Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

August 6, 2021

Trip to Historic Hampi – Part 1

Filed under: My Thoughts,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 2:45 AM

Early last month I made my second trip to Hampi with the goal of actually exploring the city this time. My 1st trip was focused primarily on Wine tasting as there are some pretty cool Vineyards around Hampi. I am going to break this writeup into two parts, in the first part I am going to talk about all the regular Hampi monuments that everyone explores. In Part 2 I am going to talk about a historic site that hardly anyone knows about which is about 3000-4000 years old approximately and is similar to Stonehenge. (More details in the next post 🙂 )

Hampi is one of the lesser known historic sites in India and it is better known in the south than in the north. It’s name is derived from Pampa which is another name of the goddess Parvati. I first heard about it when I moved to Bangalore in 2010. It was a popular destination with a certain group of people because of the Hippie island and the easy availability of drugs etc. With the administration looking for better crowd of travelers and less drugs etc along with the desire to remove the encroachment into forest lands, the island was cleared, and a lot of work is being done to restore/maintain the historical monuments.

First Day

Our trip started on 6th July, just after the Evolve Back, Hampi resort reopened their doors to visitors when the Karnataka lockdown rules were eased. We had originally planned to travel on the 29th June but due to the lockdown had to push the trip out by a week. As always, we started early in the morning around 6:30am so as to avoid the Bangalore traffic which has been slowly going back to the pre-lockdown levels. The drive to Hampi was fantastic and the roads are amazing. I had to consciously remind myself to slow down as it was quite easy to go super-fast without realizing it. The highway system in India has really improved in the last few years. We reached the Evolve Back campus without any issues except for a minor funny incident right at the end. When we were less than 1 km from the resort, our GPS told us to turn into a complex which it claimed was the resort, but it turned out to be the Forest Department’s office. When we asked them where the resort was, they looked at us like we were crazy, and the guy told us “This is not the resort”. When we told them that we knew this wasn’t the resort and asked for directions they told us to drive on for another 600-800mtrs and the resort was there on the left side. I think that the issue happened due to the GPS losing satellite signal and thus lost an accurate reading of where we were. In any case we reached the venue and checked in without any further confusion.

This was our third stay at the Evolve Back properties, and I have to say that they outdid themselves with the service they provided. This is from the check-in staff to the waiters, manager, trail guides to everyone. To give an idea of the service level and the personalized service we got here are a few small examples. Jani always takes hot water when we go out and I take ice-cold water, we told the serving staff this during our first meal there. After that they ensured we got a glass of hot water and a glass of cold water every single time without asking. They also remembered that we both liked our food to be spicy so all our meals were custom made to be spicier than the usual. In fact the chef actually came and chatted with us multiple times to ensure that the food was made as per our requirements. Even the room we were allocated was selected to give us great views of the sunrise (which we missed because we were sleeping) and the sunset (which we missed because we were on the trails). But it is the thought that counts. Every single person there was always smiling and working to ensure we had a great visit. I am bad with remembering names and since Jani already did a post detailing our stay and how all of the staff made this a fantastic stay, I am not going to duplicate the work here. You can read her writeup of our trip here, on her blog.


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


View from the Balcony


Night View from our Balcony


Night View from our Balcony

Since, I had a hectic few days before we started the trip and had gotten up early, we decided to take it easy on the first day and just relaxed. The architecture of the property in Hampi is based on the royal palace in Hampi including the open area in the middle with a water source to help cool the place. As we were planning to stay 3 nights we had 2 full days (and 2 half days) to explore Hampi, which was perfect because they have 4 trails for guests (Raya Trail, Vithalapura Walk, Tungabhadra Trek & Virupaksha Trail) which you can choose to go on. We decided to all 4 of them, doing one trail in the morning and another in the evening.

Second Day

We started off with the Vithalapura Walk, which is a walk through the ancient market and the temples of Vithalapura – a Hampi suburb known for the famous Vijaya Vithala temple that houses the renowned Stone Chariot and musical pillared mantapa. Our trip started early morning post breakfast to avoid the heat, the drive to the Vijaya Vithala temple was short and interesting because Santhosh who was our guide kept us entertained with stories about the historical city. We parked the car at the entrance and then walked to the temple. If we had come a little later, there are electric golf carts that will take you there but as we wanted to stretch our legs we walked the ~1kms distance and I am glad we did that because it gave us the chance to explore the area in more detail rather than watching it from the cart.

The first structure that catches your eye as you are walking is the ‘Kuduregombe Mandapa‘ (Horse riders Pavilion). It is named so because it has sculptures of horses with riders mounting them at its entrance and the word Kuduregombe translates to Horse Riders in the local language. This is a temple for one of the Hindu Gods and was built over 500 years ago. Unfortunately, over the years the idol was removed and much of the temple is in ruins so we don’t know for sure which of the Gods the temple was built to worship. Another theory is that it was used as a prayer place by the horse riders during the annual chariot festival.


Kuduregombe Mandapa (Horse riders Pavilion)

Across from the Mantapa there is the remains of the temple pond which supplied the water to be used for the temple and for the drinking/cooking of the staff and visitors. The pond has steps going down to the water and when we went it was in poor shape as the water had stagnated and a lot of plant growth was there. There is a small structure in the middle of the pond where it is assumed an idol was carried out and prayers were done there before taking it back to the temple. Restoration work is going on in the rest of the compound, but they haven’t gotten around to here yet as there is a lot of work remaining. My sister has been working with various folks to map, photograph and look at rejuvenating step-wells around India as they are a sustainable way of water storage and distribution. (More on water distribution later).


Remains of the temple pond, that supplied water to the Kuduregombe Mandapa

As you are walking down the road you will notice these stone pillars parallel to the road placed about 5-6 feet apart in rows. These are the remains of the market stalls that were placed for the vendors to sell their goods. Only the support structures remain as part the structure was made from wood and has decomposed over the years. The market at its peak was almost 1 kilometers long and had shops on both sides of the road. The market was host to merchants from all over the world, including Rome, Persia etc. At its peak the Vijayanagara empire was compared to the Roman empire by the traders and scholars who visited. It was rich enough that diamonds were used as decorations on the horse’s saddles and reins/bridle. In fact legend has it that Diamonds and other precious stones were actually sold by weight instead of per piece in this market because they were so common. There have been writings about this market (and others in the empire) by famous visitors from across the world. But hardly anyone knows about it.


