupted in the middle with the galley team serving us a nice hot drink in the middle of the ocean which was quite great. We watched the seals playing with each other and had a drink. Actually now that I think of it, I have now also had a drink on all 7 continents on earth 😊 . Once we got back to the ship we changed and headed down dinner. After dinner we were advised to have the motion sickness tablets before sleeping as we were entering the Drake passage overnight and it was back to choppy sea’s again. Jani, mom and dad all took the tablets and crashed for the night while I read some more and watched movies.


At Walkers Bay with elephant seals in the background

The next day we relaxed (as much as possible due to the choppy sea) and returned the boots etc. There were a few lectures planned and we attended a few when we felt like it but for the most part we were in the room watching movies or sleeping. On 9th night our ship received a distress call and was asked to help search for a Chilean military plane which had lost contact near our location. Hondius was one of two ships in the region and immediately started search and rescue in a grid pattern. We didn’t know the details at night as the call had come quite late and we only got an announcement about the distress call and that we were starting S&R. The entire expedition staff and the crew was awake all-night watching the seas for any sign of the aircraft, lifeboats or debris from the crash. We still hadn’t found any signs of the craft next day when we were given more details about the situation. The Chilean navy had dispatched 4 destroyers to help with the search but they were still 24 hours away (the passage is ~500kms from land) so we were asked to extend the voyage by another day to help with the search. This was a bad experience as we had to sail against the waves due to the grid pattern of the search making the rocking of the boat even worse increasing the sea-sickness in the passengers. Plus the delay meant that all the folks who were flying back the day we were supposed to reach would miss their flights and had to rebook. Our flight back was the next day so we didn’t have to worry about that but it was a sober 24 hours.
The Chilean ship reached the passage 10th evening and we were released but till then we hadn’t found any trace of the plane and all 38 passengers on board were now presumed dead. The remains of the plane were not found till 11th night and it was confirmed all 38 folks on board had not survived. It was a sad way to end the trip, but that’s life. You never know when its your time.


Group shot of the Oceanic Expeditions staff who made the trip really memorable

We reached Ushuaia in the evening and immediately went to the B&B and checked in. Mom and dad were tired so immediately crashed for the night but me and Jani walked around the city to check out the views and pick up some food. It was quite nice the walk was fun.


Passport Stamp for Antarctica

The next day we had an early start as we were starting the first leg of the return journey at 9am. When we got to the airport the guy at the check-in counter told us that there was a later flight available that would mean not having to change airports in Buenos Aires. Our original flight would have required us to take a 1 hour drive to the other airport from where we would board the Ethiopian Airlines flight. Since we had time and this change would save us from having to move from one airport to the other we changed the flight and flew out at 11:30. This detour required us to do a halt on the way, where we had to exit the airport and then check in again but it was still more convenient compared to the original option.

Once we reached Buenos Aires we had a bit of time to kill before we were able to check in. During check in we ensured that we got seats allocated for the entire leg and the return journey was uneventful but quite long. We finally reached Delhi almost 40 hours after we started from Ushuaia and had a day to recover before boarding the flight back to Bangalore.

Reaching home was a relief and with the marathon flights ended we had completed the trip of a lifetime.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

November 8, 2019

Diwali Trip to Delhi and more

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 4:34 PM

Last to last week was quite eventful as me and Jani took a 9 day trip to Delhi + other places and celebrated Diwali. The trip started with us flying to Delhi on the 18th and for some reason the drive that usually takes an hour on an average took us a bit longer than 2 hours. Thankfully we had kept enough of a buffer when leaving that we had a whole 15 mins before the check-in counter closed. The flight was a bit delayed but otherwise uneventful. I have to say Vistara is fast becoming one of my favorite airlines for domestic travel due to the sheer professionalism of the staff and the standard of service they maintain. Once we got to Delhi it was quite late so we crashed and then on Saturday we spent the first half of the day running errands and finishing dental appointments. In the evening Jani and me drove over to the Sector 18 market to try out the local chaat’s and other foods. The whole area has changed quite a bit and I could barely recognize the place.

On Sunday we left early in the morning from home for my dad’s brother’s place in the Village. The drive was quite uneventful for the first half and as we neared the place there is a particular temple called ‘Gufa’ (cave) which has some religious significance. Since it was the Sunday before Diwali a million folks (at least it felt like a million folks) had descended on the place for pilgrimage/prayers and the traffic cop told us to take an alternate route if we didn’t want to be stuck in a jam for the next 3-4 hours. So we took a detour and the road took us through the real interiors of Villages and as it was the first time Jani was seeing the north-Indian villages it was a great experience. After a while just as we were supposed to merge back on the highway we found another traffic jam which was about 2-3 kms long. Once again one of the local folks directed us to use an alternate route and this one was scary. The path was barely wider than the car and both sides was overgrown with plants reducing the visibility even more. Mom was scared stiff and I actually have a video of us driving through the path. It is difficult to believe that this was a regularly used road but as per the guy who directed us it was used regularly.


The ‘wide’ path we had to drive on

This time we were able to merge back on the main road without issues and shortly after we reached our place in Baoli. It was great to be there and meet Chachaji (Dad’s younger Brother) and Chachiji (his wife) but the place felt empty. This was the first time I had visited after my grandmother passed away and usually when I visited my cousins or other relatives would also be there at the same time. This time it was just us so it felt weird and empty. It was great spending time with them and having homecooked pure healthy food. After spending a few hours relaxing and catching up we took our leave to drive over to mom’s place.


Family photo at Baoli

The drive was great and interestingly the roads are in amazing condition. The road connecting the villages (not the highway) was in better condition than the main roads in Bangalore. The road follows the Ganga Naher (Canal) and is a beautiful drive. There was no water in the canal as they had stopped the flow to do cleanup and maintenance of the canal bed but still the drive was impressive and fun.

