Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

February 21, 2021

All Your Base Are Belong To Us: Turns 20

Filed under: Humor,My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:05 AM

‘All Your Base Are Belong To Us’ is a phrase that is very familiar to anyone who was active on the internet in 2000’s as this was pretty much the first meme which took the entire net by storm. I remember someone posting a giant version of it in our college dorm windows using A4 paper. Unfortunately I don’t have a pic of it, but there were plenty of other places this popped up over the weeks really confusing a lot of people.

The first version showed up online on February 16, 2001 when a robo-voiced music video went live at Newgrounds.com. The video was a capture from a 90’s video game called Zero Wing with some hilariously bad English translation from the original Japanese. It contained phrases like “How are you gentlemen!!”, “Somebody set up us the bomb” and the infamous “All Your Base Are Belong To Us!”. The video presented the original Sega Genesis graphics, dubbed over with monotone, machine-generated speech reading each phrase. The video is shown below, click on play to view the original video with the awesome soundtrack:


All Your Base Are Belong to Us

The transcript of the video is as follows:

Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha …
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.

After the original video from the game it moves on to show the phrase photoshopped into all sorts of images and photos from actual locations where it was inserted really confusing most folks because they had no idea what it meant.

It was extremely silly but great fun. Watching it again has really brought back memories of the great times from college. Here’s to the next 20 years, ’cause remember “All Your Base Are Belong To Us!”

– Suramya

February 7, 2021

Travel in 2021: 3294kms driven as of date

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 8:25 PM

I complained a lot about not being able to travel in 2020, mostly to my wife who suffered through my complaints heroically. So the universe decided that I would get to travel a lot in 2021 as compensation. Jan 2021 has been a marathon session of driving all over south India, primarily because of Covid as we only wanted to go places within drivable distance from Bangalore as we normally would try to drive directly to the location without having to stop on the way. Plus we also ensured that we were only going to places with very limited crowds and mostly ended up staying in places where we were the only people (apart from the staff).

The first trip of the year was to Dindigul where we had gone for New Years. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it quite a bit. The second trip was to Kannur, Kerala (not to be confused with Coonoor, Tamil Nadu), which we did with Jani’s friends from IBM with whom we had been talking about going on a trip for over 4 years (almost 5). The drive to the place was quite nice and we made good time. I had planned on writing a trip summary as I normally do but didn’t get the time as I was swamped with classes and assignments. In any case, Jani has now started writing about all the trips so that reduces the pressure on me :). Her writeup on the trip is available here.

The next trip was to Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu with Anil, Manisha, Suprita , Vinit and the kids. We drove down from Bangalore to Kotagiri but thankfully I wasn’t driving because by this time I had already driven almost 1.8k kms in 2021. Anil, Manisha & Vinit drove for the trip and I got to relax and spend time with the kids for a bit. A big surprise was that I bumped into Gaurang in Ooty, as he had driven down for some work. We both stay in Bangalore but hadn’t seen each other for months because of Covid. So he came over and we spent some time together there and then he drove back with us which gave me a chance to spend some quality time with him during the drive.

Finally the last trip of the month was to visit Jani’s hometown, Colachel in Kanyakumari District for some work (plus spend time with family). It was a 14 hour+ drive from Bangalore and initially I had planned to do it in one shot. However, then we decided to break it up into two with a halt in Dindigul which is almost exactly half-way between the start and finish. This was the first time we were stopping on the way during a trip but in hindsight it was a great idea. It allowed me to take a break and rest as I was also up on night for my classes. If we hadn’t stopped on the way I would have been exhausted by the time we reached and this way I got to rest on the way. The drive down was fantastic, and I really loved the NH44. The road was well maintained and an absolute pleasure to drive. I had to consciously restrict myself from driving too fast and I really enjoyed it. The traffic also was minimal so I could really relax and enjoy the drive.

In all I have driven 3294 kms so far in 2021 and now that I am home I absolutely refuse to drive anywhere else for the month of Feb. We will see how I feel in March, but most probably we won’t be going anywhere till at-least the end of March as we both have exams in March. But based on our past experience, I will not say that we absolutely will not travel anywhere for the next two months.

I am eagerly waiting for the Covid vaccine to be generally available so that we don’t have to worry about Covid when traveling. Looking at the current status I have a feeling that it will be Q3, 2021 by the time we get vaccinated. Hopefully by the end of the year things might be back to normal so here’s hoping for that.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later, now that I am back home and not driving all over south India.

– Suramya

January 7, 2021

Welcoming 2021 in style at Rajakkad Estate, Dindigul

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 5:06 AM

One of the biggest things that I missed in 2020 was traveling. Usually we travel to multiple places over the year but in 2020 it wasn’t the case due to Covid and we barely traveled anywhere. So, we wanted to do a trip for new years because we were getting stir crazy and we wanted to celebrate with a small group of close friends without having to interact with unknown folks. After a bit of research we decided to head down to Rajakkad Estate, Dindigul. This is an 18th century palace that was transported from Kerala by breaking it down to 35000 pieces and re-assembled in Dindigul in the middle of an 80 acre estate. The reviews of the place were amazing so we booked the place and prepared for the journey. Due to Covid we had to register for an e-pass as we were crossing into Tamil Nadu and the pass was auto-approved. Interestingly, there was no check for the epass but I don’t recommend traveling without it because if you don’t have the pass then you are sent back.