Remains of the Market stalls

During the walk we also spotted some brightly colored lizards (Agama’s) and other wildlife and plants that Jani found to be a lot more interesting than I did. Still they all looked very pretty 🙂

Another few mins of walk brought us to the entrance of the Vitthala temple and even in it’s current state the word that came to mind when I saw it for the first time was “Impressive”. The Vitthala temple was initially built in 1422AD and expanded between 1509-1529AD out of solid granite rock. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.


Entrance to the Vitthala temple

The temple complex is huge and a lot of restoration work is going on as parts of the temple is in ruins due to the age. Some of you might ask (as I did) why folks are not allowed to drive up to the temple and park right in front as there is enough space available there. This is not allowed because of the fear that the vibrations from the vehicles would damage the structure. Then Santhosh pointed out an ingenious method that is being used to monitor the cracks to ensure they are not expanding. In other countries, I have seen sensors being placed all over such structures to monitor the cracks, here they have taken a very thin strip of glass and stuck it over the crack. If there is any activity or increase in the crack dimension it will break the glass notifying the ASI staff that they need to check for damage. It is cheap, simple and very effective.


Cheap ‘sensor’ to monitor cracks on the structure

Once you enter the complex, the famous The Stone Chariot (Ratha) is right in front of you in the temple courtyard. The Chariot is a shrine to Garuda who is the vehicle mount (vahana) of Lord Vishnu. Garuda is also a dharma-protector and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha. It is one of the three most famous chariots in India with the other two located in Konark and Mahabalipuram. The chariot was built by King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire during the 16th century. It was created to showcase the beauty and artistic perfection of the Vijayanagara empire. The chariot is made of multiple slabs of granite but due to the skill of the craftsmen it looks like it is made from a single stone. A small example of the skill of the craftsmen is that even though the wheels of the chariot are made out of stone they were crafted in a way that they could rotate freely. (Now the wheels have been fixed in place to protect against damage). Originally the chariot had stone horses pulling it but the statues were damaged and have been replaced with elephants taken from another location.


Us at the entrance of the Temple complex with the stone chariot right behind us


The famous stone chariot

The Maha Mantapa (Great hall) of the temple is behind the Stone Chariot in the in inner courtyard. The hall is built on top of a ornately carved platform from solid granite. The whole platform is covered with images from Mythology, flowers and other designs. The Mantapa was under repair when we visited and still was one of the most impressive structures that I have seen. The hall has 16 musical pillars that have been carved from a single piece of rock, each pillar has multiple smaller pillar carved in it. The carving is done in a way that when you tap on the pillar it creates a musical sound. Each pillar produces a different musical note and there is a carving on each pillar that denotes what sound will be produced when the pillar is tapped. Imagine the skill required to carve these pillars flawlessly. During festivals and events musicians would play music for the dancers by tapping on the pillars with short sticks. The pillars in the hall are curtailed from access to prevent folks from playing music on them to protect them from further damage as they are pretty old.


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Sounds produced by Playing the Musical Pillars

The skill of the carvers is evident from the intricately carved water channels in the platform that are part of the design (see photo below).


Carved water channel to safely channel water from rains into drainage.

Other pillars in the hall are covered with carvings that tell the story of Narasimha and parts of the structure tell the story of Hanuman’s visit to Lanka and Lanka Dahan (The burning of Lanka). What I found very interesting was the carving of the king riding a mythical creature with the parts of various animals each symbolizing a different virtue. Unfortunately I forget what each animal was supposed to represent and I will update the post once I find the details.


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars

Another cool aspect that Santhosh pointed out was something that had never occurred to me even though I was aware of the components. He basically told us that the various avatars of Lord Vishnu tell us that our ancestors were aware of the theory of evolution and his avatars evolved over the ages to show how life evolved from marine life to the current form. Evolution teaches us that we went through the following stages of evolution and each avatar corresponds to that stage:

Marine life -> Matsa (Fish) avatar)
Amphibious Life -> Kurma (turtle avatar)
Simple Animals -> Varaha (boar avatar)
Early humans (like Australopithecus Afarensis) -> Narasimha (man-lion)
Tool Users/Farming (like Homo Habilis) -> Vamana (dwarf-god)
Warriors -> Parashurama (Brahman warrior)
Civilized Man -> Rama/Krishna


Pillar carving showing Hanuman’s Lanka Dahan

Each of the other smaller halls are also covered with carvings and paintings. If I wanted to detail each aspect of the carving this post would end up becoming a book so I am not going to do that as there are others with more knowledge who have written about the temple and what all the carvings mean. By the time we finished the complex, it was starting to get a little hot so we rested for a while next to the 100 year old Temple Flower tree and then headed back.


Ancient Temple Tree

After reaching the resort we rested for a bit. As we had to head out again (and since we were hungry from our outing) we took an early lunch and were ready for our next Trail called the “Raya Trail. This trail started with a visit to the Queen’s Bath. The Queen’s Bath was created by Achyuta Raya over 500 years ago for use by the Royal Women. It is an interesting structure surrounded by a moat on all sides which served the dual purpose of preventing any strangers from entering the building while it was in use and secondly to help cool the building during the summer days by evaporation. The building is designed in an Indo-Islamic style as during the time it was built, there was a lot of cultural exchange happening between the Vijayanagara empire and the Muslim kings (Moguls and their followers).


Carved windows in the Queen’s Bath

The center part of the structure is currently open to the air but it is believed there was a wooden canopy over the structure when it was in use. The halls around the bath have beautifully carved pillars and balconies and it is easy to imagine the splendor of the bath in it’s prime. The bath was supplied with water via ingeniously designed aqueducts and some of that original network is still in service and used to supply water to parts of the city and fields.