Thanks to the great roads we made good time and reached Basera quite quickly. I was visiting the place after almost a decade and there were a lot of changes in the village and the house. But at the same time things were same enough that I got a weird sense that something was off but it was tricky to identify what was causing it. For example the road in front of the house was raised up by almost 6-8 inches. This meant instead of going up two steps to get to the front entrance of the house it was just 1 step and it caused cognitive dissonance for a while. Initially I thought that I was remembering the enterance being a lot higher since I was younger/shorter when I last visited but after a while, I figured out that it was actually because of the raised road that everything looked lower.

We had tea and homemade sweets post which I took Jani around the house and Gher (traditionally the men stayed separate from the ladies and stayed in the Gher. Plus the farm animals etc were kept there as well. Since I spent a lot of my childhood here there were a lot of stories to tell about my childhood and places I remembered. Ashok bhaiya joined us after a bit and took us to the orchard behind the Gher. He spent a lot of effort telling me about the various plants and trees that are there but most of it went over my head. Thankfully Jani was there and since she is really interested in plants/gardening they both had a good long conversation about trees and basically ignored me which was fine with me as I was happy listening without having to contribute.

While we were exploring it turned dark and we headed back home for some amazing food dripping in homemade butter and some homemade pickle. After dinner we hung out for a while catching up with family and then crashed as we had started quite early in the morning.


Jani Helping with cooking by making Poori’s

Next morning we got up quite early (based on our normal wakeup times) and after another filling meal Ashok bhaiya took us around the village and fields. We took the tractor and me & Jani relaxed in the back in the trailer while bhaiya drove. The first place we visited was a Bura refinery (Bura sugar is the least refined or processed form of sugar or sugarcane juice.) they were making the Bura for sale and apparently that has added chemicals in it and is different from the one made for home consumption. It was cool to see how it is made though it was a bit stinky as the burning wood combined with heated sugarcane juice gives off a very strong smell.
We didn’t hang around for long and soon we were on our way to our fields where we were growing Sugarcane and the attached orchard had a lot of different fruit trees. I remember Mango, Guava, peach but there were a lot more. As before Jani and Bhaiya discussed the various trees and how they were grown etc. For me I was enjoying the nature and fresh fruits. After a while we drove over to the other orchard where we primarily grow Mango’s and this one was infested with monkeys. Apparently the infestation is bad enough that farmers regularly loose a lot of their crops to them and since they are so many of them you can’t even chase them off without risking them attacking you. Thankfully we weren’t attacked while we were there and soon drove back home for lunch.


Jani & me at the Sugarcane fields

Lunch was quite relaxed and we chilled at home for a bit before heading out again in the evening to check out the Naher and buy some plants from the nursery near the place. This time I drove and we first visited a water powered Mill (or Atta Chakki in Hindi) which was shut down for a bit due to the ongoing repair in the canal. After that we drove over to the nursery where Jani was in heaven. We bought a lot of plants for a fraction of the cost compared to Delhi/Bangalore and thankfully they were all for the house in Delhi instead of Bangalore as my balcony is running out of space for more plants. 😊

After shopping we returned home and had dinner. Since folks in the villages sleep early everyone soon went to sleep while Jani and me went to the roof to try seeing the Orionid meteor shower. But we were not lucky enough to see much and if we had stayed up longer I am sure we would have seen something but we were also tired so we crashed soon.


Family Pic at Basera

Next day we woke up early and headed back to Delhi. On the way we passed a village named Jani and the police station for the same. I made sure we took a pic of Jani in front of the police station for Jani village and the folks watching us gave us funny looks while we were taking the pics. The drive back was uneventful and we made good time and reached home without much delay. Once we reached home, Jani had a dental appointment which took most of the evening and then we crashed.


Jani Village


Jani Police Station

Next day we explored Delhi and visited the usual suspects. Starting we Lotus temple, Humayun’s tomb, India Gate and last and not the least Kutub Minar. I was visiting Humayun’s tomb for the first time even though I have been staying in Delhi for years. It is quite nice and well maintained. After exploring Delhi we returned home and starting the next day I was working from home so we basically relaxed at home for the most part. Jani and mom did go shopping a few times and bought a bunch of stuff. I am happy I had the excuse of working so I could avoid joining them for their shopping expeditions.


Lotus temple


Us at Humayun’s tomb

Unfortunately I managed to catch a viral during one of the visits and just as my work ended on Friday I started feeling the effects and by the time I went to bed I was miserable and the next 2 days were painful and tiring. Basically I survived on Soup and meds. Thankfully by Sunday afternoon I was a bit better as we had Jeeto mausi, Mausaji, Axu and Montu visiting for lunch. Lunch was fun even though I couldn’t eat much but it was great to catchup with them after a long time. Post lunch we did the puja in the evening and lit the Diya’s which was nice. Surprisingly hardly any folks were bursting crackers this time, so it was quite peaceful and not too bad pollution wise.


Monday again I was working so I spent the day in my room while Jani and parents hung out and shopped. Our flight was in the evening so we all piled into the car around 6 and drove over to the airport. Since we got there early enough we went to the Airport Lounge and it was tiny. Hardly big enough for more than 30-40 people at a time and not much food/drinks options were there either. The flight back was mostly uneventful and we reached home around 2am. Thankfully most of the luggage survived the trip except one bowl that was sacrificed to the travel gods during the trip.

Overall the trip was a lot of fun and going forward I am going to visit Basera & Baoli much more frequently.

– Suramya

October 13, 2019

Our Trip to Varkala

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips,Uncategorized — Suramya @ 11:01 PM

This last weekend it was a long holiday so we went on a trip to Varkala, Kerala. Its about 700kms from Bangalore and as per Google maps would take about 13 hours to drive there. As I had no interest in driving for 13+ hours and reaching the site exhausted we decided to take an overnight sleeper bus to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and then hire a car to take us to Varkala which is about another 2 hours drive. Initially we did think about taking a TT (Tempo Traveller) as we normally do as that would have come out to be a bit cheaper but then the majority voted for taking a bus so that we get some rest and not reach the resort exhausted as travel in a TT is not the world most comfortable way to travel.