The trip started early morning (5:30am) on the 31st with me, Jani, Ayush & Akanksha in my car and Shashank on his bike. Just as we left home it started raining and it continued to rain throughout the trip. Due to which we had to drive at a slower speed and we also ended up stopping a few times due to the heavy rain so that Shashank could take a break from driving in the rain. Thus the trip which was estimated to take ~7 hours took us over 9.5 hours to complete. The last part of the drive was amazing with spectacular views but I didn’t get to enjoy them much as I had to focus on the road and I didn’t want to drive off the cliff while admiring the view. 😉

We finally reached the estate around 3pm and found that we 5 were the only guests over there for the duration, so we got to select our rooms. Me and Jani selected a corner room with spectacular views of the forest. The host Robesh walked us through the place and once we settled in we immediately requested for lunch as breakfast was a long time ago and this time we couldn’t stop for snacks as we usually do due to the rains. Lunch was quite good and every item in the menu was locally sourced from the estate’s own farm. Can’t comment about the non-veg dishes but the veg options were quite tasty and healthy. I do recommend that you stick with the south-Indian food options (they do make continental food but we didn’t try any) as the cooks are not that great with north Indian dishes (especially chappati’s). Other than that one dish most of the dishes were quite good. I even enjoyed the banana flower vegetable which is something I have never liked.


Hogging on great food

After lunch we thought about exploring the surrounding area a bit but it was still raining so we just relaxed in the sitting area and played a bunch of board games (they have a good collection). It had been a while since we all got together so it was good to catch-up with each other’s lives. Thanks to the rain the temperature dropped quite significantly and Jani was quite thankful for her electric heated jacket. We asked if we could get a heater setup in the area but apparently there was no power outlet (15A) that could take the load of the heater so after braving the cold for a bit we moved the gathering to the room where it was a lot more warmer after we closed the windows and the door. (If you are someone who doesn’t like the cold make sure you pack warm clothes as it gets quite cold in the evening as the place is on a hill)


The Central courtyard of the palace

We had initially planned to ring in 2021 with a bonfire, but thanks to the rain we thought that it wouldn’t be possible. However, the staff went out of their way to get a bonfire started for us and we got to sit outside next to the fire to welcome 2021. It was completely unexpected and a very pleasant surprise. After enjoying the fire for a bit we moved back to the room due to the cold and spent another couple of hours just chilling. We couldn’t stay up too late because all of us were tired as we had an early start so we crashed.


Welcoming the New Year with a bonfire


Cheers to having a fantastic 2021

The next day, I woke up at 8am for some reason and then couldn’t go back to sleep, so I spent a very pleasant morning walking around the surrounding woods and exploring the lovely garden. Once everyone else woke up we had a great breakfast with fresh juice, homemade bread, south Indian dishes and eggs. Thankfully it had stopped raining and the weather was very pleasant so we decided to explore the surrounding area and walked over to the Yoga platform which is built into the side of the hill with a spectacular view of the hills and the sun-rise (if you wake up early enough). We didn’t wake up that early so we just sat there for a bit enjoying the view and listening to Jani talk about all the flowers that she could identify (which were a lot). We then went for an hour long walk in the forest and saw a whole bunch of flora & fauna. The walk helped us build up an appetite and we were reading to do justice to the lunch prepared for us. It was served in an outdoor seating area and we all really enjoyed the food and the location.


Jani and me at the front garden


Freshly plucked tamarind directly from the tree


Group Selfie at the estate


Chilling at the Yoga platform

Post lunch we relaxed for a bit and Robesh suggested we checkout a waterfall nearby so we all drove for about 15 mins to the entrance to the trail and then walked down to the fall. It was a nice walk with a rope bridge on the way that we had to cross. It was amusing to watch some of the folks crossing the bridge (I am not going to name names) as they were quite scared. We did see a couple of giant squirrels on the way along with a whole bunch of birds and that was quite nice. Once we got back we remembered that we had brought badminton racquets so we played for a bit till it became too dark to see, post which we had dinner and another round of games, great conversation and relaxed. There is not a lot to do at this place so be prepared to entertain yourselves. The phone and 4G signal was quite spotty in the property and the WiFi was down thanks to the rain so we got to spend time without the constant distraction of the online world.


Enjoying the waterfall view

Next day all of us were up early as we had planned to leave immediately post breakfast so that we could reach home before dark. The breakfast was served in the open at a fantastic open air seating and we enjoyed great food with the sounds of nature as background music. Post breakfast we finished our packing and started back to Bangalore relaxed and rejuvenated.

However, the trip had some additional surprises in store for us. After about an hour of driving I realized that my car’s AC Fan had stopped working, and the temperature soon became too hot for me to handle (though Jani loved it). We ended up driving with the windows down, which was fine when on the highway but everytime we had to slow down due to tolls or traffic I was quite miserable. The return journey took us almost 11 hours due to the more frequent stops and traffic.