Ornate windows overlooking the bath at Queen’s Bath

After the bath we visited the Zanana Enclosure (Women’s Enclosure) which contained the residences of the Queen and her ladies. The enclosure is surrounded by a massive wall built to protect the women against attack while the men were away for war. Due to ravages of time only the foundations and the base of the buildings are left in the enclosure as the buildings are said to have been built using wood which decomposed over the years. The most famous structure in the enclosure is the ‘Lotus Mahal’ which was the primary residence and contains lots of geometric windows and ingeniously designed cooling pipes to reduce the temperature during the summer months.


Lotus Mahal


Carved designs around the cooling piles (that spray water)

Our next stop after the Enclosure was the ‘Elephant’s Stable’, where the king housed his famous elephants. The stable was built in the 15th century and is a massive domed structure. Each dome is a different type such as circular, octagonal or fluted. The structure was covered with plaster and Stucoo ornamentation and the remains of the same can be seen in both the exterior and interior of the stable. The mahout’s (Elephant rider/trainer) residence is right next to the stable so that they could care of the elephants.


Elephant’s Stable

After the stable, we visited the Madhava (Ranga) Temple which is famous for the Hanuman statue inside it which is over 3 meters high. The pillars in the temple are carved with depictions of Garuda, Vitthala, Hanuman and depictions of other Gods & Goddesses.


Hanuman statue inside the Madhava (Ranga) Temple

The final stop of the day was the ‘Royal Enclosure’ which was the core of the capital city of Vijayanagara. It housed over 43 buildings for the civil servants that managed the day to day running of the empire. The main entrance to the enclosure was guarded by a pair of massive gates which admitted visitors to a zig-zag area that took the visitors to the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform. This platform was where the king accepted vows of fealty from his subordinates, showcased their military might and performed prayers for victory before any military campaign. Each layer of the platform is decorated with carvings showcasing the military might of the empire, their cultural achievements, representation of visitors from other nations and the tribute they offered (that included, exotic animals, dancers etc). You can see depictions of merchants and ambassadors from the Chinese, Mesopotamian, Persian and other major empires in the world.


Massive Stone Gate protecting the entrance of the Royal Enclosure


The ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Ornate carvings on the side of the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Carving showing some of the visitors to the empire from around the world with the gifts they brought


View from the top of the Platform

Some of the other structures in the enclosure include grain storage area’s and water storage wells. Interestingly, each block of stone used to build these structures has a maker’s mark on it along with marks that tell the mason where exactly this stone was meant to be placed. In case of damage they would carve a replacement and replace that stone without having to measure the original again.


The main water storage for the Enclosure


Maker’s mark on the stone used to build the structures

The enclosure also had provision for soldiers to camp and right next to the aquaduct supplying water there is provision for the soldiers to have their meals in massive stone plates. (I am trying to convince dad to get some stone plates for home).


Massive stone plates for soldiers to have their meals on

The last stop of the day was the ‘Hazararama Temple’ that is the only temple located in the core zone of the royal Enclosure between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and is a great example of the Dravida Vimana Temple style. The temple is famous for the carvings and sculptures telling the story of Ramayana in three tiers.


The ‘Hazararama’ Temple


Carved pillars at The ‘Hazararama’ Temple

With is visit, we concluded the first day of our trails and headed back to the resort where after freshening up we rested for a little while enjoying the cool breeze and then had our dinner in the Specialty restaurant called Bahmani. Continuing with the theme of giving us a really VIP treatment the staff seated us next to a lotus pond near the window where we got to enjoy the nice breeze and watch the rain while staying dry. The food was again fantastic and we really liked the meal and the service.


Pond side seating at Bahmani for dinner

Third Day

The third day of the trip started with a heavy breakfast followed by us heading out to the ‘Virupaksha Trail’. We drove to the beginning of the trail and started with a visit to the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’. This is a 2.4 mtrs high statue carved from a single rock which was built around 1506 AD, as per an engraving on the rock next to the pavilion. The statue is in an open pillared pavilion that has been standing for centuries without any mortar/cement being used in it’s construction. The whole thing is balanced to an inch and even falling rocks have not damaged the structure.


the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’

Next to the pavilion, there are a lot of rocks which were prepared for construction and here is where I found out how the ancients broke these gigantic rocks into smaller pieces or slabs without using any kind of power tools. First they locate the fault line in the rock and carve rectangular holes in the stone using chisel & hammers. These holes are then filled with hot water and left for a bit, then they immediately fill it with cold water. They repeat this for about 10-15 days to allow the hot & cold water to expand & contract the rock to start expanding the fault line. At times, they also insert wooden pegs in the holes that are wett’ed with water which forces the wood to expand forcing the cracks to widen. Once they judge enough time has passed and the stone is ready, they use a hammer and chisel to strike hard blows at key points on the rock and it everything was done correctly the rock splits apart easily. The process was then repeated if smaller pieces of the rock were required.


Square holes in the rock made to cut the rock


Massive rock cut in half using the method above

The walk from the Ganesha statue to the Virupaksha temple is quite nice and you can see how the temples evolved over the years. In the beginning there Shiva linga is carved into the rock right in the open, then a few years/decades later the first structure is built around the idol/Shiva linga which is a simple room, with rudimentary carvings on the temple. Carvings are not very detailed because the rock is extremely hard and difficult to carve. Then the later temples built a room around the central room with additional carvings and more idols. Around this time other stones were used in the construction along with Granite so the carvings start becoming more detailed as well.


Shiva linga’s carved in the rock in the open


Single room temple


View of the Virupaksha temple from a distance

A short walk down the hill brought us to the entrance of the famous Virupaksha Temple. The Virupaksha Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has existed since at least the 7th century as there are records of the temple from the 7th century onwards. The temple was built by Lakkan Dandesha, under the ruler Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Empire. It started off as a simple shrine and over the years was built into a a huge complex during the Vijayanagara rule. The carvings of the temple are phenomenal and cover almost all the pillars and roof. The temple base is made from rock with the top portion made from brick. This allowed the architects to create very intricate carvings on the temple as brick is easy to carve and shape as compared to granite.