We started from my place around 7:30pm as our bus boarding was at 9:15pm but since it was raining we couldn’t get any cabs so we ended up taking my car where all 7 of us (including the driver) squeezed into the car and even with the traffic we reached the pickup point early enough that we had time to have a quick dinner before boarding the bus. Due to the delay in us booking the tickets we were right in the back of the bus and the road was initially quite bumpy and the driver really loved the brakes. I almost took a header down from the upper berth but thankfully managed to grab a railing before I pitched over fully. The seats were quite comfortable and clean so after playing a round of UNO we crashed (we would have continued playing but the lights were turned off and it made it hard to play. Plus we were all tired as well so we decided to sleep early.

Once we reached Thiruvananthapuram and got into the car the first order of business was food so we went to a local restaurant and attacked the food. It was quite good, or we were just that hungry that we finished the food in record time. Post brunch we drove to Poovar Backwaters and took a 3 hour boat ride through the backwaters. The boat ride was quite fun and I enjoyed the beautiful views. This place is a birdwatcher’s paradise and I can’t remember how many different varieties of birds I saw during the ride. About halfway through the ride we stopped for a snack break at a floating restaurant and it was ok, nothing too special though the juice I had was fresh and tasty. Apparently the tea was one of the worst people have had but since I don’t drink tea I can’t comment on that.


All ready to explore the Backwaters

After the snacks we rode over to the Golden Sands beach which was basically a regular beach between the backwaters and the ocean. They just gave it a fancy name to attract visitors. We had to cut the beach visit short as it started drizzling and in any case we couldn’t get into the water as it was dangerous. We did see a crab and were trying to catch it when a big wave came and the crab escaped in the water. You should have seen how quickly everyone ran when they realized that the crab was MIA in the water.


The place was a bird watchers paradise

After the beach we spent another 1 1/2 hours touring the mangroves and by the time the 3 hours were up we were all more than ready to head back. The last 45 mins or so were esp boring as we basically went round the place in circles and we all were a bit sleepy by this time but Jani and Akanksha were especially hit as they had both taken motion sickness tablets and one of the side effects of this particular table is excessive drowsiness.

Since we were all tired and had no interest in looking at more mangroves/backwater we headed out to the hotel. On the way we stopped at Vizhinjam Light House making it just before the closing time giving us about 15-20 mins to explore the lighthouse. For some weird reason they have a requirement that everyone climbing the lighthouse has to remove their shoes. As it had started drizzling this meant that we had wet feet/socks when we climbed the stairs. The view from the location is spectacular and worth the time to see at least once.


View from the lighthouse

After the light house we drove to the hotel and checked in. We got lucky and got one of the suites giving us a nice place to hang out and chill. The hotel is located at a great location and was a good experience for the most part. The major issue we faced during the stay was that the service is super slow. To give an idea of the slowness it took over an hour for them to serve us dinner after we ordered and I was ready to go to the kitchen to yell at them when they finally served the food. I was happy with what I ordered but the rest of the folks were not super impressed with the food. The other issue I had was that the linen / bed sheets etc were super old and quite rough/uncomfortable.

But the view from the room was amazing. We could see the swimming pool from the window and just beyond that was the beach. We got up early morning the next day to enjoy a swim before starting the touristy things. It was a bit of a surprise when we got down and walked over to the beach and saw the entire beach front area in front of the hotel taken over by Pandits and worshipers for puja (prayer). So we walked a bit toward the empty part of the beach beyond the fishermen selling fresh catch and entered the water.


View from our room

The water was phenomenal, and the waves were super powerful and a lot of fun. We got thrown around quite a bit and had a blast. We could only go in a few meters into the surf and that was more than enough to chill/fool around. Jani stayed out to keep an eye on us and spotted a dead puffer fish on the beach which is something I hadn’t see before.


Dead Puffer fish we found on the beach

We spent about an hour in the water before we had to head back as we had a tight schedule for the rest of the day. We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed out to visit the Jatayu Earth Center/Adventure Camp. The idea was that we would spend a few hours at the adventure camp, visit the statue and then head back.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the center it was 11:30am and hot enough that you could fry an egg on the road, so we discussed and reached a consensus to skip the adventure sports and just take the cable car to the top to see the statue. We could have taken the steps and trekked to the top but due to the heat none of us dared. The statue was impressive and the 65 acre land around the statue was filled with a forest and looked amazing. After fooling around for a bit and taking a lot of pics we took refuge under some trees and then under the wings of Jatayu.


Us at the Jatayu Earth Center


Sharukh and Ayush trying to copy Jatayu’s pose

Once we got down from the statue it was late enough that we were starting to feel hungry again so we headed out to ‘5 Spoons’ restaurant which was ok. Most of the items on the menu were not available and the dishes we did get were average. However the Chilli Paneer we got was surprisingly good.

Post lunch we headed back to the hotel with a plan to get Kerala massages at the hotel followed by a long and relaxing swim in the pool. Scheduling the massage took some time as the staff was super slow. To make things interesting they could only schedule massages for 2 people at a time. While the rest of the folks went for a swim me and Jani volunteered for the first slot. After we agreed and were about to head in we found out that there was no guy available for the men’s massage so I had to wait for 30 mins while their massage guy came over.

The massage was interesting in a lot of ways. When I got to the room I was asked to strip and wear this strip of cloth the size/width of a thong. The windows of the room didn’t have curtains and I could see houses and folks chilling from where I was standing. I only hope that the women’s side had more protection from peeping toms. The guy giving the massage was quite decent and while it wasn’t the best massage I had it definitely wasn’t the worst either. I felt a lot more relaxed after the massage and went for a swim after the massage.

