Friday, April 11, 2014

Skywatch Friday - Sringeri

 We left at 6 a.m. in the morning from our homestay in Handi, Chikmagalur. It was a lovely morning and we were on our way to Sringeri the Adi Shankaracharya matha. The drive from Handi to Sringeri traverses through winding roads lined with tall, slender silver oak trees and coffee plantations. 

Sringeri a small town in the Malnad region is around 72 km from Handi and around 90 km from Chikmagalur. You need to cross multiple mountain passes to reach this quaint and sleepy town. I would suggest an early morning drive as the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The hills were wrapped in mist and the small villages en route depicting a simple lifestyle with the sunrise in the background was a beautiful sight. 
Tall Silver Oak Trees
Tall Silver Oak Trees

Legend states when Sri Shankaracharya reached this place he found on a rainy day a frog spawning being sheltered by a hooded snake. It was a very peculiar sight considering the predator was protecting its prey. Impressed by this act he stay put in this region for twelve years. 

We reached Sringeri around 8 and headed straight to the temple. The streets leading to the temple were empty and the shops were yet to open. The gopuram at the entrance is currently under construction. The Sharadamba temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati the supreme deity for knowledge and wisdom is in the premises. Another temple is that of Lord Vidyashankar which has influences of Hoysala architecture. There are 12 pillars in the temple denoting the 12 zodiac signs. 

Shardamba Temple
Shardamba Temple
Vidyashankar Temple
Vidyashankar Temple
Vidyashankar Temple

Beautiful carvings in Vidyashankar Temple
Beautiful carvings of God and Goddess

At the back of the temple I headed to the Tunga River. Devotees feed the fishes here with corn and puffed rice. Huge black fishes swim through the water close to the flight of steps. People offer their prayers to the sun god by dipping themselves into the water.

Tunga River
Tunga River

Black Fishes in Tunga River
Black Fishes swimming around

Shops near Sringeri Temple
Shops near the temple

As I walked up the steps I was greeted to the sound of shlokas being chanted by the brahmins in the halls. I circumambulated the temple and reached the nearby streets to have my cup of coffee and breakfast of piping hot upma and sheera drenched in ghee. The locals here have pulao as well for breakfast which in the North is considered as a meal for lunch or dinner. They call it as pilav and not pulao as in North. After a sumptuous breakfast I headed back to Chikmagalur to drench again in the beauty of the road that leads to the Coffee Land.

Visit for Skywatch Friday photos

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Balloon Safari - Romancing the sky

I woke up at dawn and got ready for the safari of my life. Have you ever been part of the limitless azure sky with white puffs sailing around? Carried away with the wind to places unknown, unheard and untouched. The smell, the colour and the taste of fresh air exhilarates the dull mind. You are in this zen state from where you wouldn't want to return. 

Does it sound too much of a mystery? Well I was on my way to experience The Balloon Safari by Skywaltz. They have been in operation since January 2008 at Rajasthan ( Jaipur) and October 2013 in Maharashtra (Mumbai- Pune belt). Having read and heard a lot about this unusual safari in paper and radio I decided to experience it. We reached Talegaon (a town close to Pune) after which we were picked up by the Skywaltz team and brought to Kamshet. A small helium balloon would be released at around 4 a.m. daily to test the direction of the wind. Based on the wind direction the team would decide to take off from either Kamshet or Talegaon. 

Sky Waltz Balloon filled with air
Sky Waltz Balloon being filled with air

Hot Air Balloon ready to take off
Balloon ready to take off at dawn

Jerome a French pilot was to fly the balloon for the day. He and his crew were getting the balloon filled with air after having laid it down on a tarpaulin. The flight takes off before sunrise so that we can watch from the sky the huge ball of fire peep out and bask the land with warmth. After a cup of coffee and cookies we boarded the flight. This is one flight that has only window seats for all the passengers, so you have the whole expanse for your view. For the initial five minutes I found it a bit scary as the balloon started soaring to heights. But later all that mattered was the fresh air and the changing panoramic views every angle and every minute. 