Inner Courtyard of the Temple complex

The temple has a lot of repeated patterns in it’s design and if you look carefully you can see the patterns demonstrate the concept of fractals. The patterns divide and repeat themselves as they become smaller and smaller. The roof of the temple is covered in beautiful paintings with some of the original colors still visible.


Carvings showing scenes from the Ramayana in original color


Roof Paintings inside the temple complex


Carved pillars in the temple.

One aspect of the temple, which is not known to many people is that it is designed in a way there is a small pinhole camera that shows us the top of the temple as an inverted image within the main temple in a small room off to one side of the main shrine. Things like this were what made it worth going on the trail with the staff from Evolve Back as they show you stuff that you would have missed otherwise.


Pinhole camera showing the top of the temple next to the shrine

The complex had a lot more decorative structures in and around it which were destroyed by the Muslim invaders in the 16th century. Which is extremely depressing when you think about it. How much of India’s culture and history was demolished by these invaders?

While walking around the complex we walked over to see the step well that functioned as the water storage area for the temple use. The structure is still in use and had fishes in it that you can feed. We didn’t but others were feeding them as we watched.

Post that we walked over to the ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue, which is the largest Ganesha statue in South India. It towers over you at a height of 4.6 mtrs and is known as Kadalekalu Ganesha because its belly was carved in the shape of a Bengal Gram (Kadalekalu in the local language). The statue sits in a temple hall that is decorated with tall and slender granite pillars carved with various mythological characters and themes. We spent a few minutes resting in the shade here and then started the drive back to the resort.


The ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue

On the way we stopped at the Lakshmi Narasimha Statue which is another major tourist attraction in Hampi. It is also known as the Ugra Narasimha or Angry Narasimha. It was built in 1528 AD and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), and Goddess Lakshmi. The statue of Lord Narasimha is sitting sitting cross-legged position on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake Adishesha and originally had a small figure of Goddess Lakshmi sitting in his lap to keep him calm. The statue was vandalized by the Mugals during their attack and the limbs of the statue were broken along with the Lakshmi statue. The damaged Lakshmi statue is now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Kamalapura for safekeeping.


Lakshmi Narasimha / Ugra Narasimha Statue

Right next to the statue is another famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called Badavilinga Temple. Badavilinga is a combination of two words – Badva (Poor) and Linga (Shiva) in the local language. It is called so because legend has it that the Shivaling inside the temple was commissioned by a poor farmer lady. In her honor the temple is known as the Badavilinga Temple. The Linga in the temple is surrounded with water to keep Lord Shiva calm and control his destructive dance.


The Badavilinga Temple

Awed by this grand tour we drove back to the resort where we rested for a while before heading out for lunch. Lunch was great as usual and after a short rest we were ready to tackle the next (and the last official) Trail of the resort, the “Tungabhadra Trek“. While we were waiting to head out, Joydeep who is the General Manager for the Hampi property stopped by to check on if we were enjoying the stay. During the conversion he mentioned that they had just completed the recce for another Trail that they were planning on starting in the future which was something that most people didn’t know about. This was to a site (Hire Benakal) that contains structures between 3000 to 4000 years old with rock paintings from the same time. Since both of us love history and wanted to ensure we visited this place, we asked them if they could organize a trip for us to this place (More details in the next post). They agreed to take us out to visit the Hire Benakal but only if we extended our stay by a day because it was a half day trip to visit the location. We immediately asked the staff to extend our stay by a day and then started off for the Tungabhadra Trail.


Nandi Statue at the start of the Tungabhadra Trail

We were joined by Mr Sarath, who is the Associate Director of Conservation and Experiences on this trail along with Santhosh. We then drove over to the start of the trail which has a giant statue of Nandi at its beginning. The statue is looking towards the Vittala Temple and overlooks the entrance. This trail is a little more hiking than the other trails we did till then at Hampi but was a fairly easy climb. Due to the monsoon season starting the whole climb was through some amazing greenery and we could hear a lot of wildlife such as birds and other small animals. The area is wild enough that there have been sightings of panthers and bears at times. Near the trail there was another trail that takes you to a cave that is said to be the location where Sugriva hid from Bali during their fight and his exile. We didn’t have time to visit it, but are planning to do so during our next visit.


View of the Vittala Temple from the trail


Carved image of Vishnu (I think) on the way to the Achyutaraya Temple

A short hike brought us to the Achyutaraya Temple, which looks like the temple from the Jungle Book which is the home of King Louie. As per Santhosh this temple was the inspiration for the ruined temple in the movie. The complex is huge and mostly abandoned with hardly any visitors. There is a way to come to the temple via the river which is where the main entrance used to be. The entrance we came through was the side entrance only used when the river entrance was flooded and couldn’t be used. The complex is covered with beautiful carvings which tell the story of Ramayana. It was built in 1534 AD and is dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha (a form of Vishnu). The main entrance has the remains of a massive market in front of it and traders from all over the world came there to trade.


Achyutaraya Temple, hidden in the forest


Selfie overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Us overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Carved Pillars inside the Achyutaraya Temple


Walking through the Market Stalls at the Temple entrance.

We walked through the complex, and over to the Kodanda Rama Temple on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. The temple overlooks the Chakratirtha, which is is considered to be one of the holiest places in Hampi. Legend says that this is the place where Lord Shiva gave the Chakra Lord Vishnu which is his most powerful weapon. While we were there some shooting was going on for some documentary and due to this we got a highly decorated Coracle instead of a plain looking one. Initially I wasn’t too interested in a coracle ride but then was convinced to go for it as it was the only way to see the ruined temple and the shiva lingas.


Overlooking the Chakratirtha


Coracle ride to the ruined temple

The coracle took us to remains of temples on the bank of the Tungabhadra river and these really detailed carvings of Gods & Goddesses done on the rock itself. A short climb brings you to the highlight of the trek which is a collection of 100 Shiva Lingas in the rock with another set of 1000 Shiva Lingas in the background. Imagine the effort and skill required to carve these without a single mistake on a surface as hard as Granite. After looking at all the amazing carvings we climbed back to the coracle and came back to the Chakratirtha from where we took another trail to the car.