For dinner we walked over to another restaurant walking distance from the hotel and were joined by 2 other friends who were coincidentally in Varkala at the same time during their road trip. The dinner was fine but it took them ages to get the food. The Veg sizzler was quite nice and apparently the seafood platter was good as well. The rest of the dishes were quite average. Because of the slow service it took us a while to finish dinner and then we retired to our room to chill.

As it was Ayush’s birthday we had planned on a surprise birthday celebration. While Shahrukh kept Ayush busy me, Jani, Sharukh and Shashank blew up balloons and decorated the cake etc. Post cake cutting we proceeded with the traditional beating the crap out of the birthday boy ritual. Fortunately for Ayush both Jani and Akanksha were softhearted enough to stop the beating after only a few hits. We then opened the local wine we had picked up and I can say without any hesitation that it was the worst wine I have had the pleasure of tasting. We only managed to have a few sips each before we gave up and abandoned the rest of the bottle.


Celebrating Ayush’s birthday

Next day we didn’t have much planned so we got up early morning and spent the morning playing in the pool. We stayed in the water till the last possible min and it was great. Unfortunately we had to leave the pool as it was getting late and we had to freshen up before we checked out from the hotel thus we got out, freshened up and walked over to another restaurant for breakfast where the food was a lot better and we had the entire place to ourselves.

Once we were done with food we checked out and then drove over to Kovalam beach. We took the beach road which was quite scenic but in bad repair so the drive took a while. Just as we reached the beach it started raining so we had to run to the nearest restaurant which was right on the beach. Personally I am not a huge fan of Kovalam beach as I think its overrated, crowded and not worth the time. There are other beaches nearby which are a lot better and more friendly but this is a beach that is so famous that everyone wants to visit atleast once. This was the second time I visited and though it was a litter less chaotic than the last time I was there it was still too crowded. The food at kovalam was quite nice and we ended up spending almost 1 1/2 hours there.

Post lunch, we drove to our pickup point near the music college and we reached there almost an hour before our boarding was supposed to start and there was nothing around where we could sit. Finally we sat down in a Gandhi museum near the pickup point, but luck was with us that the bus reached early and we boarded. Once again we were at the end of the bus and had a great & bumpy ride. This bus was via ‘orange tours’ and I didn’t like the bus quality. There were cockroaches in the bus and the blanket they provided was stinking so badly that I had to open the window to get fresh air and avoid throwing up. The driver was quite good though, he got us to Bangalore an hour earlier than we expected so we reached home by 8am and got ready by 8:30 and was on the way to office on time.

Overall the trip was quite fun. The next time we will take Kerela Lines both ways as their quality & cleanliness was much better than Orange Tours. Well, this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

September 16, 2019

Met Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion yesterday

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 11:07 AM

Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion. Mani has won 18 global medals: 5 gold,10 silver and 3 bronze medals – highest in the history of sport climbing in India and is the first and only sports climbing champion from India. He received the coveted Tenzing Norgay award from the President last month and has represented India in 5 world championships. We spent quite some time talking and it was humbling to see what can be achieved when you have focus and determination at your side. In addition to competing in international events he is also coaching 2 students who qualified for the national level last week. You could see the pride in his face when he was talking about his students but when it came to his own accomplishments he was remarkably humble and matter of fact.

The main issue with the sport that I see after talking to him is that the is not enough exposure or media coverage on these athletes, I mean these are folks who are consistently representing India on a global forum and winning but hardly anyone knows about them. I am sorry to say that even I didn’t know about his accomplishments before yesterday.


Me and Jani with Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion

We need to encourage more kids to take part in sports other than Cricket. There is a whole world out there and we have the talent to win it, just need the encouragement and resources for these folks to compete.

– Suramya

July 29, 2019

Our Trip to Dandeli

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 11:24 PM

Last weekend we booked an adventure tour to Dandeli and it was ‘interesting’ in the Chinese curse sense of the word. Normally when I blog about trips I tend to avoid posting about the bad parts of the trip in detail since we usually end up having a lot of fun and can ignore the bad parts. However in this case I will be posting all the ‘fun’ things that happened to us during the trip. This trip was booked through Thrillophilia for 7 people and was another bad experience with them. (I actually didn’t post about the last trip as I was annoyed enough by the trip to decide it was better to not write anything). The booking was done on-line and we got a confirmation email a day later with a map location for the resort. I did notice that the name of the venue wasn’t listed on the email (It only said ‘Dandeli tours’) but paid it no attention at the time.

We left from Bangalore around 11pm due to traffic and the drive was long… It took us ~14 hours to reach the location shared with us as it was raining and we couldn’t drive fast. When we finally reached the map location we found that the location shared was for Dewdrops adventure tours and they were quite helpful in trying to help us figure out where we were supposed to go. Since we didn’t know the name of the place we couldn’t get accurate directions. There was a number shared in the email and we finally managed to get through to it after multiple attempts as the connectivity was quite bad in the area. That’s when we figured out that our booking was for Panther and had to drive another 2 kms to get to the venue. After driving 14 hours to get to the place it was not a great start to the experience. Unfortunately things only got worse as we continued.

The last mile road to Panther was quite bad and our TT actually got stuck in the mud once while getting there. Thankfully our driver was quite good and we managed to get unstuck and arrived at the venue. At a first look the venue looked nice and we walked over to the reception to check in. When we tried to check in, Mr Veeresh, the person in charge tells us that we were booked for tents even though we had paid for 3 cottages at a twin sharing basis (with an extra bed in 1 cottage) and we had received the confirmation for the same. As per him they had gotten a request for tents and not rooms. After showing him the confirmation email he told us to hold on and disappeared for almost 30 mins. Finally he came back and gave 2 cottages on a 4 person sharing basis as that was the only option available. We didn’t want to take tents as it was raining quite heavily and wanted to avoid the joy of common showers/toilets. Since no other options were available we had to take the rooms offered and checked in. He did tell us that we should reach out to Thrillophilla for the refund (as the twin sharing rooms were more expensive).