Sunrise from hot air balloon
Sunrise left me spellbound

Beautiful landscapes from hot air balloon
Beautiful Landscapes

It was a rhapsody of colours, sceneries, vistas and vignettes of  fields, hamlets and rivulets with the sun streaming out in the background. The sky was filled with a kaleidoscope of shades and every moment brought in a change in hue. 

I noticed that few areas above the ground were covered with white fog and the visibility was almost zero. It was as if white pockets of fog floated around the vast terrain. On checking with Jerome I got to know it is the inversion process that has led to the formation of white puffs. Nature has it's own way of beautifying the surroundings. It was perfect rolling hills, white puffs moving round and the sun streaming on the land.

Inversion from hot air balloon

 The nine seater basket hovered over mountains, dams, rivers, lakes, streams and the Pune Mumbai Expressway. Kids on their way to school waved at us from the ground. Villagers were at work in the fields as we floated across. The cool morning breeze pushed the balloon far towards the Pavana river. At a steady speed of 25 km/ hr over 3000 feet above the ground it was as if you are one with the universe. Jerome would occasionally rotate the balloon to give a 360 degree view of various locations. After an hour's flight Jerome made a perfect landing near the fields, close to a village road by the Pavana dam. The locals of the village rushed to check the massive balloon landing. 

Mirror like Pavana River
A mirror like reflection at Pavana River
Hot Air Balloon Landing
A perfect landing

Hot Air Balloon Diffused
The Balloon being diffused

I got off from the balloon and wondered on Nature's beauty. I had romanced the hills and the sea but then finally I had got to romance the sky as well. Wouldn't you want to?

Call +919822988800 to book your seat now. They do have pick up and drop facility from Pune and Mumbai as well. Visit for further details. My flight was sponsored by Sky Waltz.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Photo Essay - Land's End

As we parked our car at Land's End entrance and walked ahead we were greeted to the sight of a vast glistening and glimmering Atlantic Ocean. The pretty coves tucked are a feast for the eyes and once can soak in its beauty for hours. 

Land's End

This attraction at South West of Britain in Cornwall is a pleasure to wait and watch as she changes colours and sceneries. This place is also used to calculate distance.

Coves at Land's End

Shimmering Atlantic Ocean
Shimmering Atlantic Ocean

Land's End - Clifftops

Signpost Land's End
Famous Sign Post
Head out to the cliff top for a panoramic view of Lands End, some souvenir shopping and later to the bar.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Malaysia, something for everyone

Palm Trees lined the tarmac of the airport. I saw the leaves fluttering in the wind as the plane took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. With mixed feelings I sighed and pulled out the airline magazine and flipped through it. Malaysia had been absolutely fantastic in the last couple of days, with its ethnic mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese communities friendly and approachable. Though I had a great time I felt I had just scratched the surface of this multi-cultural country. 

I had gorged myself with Indian food at the various joints in Little India, stood on the skywalk of The Petronas Towers and basked in the happiness of my niece's results in her Xth  grade (I got a call from India out there on the skywalk), watched the newlyweds walk the roads at Putrajaya, climbed the steps to Batu caves and taken the rides at Genting.

This country has so much to offer and explore that every region has a surprise for you and there I was flying back with a feeling that my visit to Malaysia had been incomplete with many more attractions yet to be explored. I convinced myself that I would be back someday to see the unseen.

Here I have managed to note down my top five Malaysia bucket list from it's never ending and interesting destinations that I am yet to visit. It is indeed a potpourri of heritage, culture, adventure, art and colors. 