Remains of the temple carvings in the rocks


100 Shiva Lingas carved in stone


1000 Shiva Lingas carved in stone

On the way back to the resort we stopped at another structure that not many people know about, this was the Akhada (a place of exercise/martial practice with facilities for boarding, lodging and training) used by the king’s soldiers and visitors who wanted to compete and show off their skills for hiring. The walls are covered with carvings showing various forms of exercise and fighting forms. Even though the place is a little overgrown it is still impressive.


Tea break at the Royal Akhada

We had a small tea break at the place before we headed back to the resort. By this time the team had confirmed our extension of stay even though we didn’t get the same room we were still glad that we got to stay another day. After a short rest, we went for dinner. Since we had liked the specialty restaurant a lot on the previous day the team again booked us for the specialty restaurant with the same seating location as the previous day. By this time a lot more people had checked in to the resort so the place was full but since we were off in our own alcove we were able to ignore the crowd and felt that we were the only people there for dinner.

Finishing dinner, we headed back to the room and crashed for the night as we had an early start the next day. This completes Part 1 of the write up of my Hampi visit. Part II focuses on the visit to Hire Benakal and will be published shortly.

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

– Suramya

PS: At ~5900 words and 59 pages long with 67 photos this is officially my longest Blog post till date.

July 5, 2021

Trek to Huliyurdurga

Filed under: Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 7:34 PM

Thanks to Covid we have been unable to go for trekking since March 2020. To give some context we normally went for a trek every month, sometimes multiple times in a month depending on how we felt. So it was quite understandable that both Jani and me were eagerly looking for going on a Trek. With the latest lockdown opening up a little, we started looking for options for a day trek. Spoke to Ayush, Akanksha and Shashank to decide a place and when they didn’t have a strong preference I selected Huliyurdurga which is a fort hill and part of the Navadurgas (9 forts) near Bangalore which are said to be erected by Kempe Gowda to protect Bangalore.

The destination is not very popular for the normal tourist crowd but is apparently quite popular with the trekking crowd. The palace is approximately 100 kms from Bangalore which made it a comfortable 2 hour drive. We started from home about 6:45am on Friday (since the weekend was still under curfew). Akankasha, Jani and me were in our car while Ayush and Shashank were on their respective bikes. I personally am not a bike fan but Shashank’s new bike looked impressive and this was a great way to inaugurate the bike.


Pic on the way just after a toll when we were waiting for the bikes to catch up

The drive was uneventful and we made good time. In the past 5-6 years I have seen the quality of roads all over India (including Karnataka) improve quite a lot so I was able to maintain a good speed.

If you are driving to the venue, I suggest that you enter the Haliyurdurga Police station as the destination since the trail is right next to the station. Once you are nearing the end of the route keep an eye on the right side of the road, as you will see the station on the right side of the road even though the map will still insist that you have another 500 mtrs or so to drive. Another landmark is the Haliyurdurga Bus station which is about 100 mtrs from the station. Just before the station on your right you will see a small concrete road take that turn. Google Maps doesn’t show that particular road as connected to the main road you are on, but you can ignore that. As soon as you turn on the road, you will see a cemetery on the right side of the road. Keep driving till you come to a fork on the road. You will need to take the right side road that appears to go through some houses. After about 500 – 1000 meters the road ends and you will see stairs going up the hill. Park your vehicle near the steps and you have reached the start of the trail.

We started climbing immediately as we were eager to start and the steps are a bit steep initially. We made good time and reached the Temple on the end of the steps quite soon. After that the hike becomes a bit more challenging. The best way to climb up is to take a left turn from the temple (there is a faded blue arrow pointing the way). If I hadn’t read about the trek before we started, we would have been sure that we were going the wrong way as the trail is quite narrow and goes through some boulders and you need to squeeze your way through. Since no one had come trekking on this trail since March 2021 due to the lockdown in Karnataka the trail was quite overgrown with a lot of thorny plants taking over the trail.


The overgrown trail


Interesting Fauna we saw on the way

After braving a lot of thorns we reached a point where it looked like we would have to hack through the overgrowth if we wanted to cross without becoming a pin-cushion. By this time all of us have had enough of the thorns and since the only knives we had were a butter knife and my credit-card knife we had to turn back. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to climb all the way to the top as the view is said to be spectacular.

Once we reached the temple, I remembered reading that there was another trail going towards the right of the temple that was supposed to take you to a nandi statue and a small pond, so we decided to take the trail on the right side. The trail was a bit less overgrown and the view on our right was quite phenomenal. After a bit of walking we reached a point where we would have to bend over in half to continue due to overgrowth and I was willing to do so but the rest of the group chickened out and so we stopped. Just before that section, there was a rock overseeing the view that looked very inviting so we took a break over there before starting back.


View from our break point


Jani Relaxing mid trail

Once we got back to the temple we started looking for somewhere we could setup our picnic and grab a bit to eat. Halfway down the stairs we found a flat section on our left side and when we explored the place we found another Temple which was in the process of being renovated. Just outside the temple there was a nice shaded area so we retrieved our picnic bag from the car and had a lovely picnic.


Selfie in front of the temple


Picnic on the rocks

The entire climb and picnic took us about an hour but with the sun right overhead it was getting to be too hot to stay. The only person comfortable with the temperature was Jani but she was overruled by the rest of us and we started back soon after we finished eating. The drive back was again quite uneventful and we made good time till we entered Bangalore city limits after which we got to enjoy the Bangalore traffic. That is one part that I hadn’t really missed during the last year and half.

Some general notes: The trail can be overgrown if not under use and I would suggest going with someone who is ok to hack and slash through the vegetation if required and in which case you would need the proper tools for the job. I would also recommend that you wear clothing that allows you to cover your body/arms even though that might be hot. This is because of the thorns on the trail, having thorns stuck in your bare skin is painful (obviously) so anything you can do to avoid it is good.

After having traveled a grand total of 24 kms during the March, April and May it was great to go on a long drive. Even though we were unable to climb to the summit it was fun enough that we are planning to visit the other 8 forts over the next few months as day trips. Since we were the only people on the entire hill and didn’t see anyone else during the entire trek we were comfortable in planning the next outing.