Once we got the rooms, we dumped our luggage in there and since we had been travelling all night and had a very light breakfast we were all quite hungry and it was another 1 ½ hours before lunch would be served. So we walked over to the dining area and asked them for some snacks before lunch. We were told that they can’t serve us anything and we would have to wait till lunch was served. Even when we offered to pay they refused us point blank. With no other option we had to dig in to our snacks bag and try to survive on Chips/nuts etc.

We all freshened up and rested for a bit while we waited for lunch to be served. After lunch we decided to get in the water and Canoe in the Pool. So we all changed and walked over to the area. Thankfully the pool (?) was empty at the time and we got the entire place to ourselves. Jani refused to enter the water as she wasn’t comfortable with the other people staying at the place (more on this later) and the fact that the water was filthy.


Kayaking at the Venue


Kayaking at the Venue

The kayaking venue had algae floating it in and filled with frogs and other insects/creepy crawlers and it didn’t look like it had been cleaned this year. But since we weren’t planning on taking a dip in the water we got in the boats and fooled around in the water for a bit. But we couldn’t stay in there for long as the water was filthy and we didn’t want to risk an infection by staying in it longer than required. So we got out and decided to try out the rain shower. Unfortunately, the rain shower setup was taking the filthy water from the kayaking place and showering it on the people. The floor of the shower was caked in algae and I couldn’t stay in the water for long. So we immediately got out and decided to try out the pool which was a different setup and we hoped that it would be cleaner. We were disappointed when we reached the ‘Pool’. It wasn’t actually a pool, it was a big tub masquerading as a pool which had water which was so dirty with mud, dead insects, algae and filth in it. I don’t think it had been cleaned anytime in the near past. Since we had entered the water we needed to take a bath in Dettol (Thankfully we carried it with us) water to disinfect us after entering this unclean water.

By this time it was around 3:30-4pm and since the weather was amazing we decided to get some tea and just hang out. So we asked for tea and were told that nothing is available and tea will be only served at 5:30pm. Which is bizarre behavior, but with no other option we had to wait. When the tea was finally served it was served without any snacks as snacks are only served starting at 7:30pm. Is this a college canteen or PG accommodation we were staying at? I have travelled extensively and this is the first place where people are refusing to serve food even when you offer to pay for it when they have a working kitchen. In our last trip the place we stayed didn’t have an attached kitchen but they still served us tea and snacks when we asked.

So we had our tea without pakoda’s and then played a little carrom and badminton to kill time. We did manage to do the Zipline and Burma bridge and thankfully both were decent and nothing broke which was a pleasant surprise considering the state of the rest of the place..
By now we noticed that there appeared to be only three girls in the entire camp and the rest were a bunch of very rowdy guys who spent majority of the time drinking and creating a ruckus. As we didn’t want to interact with them and there weren’t any other options available to pass the time we retreated to the room and passed the time playing cards, and uno. Both were a lot of fun since we had a great group of people with us. If we had come here alone we wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all.


Group photo at the Room

Later in the evening a campfire was organized even though the wood was quite wet and it was a valiant effort. They also played some music so the bunch of us decided to turn the dining area into an impromptu dance floor. The dances were hilarious and no I am not going to share the videos that Jani took. After a while the other groups joined us in the dancing and that’s when we stopped for dinner as they were just weird. We had dinner and then headed back to the room and played some more cards and Jenga since we couldn’t step out to go somewhere else due to the constant rain.

It was Akanksha’s birthday so at midnight we cut a cupcake to celebrate the event. We couldn’t get a cake as it would have spoilt if we had carried it from home and there was no place near the venue to get it. After the cake cutting we walked around a bit inside the property but had to quickly comeback to the room as the guys I spoke about earlier started creepily staring at the girls.


Cupcake cutting at midnight

Next morning we (me and Jani) slept late while the rest of the group went for a Jungle safari. Apparently the drive was through some amazing scenery but they didn’t see any wild animals except the usual deer etc. Interestingly the only way to get to the jungle safari place was using your own vehicle. I was expecting the venue to provide transportation to the place but I guess that was too much hospitality to expect. After the safari we had breakfast and started the long drive back. We picked up a cake on the way and properly had the cake cutting. The cake was fine although the grated coconut on a black forest cake was a bit surprising. We reached home after about 12 hours of driving and by then all of us were exhausted and basically crashed.


Cake Cutting at Kamath

The over all trip was fun because we had a good group but the venue was not at all worth the money we spent on it and we were quite disappointed with our experience.

We have reached out to Thrillophilla and complained about the experience. They are looking into it and will get back to us once their investigation is complete. Depending on how that goes we will see if we want to ever book with them again as this was the 2nd or 3rd time with these guys with a bad experience everytime.
Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

July 11, 2019

Yelagari Hills road trip

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 11:17 PM

This weekend we had planned to go for a Trek but as Jani had hurt her back we had a last min change of plans and instead went to Yelagiri hills. When I say last min, I do mean last min. We booked the stay about 10 hours before we left home. Since there were seven of us making the trip I wanted to rent a 7-8 seater car so that all of us can travel together, but since it was last min we were unable to find a car. Thankfully Shashank wanted to do a long bike ride so he and Shahrukh decided to make the trip on his bike and the rest of us took my car.

As usual we planned on leaving early from home to avoid the lovely Bangalore traffic. We had an early breakfast at home (Shahrukh & Jani made French toast) and we started at ~6:30am from home. The drive was quite nice and the company was better. The place we were staying at (Yelagiri Farm House) was ~150Kms from home and it took us about 3 ½ hours to make the drive with a single break for Tea/Coffee. The last stretch of the drive was though the hills and the views were amazing but since everyone except me was sleeping in the car they missed most of it. In a way that is good as most of them suffer from motion sickness and anything that avoids people throwing up in my car is good in my books. I had a blast singing while everyone was sleeping (Though I am not sure how they managed to sleep through my singing).