  • Taman Negara, Pahang for adventure, heritage and culture- Somehow I do not seem to get enough of forests. The more the merrier. Thick, dense with a canopy of trees, impenetrable, rich with flora and fauna that has stood the test of time, this virgin expanse has been a mystery since ages. Rain forest with geological and ecological diversity has allured me since my last visit to Malaysia but unfortunately I couldn't visit her. She is more of an enigma, virgin and mesmerizing. She reveals little and shrouds the rest that leaves you wanting more. Meeting the local Bateq tribes and getting to know their way of living, culture would give a completely different perspective. Living close to nature surrounded by river, trees, waterfalls, birds far away from the concrete city life, is a fulfilling and serene experience that clears the cob webs off your mind. A refreshing tonic to replenish the soul.
Taman Negara
Source - Malaysia Tourism
  • Mount Kinabalu for the adrenaline rush - Since long I have heard of the tallest mountain in Malaysia that talks of the vertical limit. Breathtaking views, a beautiful sunrise and a fulfilling experience filled with excitement, fear, thrill, surge of anxiety and finally a sense of accomplishment. Borneo doesn't stop to mesmerize you at every step and I am waiting eagerly to conquer this alp.
File:Mount Kinabalu Clouds 3.jpg
Source - Wikimedia Commons
  • Putrajaya for architecture and culture - There is something unique about this place that has left a permanent mark in me and I keep visiting it mentally every now and then. Vignettes of this calm, beautiful, serene place keeps flashing in my mind that I visited a year back. This intelligent garden city with its well-planned layout of mosques, administrative centers, shopping centers, lakes gives a feeling of east meets west. A blend of Islamic and modern architecture with splashes of colors be it the pink minarets or the blue ripples of the lake is mesmerizing. Watching the sunset from the various bridges each an architecture marvel is serenity at its best. Newlyweds getting their photo sessions in their best Malay outfits, walk the paths of this modern city. This time around I would want to have an aerial view of this city by being part of the Putrajaya Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. 
Putrajaya has the calmness and a eclectic mix of art with its steel and marble structures that leave a lasting impression. It is awe inspiring and each a masterpiece that stirs that deepest recess down your heart.

Source - Putrajaya Official Site
  • George Town, Penang for food, colors and culture - Being a foodie I love to explore and titillate my taste buds with world cuisine. I try to experiment and savor the local cuisine to get a taste of its culture. George Town with its colonial influence is considered a food haven to tuck in some Malay delicacies. I would say it's the Ambrosia of Malaysia and a Food Paradise. Nasi Lemak, Laksa, Char keuy teow, Satay are in my hit list, not to forget the Kaya Toast, Keh Tarik and Air bandung. A culinary trail by taking the food excursions in this heritage site is a must in one's itinerary. 
George Town is a gastronomic delight for the food connoisseurs of the world that plays with your palate and provokes a epicurean.
File:Malay Satay on Fire 5.jpg
Satay being coked; Source - Wikimedia
  • Shopping at Kuala Lumpur to explore art and culture - Malaysia has always been famous for electronics, perfume, fashion clothing. Last time around I had picked up a LED television for a friend who had requested for one and a tablet. This time I would want to buy clothing with Batik prints, Pandanus Mat, Beaded accessories from Sabah and Sarawak pottery all promoting arts and crafts by the skilled village artisans. After all sustainable living is the best part of promoting handicrafts.       
File:Malaysian Batik.jpg
A Batik craftsman Source - Wikimedia

 Not to forget it is a taste of their culture that speaks volumes of Islamic influence. Natural elements like leaves, flowers and animals are prominent in this space. Tribal motif pottery, Chinese dragon kiln ceramics, Songket and Tekat rich and  regal for the elite Malay. A riot of colors and designs that leave you mesmerized.                                               

Malaysia entertains every age group and also enthralls people with different interests. Be it a nature lover, an adventurist, food and art connoisseur, culture seeker or the carefree. It has something for everyone. This country has intrigued, pampered and impressed me. I would want to rekindle it, go on an adventure spin, celebrate its culture and escape into a paradise, that is Truly Asia.

How I long to hear and see the board with the greeting Selamat Datang. Malaysia, do you hear me?

I am participating in the MalaysiaJao Blogathon Contest in association with

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How Traveling Changes your Life

This post appeared in Women's Web

Traveling is the tonic for life that keeps the soul replenished. Every moment brings in a new perspective to the journey called Life. 


It needn't be an exotic location but a local market that brings out the colors and flavors of the inhabitants.  It could be a life altering experience for a few or for that matter an adrenaline pumping experience. The benefits of these encounters that I term exuberance are multifold.

  • Live Life to the fullest -
Traveling opens the mind and the deepest recess of the grey cells. You live and breathe every moment of life.  Simple facts that we seem to miss in our daily grind are enjoyed and absorbed though our senses.