Jani also did a writeup of the trek that you can read here.

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

– 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

October 7, 2020

Trip to Evolve Back, Coorg

Filed under: Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 7:43 PM

As you know, thanks to Covid-19 traveling has been a distant memory this year and for me that has been the most difficult part that I needed to adjust to this year. We did 11 trips last year including my trip to Antarctica & China, in contrast we had only done 3 trips so far in 2020 and the last trip I took was to Yercaud in March 1st week. So it was getting to the point where I really needed to take a break and travel somewhere but we were both concerned about Covid and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. After a lot of discussion we finally decided to take the plunge and do a short trip to Evolve Back, Coorg. It is a highly rated property and after reviewing their policies, feedback from folks who traveled there after the lockdown was removed & the reviews we felt comfortable enough to book with them.

We started early morning at 6am from Bangalore on Friday, 2nd Oct. Normally when we travel we stop a few times on the way for food, snacks (coconuts) etc, but this time we decided that we will not stop anywhere and prepared accordingly. We carried all the ingredients for making sandwich’s in the car and as always we also had the water camper with us along with my portable refrigerator to keep my drinks cold. This has been one of the best investments that we made as it makes traveling a lot simpler and I don’t need to keep buying cold drinks/water throughout the trip.


Driving through nature is fantastic. Especially after so many months of staying home

The drive was quite nice with good road connectivity for the most part. There was a stretch of about 30-40 kms which was a problem as there was ongoing road-work happening in the stretch. But other than that the drive was fantastic. We did see a lot of bikers on the way as everyone seems to have taken this opportunity of the long weekend to travel. But I also noticed that folks were mostly avoiding the restaurants/shops on the way and instead eating on the side of the road with their own group only. I saw multiple cars stopped on the road where the folks were drinking from flasks & eating snacks that they carried. Another interesting data point I noticed was that the mask usage went down drastically after we left Bangalore city limits. In Bangalore most of the folks wear masks and only a few are not, however outside Bangalore most of the people were not wearing masks and this reinforced our decision of not stopping anywhere even though we were tempted by really fresh looking coconuts.

Due to the good road conditions and limited traffic we made the trip in 5 hours 30 mins and arrived at EvolveBack. As soon as we arrived and were entering the property we were asked to sanitize our feet (by walking through an antiseptic footmat) and our hands using hand sanitizer. To reduce the interaction we had already submitted all our identity documents online and just needed to sign one form. This was also done in a very safe way; they asked us to take the pen from one stand, sign and then immediately put it in another stand where it would be taken for Sanitization before being made available for the next guest to use. I was slightly concerned when 5 more groups of people arrived just after we did but the hotel already had seating in the reception that followed Social distancing between the groups so my concern was quickly addressed.


View of the Pool & the Lilly Ponds from the Living room


View of the Pool & Lilly Ponds from the outside

After we finished checking in , one of the staffers escorted us to our cabin which was a few mins walk from the reception area. Almost immediately I was floored by the property with its well kept paths, giant trees and the beautiful tweeting of birds. While walking she explained about the various activities available, the timings of the restaurants and facilities. Since it was near lunch time we dumped our luggage in the room and explored the cottage & pool for a bit before walking over to the Granary multi cuisine restaurant which was about 10-15 minutes’ walk from our room for lunch. We were one of the first people to arrive for lunch and after our temperature was taken we were seated at a windowside table overlooking the pool. The pool was closed due to Covid but the view was amazing and we even had a lot of birds (Sparrows) flying around inside the restaurant. I wanted to feed them some bread but Jani refused to let me as she felt that it would create a nuisance for the staff and other guests who might not like it.


The Lovely Pool view at the Granary Multi-cuisine restaurant

As part of their Covid-19 precautions, all restaurants on the property have gotten rid of the physical menu’s and we were asked to view the menu online via the link provided to us on check-in. The food was scrumptious and for me the highlight of the meal was the ‘Coffee Rasagulla’ which was basically a regular Rasagulla soaked in diluted Coffee. At first I was a little apprehensive of ordering something with Coffee in it as I am not the world’s biggest fan of Coffee but this was phenomenal. The Rasagulla was sweet enough that it countered the taste of Coffee and together it was a unique taste. After lunch we walked around the property a little bit before heading back to the cottage for some rest as we had gotten up early and drove a lot. We were warned to keep the glass doors closed for safety because we were in the middle of a jungle and we followed that rule. Even then I woke up to find a nice big spider in the bathroom and Jani found a frog on the deck sunning itself on the deck chairs.


Spider I found in the Bathroom

In the cottage we were planning on soaking in the pool but fell asleep in the really comfortable bed. By the time we woke up it was late evening and the pool was too cold for us to enjoy a dip in. So we just lazed around near the pool and just relaxed. The pool was well maintained and the back of the property was open to nature so it was very peaceful and relaxing. Soon enough it was time for Dinner and we walked over to the Granary Restaurant for another great meal followed by a short walk around the estate at night. Due to the large area of the estate (300 acres) we hardly met any of the other guests. Mostly we would pass some of them while walking around on the estate.


Shot of where the Cultural program is held


Gigantic Palm tree we found while exploring


Pics taken around the property


Pics taken around the property

Since this was supposed to be a relaxing trip we didn’t register for any of the activities (another reason was that most of them were starting early in the morning between 5am – 6am and neither of us were interested in waking up that early to go bird-watching (as we could see most of them from our cottage) or nature therapy (which we were anyway doing by walking around the estate). On the second day we got up for a lazy breakfast followed by a walk around the property. We were lucky enough to see two Giant Malabar squirrel’s during our walk. One was high up in the trees but the other one was fearless enough that I walked up to within a foot of it to take photos without it being scared of me and running away. We also spotted many many species of birds but they were harder to identify because they keep moving so fast.


Giant Malabar squirrel we spotted on the way

After building up our appetite for lunch we walked over to PepperCorn Restaurant which is a specialty restaurant that we had booked for lunch. The place is built on the lake-shore and we had a lovely view of the lake during our lunch which was again phenomenal. They had a special homemade ice-cream available called ‘kadi patta’ (Curry Leaf) which sounded interesting so I ordered it and it was surprisingly tasty.