The Farm house was on a large property with nice big rooms. To give you an idea of the size all 7 of us could have comfortably stayed in 1 room. But we had multiple rooms so it was good. Once we reached the venue we just chilled and had our 2nd breakfast for the day. The weather was nice and cool so it was great sitting outside in the open relaxing.


Having the second breakfast of the day

After talking to the owners we found out that there were a few adventure camps near the farmhouse so after relaxing for a while we decided to check out the options. Shashank and Shahrukh explored and we found a nice place that had multiple options of games we could play. Since it was lunch time we had our lunch which was ok. The non-veg food was a lot better than the veg options as per the comments I heard during lunch but it still wasn’t bad. Post lunch we went to the Adventure camp and decided to do the Obstacle course, Artificial wall climbing and Zorbing.


Outside the Adventure Camp after lunch

The obstacle course was interesting and a few of the obstacles were a bit challenging but overall it was a lot of fun. The six of us attempted the course while Jani relaxed on the side and took pics. None of us fell so that was good and there was a lot of good natured ribbing going on when someone got stuck. One of the participant went into ‘pure survival mode’ when they got stuck but everyone made it through in one piece (and no I am not naming them).


Obstacle course at the Adventure Camp

The second activity we attempted was the climbing wall which was fairly challenging and only Bagri and Shashank made it to the top while a few of us remaining were close but didn’t make it to the top.


Artificial Climbing wall

The last activity we did was Zorbing. Usually this is done on a hill where you are rolled down a hill but over here the Zorb was floating in the water and all 6 of us got in at the same time. It’s a great place to be when you are with friends and we rolled around in abandon in the Zorb. Akanksha was elbowed in the face (by me. Sorry) and I had Shahrukh and Ayush both land on my back at the same time. If I start listing out all the other times folks fell on each other I will need a couple of pages. In all the 15 mins we spent in there was amazing and we were exhausted after we were done. Finally we had to head back as none of the other sports looked interesting (I did want to try the paintball but not everyone was interested so we left it.). Right outside the arena there were a lot of fresh fruit sellers and we ended up buying almost every single option available (except Jackfruit because it stinks).


Playing Frisbee

After we got back to the farmhouse, we spent a good amount of time playing in the field starting with Frisbee followed by cricket. Akanksha was given the woman of the match award for making the most runs in the first match. Once it got dark and we could hardly see the ball we retired to the room and switched to indoor games.
The first game we played was twister and it was a blast. Watching some of the positions people ended up in was hilarious (when it happened to others, not when you were in the position). We played a couple of rounds with Jani and a rotating set of people acting as a referee. It is a great party game but needs to be played with people who know each other quite well else it can get a bit awkward. After we were tired from Twister we switched to Jenga and it was fun as always. Some of the moves were brilliant and some were so bad that they should be admitted to the bad move hall of fame. Finally it was time to call it a day since all had been awake since early morning and I just crashed. I think Jani was talking to me when I dozed off.

Next day we woke up around 8, had breakfast where we made sandwiches and tried all the fruits we bought the previous day. This was followed by a few rounds of cricket and general fooling around.


Group Photo in front of the Farmhouse

Finally we had to leave because we didn’t want to be too late getting into Bangalore so with a heavy heart we started back. This time everyone in the car was awake for the hairpin turns that took us back to the plains and thankfully the anti-motionsickness tablets worked so that was great. The drive back was fairly uneventful, with one long stop for a tea break. We started off with just tea (juice for some) and then ended up making and having sandwiches from our stockpile. Thankfully we bought enough from the vendor that we didn’t get kicked out for having our own food.

The drive back took a bit longer thanks to the increased traffic but was manageable, at least till we entered Bangalore post which it was the standard disaster we call traffic management in Bangalore.

After we reached home, we chilled for a while and then everyone headed home ending an eventful trip. We had so much fun that we have already started talking about the next trip.

Well, this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

January 8, 2019

Welcoming 2019 at Winterburn Festival, Sakleshpur

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 1:08 AM

Happy New Year! We (Jani & Me) don’t like doing the usual Party/get-drunk/passout for New Years so each year we try to come up with something more interesting and unique. This year we decided to go to WinterBurn which is a Music Festival/Camping event in Sakleshpur organized by Motorcycle Diaries. Initially only the two of us were going but then Ayush, Akanksha & Dipika decided to join us as well which made the trip more fun.

We started the trip early in the morning (5am) on the 29th with a light breakfast and lots of caffeine. The drive down was quite nice as we missed the lovely Bangalore traffic by leaving so early in the morning and we took about 4 hours to reach the venue even though we stopped a few times for tea/coffee and watermelons. When we reached the address we had to do a bit of off-road driving on a muddy track to get to the field where the event was being held. I would not recommend that you take any car with low clearance for this kind of trip as even with the new Honda Citi’s increased ground clearance we scraped the bottom of the car a few times during this last stretch and each time that happened it hurt me more than the car. 🙂

When we reached the place we had a pleasant surprise that we were allocated 2 cottages and a tent instead of 1 cottage, 1 shack and 1 tent. Plus the front of the cottages faced away from the rest of the dormitories so we had a bit of privacy with a nice sitting area in from of the cottages that faced the plantation. So we had pepper & coffee plants about 10 mts from our door and it was quite nice. Since we reached before the food trucks had finished setting up we joined the various artists for a late breakfast of local food which was surprisingly quite tasty (yes I have had bad experiences with local food a few times).