When I had visited Toronto I made it a point to visit the CN Tower which is the tallest free-standing structure in the western world. I gathered courage to walk on the edges of this observation tower which stands 553.33 m high. I must say it was the walk of my life for I could feel the rush. The experience is out of the world and completely worth it.

One could be watching the raging bulls (Jallikattu during Pongal) running down in Madurai or a beautiful sunrise in Rishikesh.  It could be the delight of a painter’s brush stroke or the verse of poet, every experience would be a memorable chapter in your life.

  • Blend with the culture -

Traveling introduces you to the culture and the history of the region. It could be the local food, the vivid colors, the cacophony, the smell or the language. You never know you might end up learning the local dialect or the cuisine of the expanse.

Few years back I had managed to book an accommodation at a homestay in Harnai, a beautiful hamlet in Konkan. Imagine my surprise when I reached, to find that the accommodation was in a fishermen’s colony with the smell of fish hanging heavily all around us. I was skeptical of their behavior and wondered if they would be well mannered. We stay put for the next three days and by the end of the trip I had a very different view to it. They had the humanity in them to help and care for others that we seemed to have lost in the burgeoning city life. These people lead a simple, no frills life yet they were content with it.

Meeting the locals of the region brings in a new perception to the trip. You could tap a foot with the locals on a Lezim folk dance during Ganesh Chaturthi in Pune or marvel the Taj Mahal’s architecture, the choice is enormous.  The earthen symphony indeed refreshes the rancid soul. 

  • Respect the Ecosystem -

Sivakasi, a small town in Tamilnadu receives scanty rainfall and experiences hot and dry climate throughout the year. The water table is salty which makes consumption impossible. Drinking water would be supplied through water tankers twice a week. Ladies would run to fill in their containers whenever they would get to know the tanker has arrived. When I was in my sixth grade I visited my grandparents who resided in a small colony in Sivakasi. The colony hadn’t received drinking water in the last five days and we had no stock at home. As me and my cousins played in the scorching heat we all were very thirsty. The six of us had to visit the neighborhood locality and borrow three bottles of water from one of the families. I was in for a surprise when I faced this stark reality. At that age I had not considered water to be a valuable resource that needs to be conserved and not splurged upon.

When you travel to the western countries or places closer like Singapore, the startling observation is the clean roads wherein people never drop dirt.  Next time you would think twice before you ditch that plastic bottle in a sea shore in India. Traveling embarks the values of cleanliness and the need to go for sustainable travel solutions. How about cooling your heels on a bicycle in Coorg, sounds interesting?

  • Plan, Budget and Manage

Traveling teaches you to live a disciplined life. Though you are independent, carefree and live a life of your choice it brings in a sense of budget living. It teaches you to live a life within the best possible ways and not go overboard. Traveling tightens the strings and enables to lead a life that doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket. 

Prior to any trip you do your homework be it items to be carried as per the place you are visiting, cheap tickets, budget hotels or homestays, visa process, places to visit. The whole exercise sort of trains you to plan and manage effectively. Every trip has a lesson learnt that would help in the future jaunts. Traveling light is always better, when being with kids, in a group or solo. Doesn’t a homestay with the locals in Kerala sound exciting?

  • Enjoy some ME time - You inhale the allures of life be it traveling in a group or solo. It’s a sense of liberation from provincial thinking and a break from the mundane.
I had solo traveled on an official duty to London for two months. Being a mother of two kids back home my time is spent juggling between office and family. But in those two months in London I got the time of my life. I could spend some ME time with my friends, visit the Cornish coast (as a child read the Enid Blyton books which have references to it), dig into the local cuisine and bask in the English countryside. There weren't any strings attached or for that matter I didn’t had to answer a single soul. I was a bird set free to fly to the land unknown and explore the limitless sky.

It is to break free from the usual lifestyle and experience the unknown and the unheard. One needs to recharge himself from the daily stress. Above all it is to have an open mind to embrace, accept and experiment which is the essence of Traveling.