Lunch at Pepper Corn Specialty Restaurant

Post lunch we again walked around the property to digest the meal and explored their Nature Shop which had a great collection of natural stuff like jams, local wine, locally made flower vases etc. We bought a few things and then retired back to the cottage to enjoy the pool. It was a bit chilly at first but once we got in and were moving around it felt great. We tried the Jacuzzi built in to the pool as well but I prefer the regular pool as it was less noisy. Since it was a small pool there wasn’t much to do but just laze around and enjoy the nature. After a long relaxing session in the pool we took a shower and just hung out in the room before falling asleep.


Lily’s in our Backyard

The next day we had a slightly more busy schedule starting with Breakfast followed by an hour long session on Coffeeology and history of the estate. This was the first time we met & interacted with a few of the other guests. During the session we learnt about various types of coffee and how it’s prepared followed by a tasting session. We tried 6 different preparations of coffee during the tasting: Espresso (black coffee), French Press (Black Coffee), Cappuccino (milk + coffee), Vietnam coffee (milk + coffee), South Indian filter coffee (milk + coffee) and Moroccan coffee (milkmaid + coffee). Since I am not a big coffee drinker I just took really small sips of my share before passing them to Jani who loved all the options. I really liked the Moroccan Coffee because it was cold + very sweet but Jani didn’t like it for the same reason.


This is how many coffee’s Jani tasted (i helped with a few)

After the session, walked over to the Souvenir shop to buy some souvenir’s & lots of coffee and then hung out at the pool for a bit before heading over to the Vaidhyashala for our massage treatments. I did the Abhyanga (Full body massage with herbal medicated oil which removes toxins in the body) and Kati basti (massage targeted for lower back, to reduce the lower back pain) and both were great. I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated after the massage ended that I even asked them if they have a branch in Bangalore. Unfortunately that isn’t the case though they do have centers in all the EvolveBack locations including Coorg, Hampi and Kabini. I really like the massage but not so much that I would drive over for a stay just to get a massage.

After the massage we weren’t supposed to wash off the oil till next day, so we ordered room service as we didn’t feel like walking around smelling like medicinal oil and feeling sticky. The sandwiches we ordered were ok, nothing too great but not bad either. After dinner we read for a while and I tried to get a good photo of the night sky but since I didn’t have my telescope I was only moderately successful.

On the last day of our stay we woke up early to pack and then had a quick breakfast as we wanted to leave early. After breakfast we settled our bill and started back. The drive back was uneventful for the most part. We did stop once on the way at a Spice store so that we could stock up on Spices but other than that we drove non-stop and reached home by 6pm. The overall trip was a huge success and we both feel really rejuvinated after the break. I will highly recommend Evolve Back to everyone even though they are on the expensive side they are definitely worth it.

Jani has also started blogging about our trips so you can read her writeup at her blog as well if you are interested.

– Suramya

September 28, 2020

Happy World Tourism Day 2020!

Filed under: Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 3:16 PM

Today is World Tourism day, 2020 and thanks to the current ongoing Pandemic we can’t really travel anywhere to celebrate it. In fact its been over 6 months since we traveled anywhere, so celebrating the World Tourism day in such a situation seems to be a bit of a downer. However just because we can’t travel somewhere doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate the past trips we have done. So here are some of the Trips that Me & Jani took in the past 4 years:

There were a whole lot of other places we also traveled to which are not listed here, you can check them out here.

Hopefully things will improve soon and we will be back on the road visiting new places and experiencing the best the world has to offer.

– 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 15, 2019

Family trip to Gandikota & Belum Caves

Filed under: Travel/Trips,Uncategorized — Suramya @ 12:46 AM

After almost a year of planning we finally did a family road trip to Gandikota. Surabhi and me have been wanting to go for the trip for ages but due to various constraints we haven’t managed to get a time that worked for all of us. This weekend was an extended weekend since 1st was a holiday in Karnataka (Karnataka Rajostava) so we all decided to drive down for the long weekend.

We started early in the morning from our house and drove over to pick up Surabhi, Vinit and the kids. To our surprise they were all ready to start on time 🙂 which is a minor miracle if you know Vinit and Surabhi well enough. We put the kids to sleep in the backseat of their car the same way our parents used to put me and Surabhi to sleep during their long trips and then both the cars started (we took two cars so that the kids could sleep comfortably in the back and we had space to stretch out) Another notable part of the drive was that we took our driver with us for the first time, otherwise I always drive when we do road-trips (except when we are renting a TT).


Vir and Sara sleeping in the car

The drive was relaxing with good roads for the majority of the way and since we had started early we managed to miss the majority of the traffic and made good time. About 3/4 of the way to Gandikota we stopped for breakfast as we know that the last part of the drive was through some really isolated parts and the only thing to eat would have been plants. I know that we are vegetarians but even then I prefer my food to be cooked and not raw ;). Since it was still early most of the shops were still closed but we found this small shop that was open and they served us piping hot food and the cost of all our food was less than what it would have costed for 1 person’s food in Bangalore. During traveling I have found that the small shops serving local food are the best value for money and consistently provide great food. Keep in mind that you should order the local delicacies and not stuff from other places. e.g. if you are ordering paneer or Chinese food at a small roadside shop in Tamil Nadu then be prepared to get a unique interpretation of how the dish should taste.


Random stop on the way to enjoy the lovely scenery

After breakfast all of us were back on road and we made good time to the location. When we booked the tents the guy had sent us a GPS location and when reached the location there were a few buildings but no sign of a place where we could collect the tents etc. To make things interesting we were not getting a good signal on the phones but after a few mins we managed to make contact with the guy and he guided us to the Resort run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. This is pretty much the only place to stay near the fort/gorge except for tents, so if you are traveling there and want to stay in the resort you will need to do an advance booking. Although I would personally recommend that you stay in tents for a much more fun experience.