Early morning Breakfast

As nothing was planned for the day till late evening we spent the day doing a bit of relaxing Yoga to stretch our backs thanks to Dipika followed by a lovely walk around the estate. Saw a whole bunch of plants and even though Jani tried her best to tell us about each of the plants I kind of zoned out and just enjoyed the walk in nature. We did find some wild chilies that we picked for eating but still haven’t tried them. After the walk we just hung out and chilled for the most part. We spent a while talking and catching up with each other as some of us hadn’t met in a while or were meeting for the first time.


Stretching Akanksha’s back after the bumpy ride


Ayush, Me and Jani stretching our backs outside the cottage.


Dipika walking Akanksha, me and Jani through some stretching exercises for the back.


Just Chilling at the camp

Since we had an early start and nothing was happening at the event we decided to call it a night and crashed earlier than normal. The next day there was supposed to be a Yoga session organized at 6am but none of us woke up in time for it. The food-truck’s food wasn’t that great and since we had packed enough supplies for breakfast (the plan was to have it while driving to the venue but after eating watermelon we didn’t have space) Jani made sandwiches for all of us along with salad and Tea.


Breakfast courtesy Jani

After seeing the sad state of the festival the day before we decided to not spend the day at the venue and went on a drive to check out some of the local attractions near us. Using Google Maps we found a few locations that looked interested and started the day with a visit to Shettihalli Rosary Church which was about an hours drive away on some very picturesque and narrow roads. The drive took us a bit longer since we stopped a few times to enjoy the scenery and to pluck Imli (tamarind) directly from a roadside tree and eat it raw.


Jani trying to feed me raw Imli

The Shettihalli Rosary Church was built in the 1860s by the French missionaries and was abandoned in 1960 after the construction of the Hemavati Dam. The gothic architecture of the church gives it a haunted feel and even though its only been abandoned for ~60 years it looks a lot older and spookier. We spent about an hour at the church taking pics and admiring the view after which we decided to get some lunch as we were hungry. Lunch was at this little hole in the wall restaurant that kind of looked shady from the outside and you really had to know it was there to find it but it was one of the best lunches I have had in a while. The food was filling, tasty and only cost us Rs 230 total (for all 5 of us) including coffee.


Group Pic at the church

After lunch we drove over to Manjarabad Fort which was built in 1792 by Tipu Sultan. It is in ruins now but at its peak it would have been extremely difficult to attack due to its commanding position on top of a hill. Spent a bit of time exploring before we were kicked out when the place shut down for the night. Interestingly the way they make sure that everyone leaves the fort for the night is by herding everyone to the main gate of the castle that is locked, once the guy inside makes sure there are not stragglers he comes and opens the gate to let everyone out and prevents people coming back inside. It would have been a lot more efficient if there were two people doing this but it works so… can’t really complain. We had a round of coconut water and drove back to base where we hung out in our cabin for a while. The stage was finally setup so a few bands did play but nothing that really stuck out and made us want to sit outside. Went to sleep early again with a plan to *try* going for the 6am yoga classes but once again no one woke up on time for it.


Group pic at the Fort

We freshened up and decided to check out some of the workshops that were running. Ayush, Akanksha and Dipika tried their hands at pottery making while me and Jani watched and made fun of their skills. After lunch we joined the Dreamcatcher workshop run by Meghana. This was a great workshop and I realized that even though it looks easy to make it requires a lot of concentration and skill. Unfortunately Meghna refused to let me and Ayush use a rectangle as the base design so we spent the next 5 hours trying to keep threads tight enough and the design normal enough that it didn’t look like it was made by a drunk spider. After much sweat and tears we finally managed to create our dreamcatchers. By this time the bands were prepping so we freshened up and walked over to the stage.


Jani focusing on ensuring all the threads were tight


Ayush and Akanksha trying their hands on Dreamcatcher making

The first few bands were quite good but unfortunately the crowds we had expected/been promised didn’t materialize. In fact there were about 60-65 people total at the event out of which about 50 were the artists and workshop people. We sat next to the bonfire for a while but then the music wasn’t much to our taste so we went back to the room and all of us snuggled under the blanket waiting for midnight. As soon at it was midnight we wished each other and within 10 mins after that we were all fast asleep.


Happy New Year! Welcoming 2019 snuggled in bed.

We all woke up late the next day and properly wished each other since we were all barely awake at midnight. After another round of sandwitches/salad made by Jani we all packed up and headed back to Bangalore. It took us a lot longer to drive back due to the increased traffic and stops.

Reached back home around 8pm after dropping Dipika on the way. Had a late dinner with Jani, Ayush and Akanksha thanks to Swiggy and that’s how we ended 2019’s first trip. Overall the trip was fun though I was disappointed with the music festival. That being said Gagan (the organizer) did refund part of the money to us so I can’t really complain much. If it was just me and Jani doing the trip alone then it would have been a lot more boring but the excellent company made it fun.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

September 9, 2018

Meet my new neighbors – Baby Pigeons!

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 1:14 PM

I have some new neighbors – a pair of Baby Pigeons are now happily living in my bedroom windowsill. I missed taking the photo earlier because the mom was always on or near the nest and I didn’t want to disturb/scare her into abandoning the nest.


Baby Pigeons!

I will be happy when they grow up and fly away because then I can resume scaring the other pigeons away as they are loud and very annoying in the morning.

– Suramya

September 6, 2018

There is now a company in Japan that resigns from your job for you.

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 6:16 PM

There is a startup in Japan which a person can to submit resignation notices to employers on their behalf. At first when I read the article I thought it was one of the more ridiculous ideas for a startup that I had heard about. However it stuck in my mind and I kept thinking about it, then I remembered how hard working Japanese people are and how strongly they believe in staying with one company for their entire carrier. In 2016, the average worker in Japan had been at one company for about 12 years so there is a strong stigma against quitting even if you are miserable at your job. Now there is a service called ‘Exit’ that offers a way around that.

“Quitting jobs can be a soul-crushing hassle. We’re here to provide a sense of relief by taking on that burden,” said Toshiyuki Niino, co-founder of Senshi S LLC, a startup he and childhood friend Yuichiro Okazaki launched last year.