 Are you game for it?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Photo Essay - Vintage Cars @ Cornwall

 I had set to the Cornish coast with a bunch of friends. We were on the look out for the Lizard Beach and accidentally stumbled into the Cornwall Vintage Vehicle Society's Exhibition.

Septuagenarians and Octogenarians having crossed their prime years and enjoying their carefree life had settled down in the city center on their easy chairs with a basket of sandwiches and a can of soft drink. Petite Pet Dogs walked in leash with their masters and mistresses. Few clambered into their masters vintage cars and pick up vans.

Vintage Cars - Cornwall
Oldies enjoying a sunny day

Colourful Vintage Cars
Colourful array of cars

Morris - Vintage Car
One of the old timers- Morris

Regal Austin
A regal Austin

Jaguar - Vintage Car
Jaguars of all shapes and sizes

Another Jaguar

Colorful cars of all makes and nearing a century had lined up beside the road. Morris, Jaguar, Austin, MG wearing their regal best stood majestic.

Classic car lovers strolled on the lawn checking out the models and the make. It was a perfect clear morning with a carefree and laid back attitude.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kufri - A paradox

This post appeared in The Alternative

Could a journey be a delight for some and dismay for the forsaken?

It had been a long drive from Delhi to Shimla by road. I was tired and somnolent but the thought of sighting the mighty Himalayas kept me awake. The ride from Chandigarh to Shimla takes a good three and half hours and I was greeted to the sight of tall, cone shaped, deodar trees or the cedar. It was as if they tried to reach the sky and spread a layer of shadow on the ground. Every direction that I turned I could see civilization in clusters in the valleys surrounded by the coniferous trees. If you are lucky the sun god could show his grace and give a peekaboo appearance in the cold winter days.

Kufri - Deodar Trees

Next morning I walked on the narrow roads with layers of warm clothing for a glimpse and shower of the huge yellow star. It seemed as if he wasn’t much interested to appear from behind the clouds. Temperature had dipped down to zero degrees Celsius. Water on the roads had frozen to form a thin sheet of ice. Shimla had received its first snowfall for the year and the talks around the town were Kufri had started to turn white. I bought a cup of tea in one of the local stalls as I walked up the steep roads. Walking didn’t seem to be my cup of tea in Shimla for I was soon puffing and panting. The tea had started to turn cold as soon as it was handed over to me. Anything and everything had to be savored immediately else one would be left with cold food that would be despised by the taste buds. A cool breeze wafted around and I tightened the muffler around my neck. It was indeed contradicting considering for one moment I would find it warm when the yellow ball cast its heat around. I would have to peel off few layers and the next moment when I would walk elsewhere with not much light around, cast in shadow I would have to again pack myself.

Shimla, the queen of the hills a quaint town in Himachal Pradesh was quite intriguing. It had this old world charm all around it with its colonial architecture and structures with gabled roofs. Most of them were one or two storied and some of the rooms in the top floor hung out of the structure. In the distant I could see the snow clad mountains. I had traveled all the way from Pune with my nine year old son for the National Ice Skating Competition to be held in Shimla. He was all eager and perked up for his first sight of snow and cajoled me for a short trip to Kufri. Kufri is a hill station about fifteen kilometers from Shimla that could be approached by road. It is one of the skiing destinations in India which was a popular getaway for the British.  We took a taxi and headed on NH 22 for the first experience of snow. I was in for a surprise as I saw a sea of tourists eagerly waiting at the base to go up the hill. There was commotion and a long queue to park the cars. Waiting time was high for renting the gum boots to protect ones feet in snow. The only conveyance to travel up the hilltop was mules, hinnies else you could walk. Hoards of mule (kacchar in Hindi) owners flock around and tourists are seen haggling with them for a better deal.

Kufri - Mules, Hinnies

For a ride up and down the hill you are charged close to 200 INR. The arduous ride starts with around 3 to 4 of these animals tied together back to back and one attendant to manage them. The gallop traverses through curves that circle the hill filled with mud, sludge and stones. There are ditches and fissures that the poor animals trod upon. They urinate and poop en-route the grueling trip and are treated to lashes by the attendant intermittently. The earlier they reach the top the more the number of trips the animals would be able to make which in turn would lead to cash jingling in the owners pockets. The journey is adrenaline pumping as you are left to the mercy of the poor animals trotting the dangerous journey. The climb takes around thirty minutes after which you get to view the snow clad mountains.