Breakfast in the forest

By the time we reached home I was exhausted and ended up crashing immediately. We drove ~850 kms round trip and it was worth every minute as the trip was a lot of fun with good food & stay, great company and a fantastic way to welcome 2021!

Wishing you all a Very Happy New Year!

Will write more later.

– Suramya

September 18, 2020

Hackers – 25th Anniversary thoughts

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:01 AM

15 September 2020, was the 25th anniversary of one of my favorite movies which also happens to be one of the most iconic movies about hacking ever released: Hackers. I first saw the movie in late 1999. I was introduced to it by Jerome who was my RA in college at the time and it has been one of the most fun and phenomenal movies on hacking that I’ve seen.

Yes, the video depictions of hacking are corny since there are no 3d file systems that we have to navigate and when we open a file it doesn’t give a 3D psychedelic video with equations floating around, but the overall concept and the whole mindset of what hacking actually means is very accurately depicted in the movie. For example, a lot of hacking involves social engineering and right in the beginning of the movie Dade/Crash Override social engineers a security guard to get access to the computer systems for the TV Network he is trying to take over. There are tons of quotes in the movie that cover/reference the core of the Hacker identity in the 90’s. Some of my favorites are:

We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons.

[- Razor & Blade. While demoing Phone Phreaking]

We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals.
You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. “My crime is that of curiosity.” I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.

[From the Hackers Manifesto]

“Hackers of the world unite!”

“Hack the planet!”

These are all things that we grew up with, and refer to core hacker identity/mindset in 90’s. It actually surprised me to find that the original hacker manifesto was no longer easily available and had to resort to visiting the Internet Archive to pull up a copy of it. The movie gives you a good idea of what the original definition of hacking was: learning for the sake of learning & curiosity. It encouraged/inspired a whole generation of folks to go into computers & hacking. I remember this quote from one of the kids I watched a movie with in college, and he basically said, “watching this movie makes you want to go learn computers so you can do cool stuff like this instead of the boring ass programming crap we have been doing.”.

I saw the news of the movie’s 25th Anniversary on my twitter feed 2 days ago and since I was feeling nostalgic I watched the movie again yesterday night. And I’m happy to report, I still love the movie. Yes, there are parts of the movie that feel dated e.g. where they are all running around with floppy disks & CRT monitors and the phone couplers! and it’s corny to see everyone being on skateboards/rollerblading all the time. But overall the movie itself doesn’t feel dated in fact even the graphics from the movie have aged quite well.

The movie got a lot of flack on it’s release for being “dubious,” “unrealistic,” and “implausible.” A lot of the visualization was just plain silly (but really visually awesome) like the super cool looking 3d visual file systems that the protagonists have to navigate or the really cool looking 3D visualization with floating equations that come up when they try to view the ‘garbage file’.

Yes the movie is not accurate, but what movie is? I mean, it is at the end of the day a fictional story to tell people, have a great visual and audio extravaganza. All of that is not meant to be an accurate representation of the hacking process because honestly speaking, watching people type for three hours will probably be one of the most boring movies that I could think of and interestingly even with this visual extravaganza the movie was a comercial failure when it came out and it’s only over the years it’s become a cult favorite. There are other movies like ‘the Net’ or Sneakers that also covered Hacking/hackers but none of them had the lasting impact Hackers did.

Always remember: “This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. “

#hacktheplanet

– Suramya

September 14, 2020

Fusion is possible in the Future – First Article by my Nephew Vir (8 years old)

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 9:05 PM

My 8 year old Nephew Vir has written his first article on “Fusion is possible in the future”. Since I am really proud of him I am sharing it here for you all to read as well.

—- Start Article —-

Fusion is possible in the future

Fusion is a reliable source of clean energy made by plasma when it is put in a nuclear fusion reactor. But not just any plasma will do, we need HE-3/ a radioactive isotope of helium (2 in the periodic table of elements) found on the moon.

2.Nucear fusion is the process that makes the sun shine.

When nuclieses of atoms collide they release tremendous amounts of energy . An atom is the most basic matter, made of quarks and electrons .The quarks make protons and neutrons which makes a nucleus.
For fusion to occur plasmas need to be hotter and denser than they naturally exist.

If fusion reactors were possible now they would use @2@ ways to get plasma hot and dense enough . way !1!. First: they would use super powerful lasers and an electromagnetic field to do that . Way @2@ .second we would put it in a donut shape reactor and use magnetic fields to compress the plasma. A donut shape reactor works like this:The magnetic field comprises the hot plasma and the plasma generates its own heat .
All of this is very costly, that’s why we can’t do it YET.

So in the future, we could possibly use way @2@ because it’s less costly and much safer.it’s safer because if the reaction fald the plasma would expand and cool

—- End Article —-

What do you think of the Article? I am not going to write much in this post as I want the focus to be his article.

– Suramya

September 5, 2020

Flowers from Jani’s garden

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 6:02 PM

Don’t feel much like writing today, so here are some flowers from Jani’s garden instead to brighten your day.


Rangoon Creeper


Rose


Flower arrangement from home grown flowers

– Suramya

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

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