The company operates Exit, a service that relays an employee’s intention to resign for a fee: ¥50,000 ($450) for full-time employees and ¥40,000 for part-time workers. Repeat clients get a ¥10,000 discount.

Whether or not people consider that expensive depends on how desperate they are. But if business is any indication, many regard it as a worthy investment for some much-needed peace of mind. In the one year since Niino and Okazaki set up shop, they have mediated the resignations of roughly 700 to 800 clients from across the nation as the number of requests surge.

I can understand the urge to offload the unpleasant task of quitting to another person/company but I feel its more healthy to face your fear and stand up for yourself. It will help increase your self-confidence and the ability to handle unpleasant situations.

Imagine what would happen if they tried to expand into India? Where at times people have offered their resignations over SMS or in some cases just not shown up for the work leaving their manager to figure out themselves that their employee is no longer interested in working with them.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?

– Suramya

August 9, 2018

Road trip to Belum caves and Lepakshi Temple

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 1:58 AM

Last week while I was getting bored while commuting back from office I stumbled upon an article on LLB about Belum Caves which is the largest and longest cave system open to the public on the Indian subcontinent and it sounded fascinating so I reached out to friends and after a little back and forth 5 of us decided to drive down to the cave for a day trip on Saturday. Since we were planning to start from Bangalore at 5am Anirudh, Jani and Shahrukh came over to my place Friday night while Shakshi came over at 4:30am… Hats off to her for waking up so early and making it to my place on time. After a quick breakfast (and a Red bull for me) we left home at 5:15am. The drive was quite nice and since we left so early in the morning the traffic was minimal (which is a minor miracle in BLR).

To pass the time we talked about all sorts of random topics from astronomy to the percentage of water in various items like cucumbers, milk and human blood etc. By 7am we all started feeling a bit hungry so we stopped for breakfast and had a road-side picnic and I really mean roadside. We stopped next to some newly planted fields about 2 feet away from the road and had a lovely breakfast of sandwiches, paratha’s and boiled eggs. All we were missing to make this a proper picnic was a picnic basket.


Early morning Road-side picnic

After food we were back on the road and made good time to the caves and were there at about 10:40am. We were one of the first groups into the cave and so were able to explore the caves without having to deal with a lot of crowds. The caves were amazing and I am surprised that not a lot of people know about it.


Entrance to Belum Cave


Stalactites in the cave

We spent about two hours in the cave and visited all the important/noteworthy parts even though it was very hot and humid in there. Jani was the only one who was comfortable and enjoyed the temperature as her body’s thermostat is broken (She likes hot and humid weather). There were some pretty cool natural carvings/structures in the cave that looked man-made and some man made structures to host camera’s and ventilation ducts that were mostly hidden so we spend a good amount of time trying to identify which of the structures were man made and which were natural.


The Saint Bed where its rumored that Buddhist monks used to meditate/rest

At one point we were ~150 feet underground at Pathala Ganga which is the deepest part of the cave. Here there is an underground water source that looked quite deep and even though we considered pushing one of the group in the water to see how deep it was common-sense prevailed and we decided not to try. The caves are supposed to have a section that makes musical sounds when struck but we couldn’t find that section. In part it was because we didn’t want to walk around hitting random formations and because we were fascinated by the structures and forgot to search for it.


Group photo in the cave


Trying to ensure we don’t get crushed by the low ceiling

Looking at the structures I was reminded about the Thai cave rescue and it made me think how hard and scary it would have been for them to be stuck in a cave for so long without light. I do want to try cave exploring (spelunking) and have started looking for options in India.

After we came out we fooled around on the playground which was quite fun and then had a picnic lunch. This gave us the opportunity to relax, stretch and enjoy the fresh air. There is a restaurant at the site but has limited options in food. Basically they make about a kg of rice in the morning and if you are early enough you get your food quickly else you have to wait for them to cook the rice. If you are visiting as a big group and are planning to eat there it is advisable to place your order before you head down so that the food is ready by the time you come back from the cave.

After lunch we started back but didn’t head directly for Bangalore, instead we went to Lepakshi Temple which was about midway between the caves and Bangalore. The drive was again quite nice even though everyone in the car (except me obviously) had a post lunch nap during which I entertained myself by playing loud music and singing along. I have a feeling that Jani and Shahrukh woke up after a while just to stop me from singing 😉

The temple is beautiful and we spent a good amount of time walking around the premises and enjoying the carvings. Describing the wonders of the temple would require a whole another post so I am going to be a bit lazy and just link to this post over at the RevolvingCompass.com that describes the 7 wonders of the temple. About 1/2 Km from the temple there is a huge statue of Jatayu but we were unable to visit it because of time (it was getting dark and I wanted to minimize night driving on the highway).


Group photo in front of the Kalyan Mandapa


Us practicing the tree pose for prayer

It was a humbled group that headed back but that didn’t stop our stomachs from rumbling so we stopped for another road-side picnic. This time we found a ready made stone bench for us to use as a table and we made full use of it for a snack break. It was fun to make sandwiches and eat cucumber & tomato with salt and chili. Honestly speaking I could have sat there for another hour but we had to cut the break short because of the time constraints and start back for Bangalore. We made good time to Bangalore and then hit the Bangalore traffic spending a bit over 2 hours to reach home after we entered the city. We finally made it home at ~10:15pm at which point I was ready to crash since I had driven for over 12 hours in the day. But still it was worth the effort and drive.


Road-side Picnic for evening snacks

We ended the day with Ice-cream after which everyone went home and I crashed for the night. We will be doing similar day long road trips in the future as it was quite cheap and a lot of fun. The only limitation is the no of people we can take on the trip since I don’t want to have more than 2 cars. More than 10-12 people makes the group unwieldy and encourages the creation of sub-groups.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

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