Snow Clad Kufri

People are seen playing in the snow, taking a dig into parathas, bhajis, noodles and momos or clambering on to a Yak and taking photographs. You also could experience the flying fox and the various rides in the amusement park. People throw plastic bottles and waste all around with no proper facility for garbage disposal.

Kufri Yaks

Once you are done with your ordeal you would have to wait for long hours till you get the animals to travel back to the base. If you found the uphill journey scary then the downhill tread is multifold. You are left wondering when this journey would come to an end. Many of the riders fall off the horse and are seen being pulled for couple of meters by the mules. The slope is very dangerous and you are left worrying about your safety.
The state government could definitely work on the roads and also ensure rules are brought in on the number of animals per owner as well as the number of trips per day. Eco friendly means of transport like bicycles on rent could be made available. Sanitation facilities need to be set up. The drudgery that the animals go through is heart breaking. I returned to the hotel room glad to be safe and in one piece but the thought of the animals laboring day in and out under dangerous conditions didn’t seem to get off my mind. The entire ordeal had left me heavy.

Kufri, definitely not for the faint hearted!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Skywatch - Sea Gulls

Sea Gulls at Tsunami Island
Sea Gulls - Tsunami Island

I was on my way to the Tsunami Island in Devbagh on a boat when I spotted a noisy colony of the sea gulls. Few flew above the ground while some stood close to the lapping water. They were an amazing sight to be watched.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I feel Alive

I lay awake on my bed looking at the veil of darkness that night had worn. The silver disc looked beautiful in the star studded sky. She cast myriad reflections in the river. I could hear the silence of the night. There was a frequent plop noise followed by the frogs croaking and the owl hooting. The woodpecker didn't seem to find sleep like me and kept digging into the wood. I was amazed and over whelmed by the fresh and pure air. The river seemed to have slowed down, probably she was tired after a long day. 

It indeed was an out of the world experience. Imagine far away from the concrete jungle into the forest a midst the wildlife on a tree beside a river. You are fifty feet above the ground in a tree house that is open two sides and a tree trunk inside your room. I was in Dandeli a wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka, India. 

Tree House at Dandeli

Tree House at Dandeli
Tree House

This thick forest is rich in flora and fauna. A haven for the migratory birds like The Great Hornbill, Parakeet and the mammals like the Barking Deer, Sloth Bear, Bison, Black Panther, Flying Squirrel, it also houses various reptile species like snakes, crocodiles, turtles and water monitor lizard.

One can indulge in Camping, Wildlife safaris, Kayaking, River Rafting or soak in the River Kali like a Hippo. The breath of fresh air is invigorating. I woke up to the bird calls with the sun streaming into the tree house. The mystery behind the plop sound was unearthed in the morning when I saw the pygmy mole cricket jumping in and out of the river. 

Kali River
River Kali

Elsewhere in India and abroad I have noticed  commercial water sports are rampant like Motor racing, Jet skiing etc. These adventure activities do whet our appetite for adrenaline rush but one drop of fuel in the river/ sea could cost the marine lives heavily. In that sense Dandeli is a peace loving, environment friendly abode. Having said that, I didn't had to compromise on my excitement as river rafting is an action packed activity that races your heart.

White Water River Rafting in Kali

As the raft plunged through the river, cut through the tides and took me on a journey through wetlands and mangroves, sighting some rare birds, animals en route I was one with nature. I basked in its freshness and rejuvenated in its greenery. I soaked in the beauty of the swollen river and the mystic jungle. A welcome change from the burgeoning city life. Nature has its lessons on harmony.  

I took a breath of the virgin air and lived in the moment that glistened and gleamed every particle in me. I lived every moment, I felt alive.

Dandeli – Truly satiating !!

Playing in River Kali
I feel Alive
When did you feel close to nature?


This post is my contribution to Contiki Story Tellers contest.

Saturday, February 15, 2014