We got there just in time for lunch which was served in the resort itself. The food was basic but well prepared. So we had lunch and had a lot of time to kill since we were going to get the tents in the evening (around 4-5pm) as it was too hot during the day to stay in tents. Because we were traveling with kids and wanted to have immediate access to a restroom we decided to get a room with an attached bathroom. The resort was booked up but there was a standalone room about 200mts from the resort with an attached bathroom that was available so we got that. It was a great decision as we then had a place (with AC) that we could laze around in during the day till it became cool enough to get the tents and start the camping part of the trip.

All of us except the kids slept for a few hours and while we were sleeping the water-tank above the room starting overflowing creating an open air shower. Vir and Sara immediately took advantage of the fact and took an imprompto shower in the overflowing water. Not sure how clean the water was but since Surabhi made sure they took another bath to clean up I don’t think it was that big a deal and I am sure it was a lot of fun.

In the evening we got the tents allocated, Vinit and Surabhi had taken their own tent and we set them up right at the gorge tip (about 10-15 feet from the edge). The view from the campsite as the sun was setting was just amazing. As I was expecting a clear sky with hardly any artificial light I had taken my telescope with us and as soon as it got dark I set it up and was able to see Jupiter, and some of the other planets. While I was doing that along with Vir and Sara, the rest of the folks got the campfire going and used it to cook Maggie noodles. Vir and Sara (plus Vinit) were super excited to cook on a campfire, me and Jani on the other hand had dinner that was provided by Gandikota Adventure Camp. Once again the food was basic but decently made.


Gandikota Gorge (AKA Grand Canyon of India)

Due to this being a long weekend the campsite was super crowded and it was also the noisiest campsite that I have ever camped in. There were multiple groups playing music and singing along (some of them quite badly) but for the most part people were accommodating and when asked reduced the volume of music. The night was cool but since the rock underneath had absorbed the heat during the day, the tent became quite warm within a few mins of us turning in. As you know I am not a fan of the heat so me and Jani opened the zip and slept off with our heads outside the tent which was surprisingly comfortable and since it was a clear sky we got an amazing view of the heavens to gaze at while we were falling asleep. The only (minor) issue we faced was that the tent was at a slight incline and we both kept rolling to the side of the tent and poor Jani kept getting squished.


Sunset at the Gorge

We all woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise and in sharp contrast to the noise previous night everyone was quiet and reverent in the morning. As the sun rose the view of the gorge was out of the world and so peaceful that we didn’t feel like moving or doing anything other than just chilling. But all good things end so we had to get our stuff and head back to the room to change/use the bathroom etc. That’s when we found out that right next to our room there were a lot of pay to use toilets/showers available and there was a long queue for them. But we had our own bathroom so we got ready quickly and headed out for breakfast which was served at the resort itself.


View just as the sun was rising

The food was ok, but surprisingly tea/coffee wasn’t included in the breakfast and had to be purchased separately. Since I don’t drink either it wasn’t much difference for me but both Vinit and Jani were annoyed. While we had our food the kids made new friends and enjoyed the play area.

As Surabhi was not well she went back to the room to sleep and the rest of us went to the Gandikota fort to explore and it was worth the effort. The fort itself wasn’t much and there was a functional village within its walls complete with farm animals and chickens, but the view from the view point was phenomenal and worth the effort to walk there in-spite of the heat and sun. We got some amazing pics at the location and spent a while just chilling while the kids explored. By the time we got back Surabhi was awake and feeling a lot better so we made her jealous by showing the pics we had taken and discussed what to do next.


View from inside the fort

Other than the fort there is not much to do around the camp and the guide had suggested that we drive over to Belum caves in the evening. Even though me and Jani had already seen the caves earlier it was worth a second visit so we drove over to the caves. Unfortunately it had been raining the past few days and due to the water draining into the cave complex part of the caves had become filled with mud/slush. When we had come the last time that wasn’t the case and we had walked over the entire complex. This time however it would have meant that we would have to walk through knee deep mud so we decided that we weren’t that eager to see the caves and went down with the agreement that we would only explore the caves till the point they were dry and walk-able (for us and the kids) and if it got muddy we would retreat back to the surface.


Group photo inside Belum caves

We did manage to explore a good portion of the cave before the mud and tired (therefore cranky) kids made us head back to the surface where we fortified ourselves for the drive back with tea, juice and snacks. Vinit, Vir and Sara also got a fish spa done (which was a new addition) but the food options here were still quite sparse. If you are visiting be prepared for very basic (and limited) meal options, else you can carry your own food and have a picnic.


Vir the caveman

The drive back was uneventful and quite lovely. We got back as the sun was setting so we freshened up and immediately headed back to the camp-site. This time there were a lot less tents but a lot more noisy crowd. We had multiple trekking groups in the venue and most of them were playing music and dancing. One group in particular that was fortunately a good distance away from our tent was doing what sounded like a tribal fire dance that they show in the movies about jungle tribes (circling the campfire chanting oga-laga-oga-laga). We enjoyed the night and jsut chatted for a long time. After a while we decided to crash but unfortunately there was a group of guys from AP right next to our tent who were one of the more obnoxious and loud groups that I have ever encountered. We actually had to ask them to keep it down multiple times and finally around 1am Jani walked over and told the guys to shutdown the music. They responded by saying that they would stop it in another hour. When we told them that was unacceptable they finally turned it down and started winding down. Though they were so drunk at this point that their soft voices were still very loud and irritating. Thankfully they finally fell asleep and we got a bit of peace and quiet.

Next morning, these folks tried running away without disposing their trash and when Vinit asked them to cleanup their excuse was that they were attacked by a cow when they started to clean up and that’s why they hadn’t done it. Vinit responded by telling them that there was no cow around right then so they should clean up before it came back. After trying a few other excuses they had no choice but to clean up after themselves.


Jani is not a morning person 🙂

We freshened up and went for breakfast after which we started back. The drive back was a lot more slower because we were hitting peak traffic and it took us forever to get back to Bangalore. Once we got into Bangalore we hit the lovely Bangalore traffic and got to spend some quality time with the other commuters.

This was the first trip that we had done and will be doing a lot more such trips in the future assuming we can coordinate our schedules.

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

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