4 day trip

A Cool Kodaikanal Christmas

Early the next morning, we drove towards Kodaikanal just over the state borders. Its quite a long drive at all of 5 hours but it’s ridiculously picturesque. Set aside time to enjoy it and take enough breaks to make the best of the drive.IMG_6530.jpg

Streams gurgling over boulders sprinkled over their path, sunrise streaming through the lush greenery, there’s a postcard view at every step of the way.

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The misty roads had a wall of jagged rocks on one side and numerous pink blooms softening the view of the sheer drop on the other. Amongst the sight of the green cover, one could see the Anayirankal dam – a turquoise blob in the distance.IMG_6541.jpg

Another stop at yet another spot leads us to a view of the Thalaiyar waterfall through the greenery- though narrow, the sight of it still tears through the foggy view of the forest around.IMG_6578.jpg

Just 8km before reaching Kodaikanal- conveniently right beside the highway are the Silver Cascade Waterfalls. It holds the overflowing water from the man-made Kodaikanal lake and is a good spot to stretch your legs and even buy some of the local garlic sold in bunches! The waterfall is truly picture perfect and munching on some corn with chilly and lime while watching it, only makes it better.IMG_6592.jpg

At the end of the long drive, was our reward, Kodaikanal– The Gift of the forests. Unfortunately, the whole great country of India with all its population seemed to have had the same idea that weekend and had landed there too- so our first view of the town when escaping for a bit from the bustle of Bangalore was – hold your breath- a traffic jam!

So we decided on plan B- that was less of a plan and more of a spur-of-the-moment decision- to head to the tourist spots in descending order of popularity. And it turned out to be the best decision ever- it instantly took us away from the crowds and breathe in what’s truly gorgeous about this little plateau on the Palani hills.

Tip: Kodaikanal is insanely convenient for the average tourist. All you need to do is get to the centre of the town and there are rows of taxis and jeeps offering to cover different sets of around 10 places for a fixed amount of money. Personally, I hate bargaining, so this is fantastic if you don’t want to be bothered by the local travel.

We first decided we wanted to stretch our legs a bit and made our way to the Bryant park despite the drizzle. Sticks of airy cotton candy accompanied our meandering stroll around the park with gorgeous, misty views of the town and the Kodaikanal Lake too.IMG_6608.jpg

From here we headed to the evocatively named Fairy falls, the source of the Pambar river. After parking, we entered with some trepidation into a gate that looked like it opened up to a Govt facility but a gentleman directed us right inside to a view of the lovely Fairy falls. It’s a relatively small waterfall but it perfectly delightful. It wasn’t bad at all that we were pretty much the only visitors during our time there.IMG_6636.jpg

Peeling ourselves from there we headed to what was called the “Liril falls” on the map. We’d strongly recommend skipping it (especially during winter) since its not much more than a not-very-clean stream unless perhaps you’re visiting during the monsoons. It’s surrounded by stalls selling all kinds of spices and oils with very talented salesmen so be aware of prices outside before deciding to pick up your favourites.IMG_6680.jpg

It was getting dark early due to it being winter but we weren’t ready to end our day as yet, so we decided to just drive further away from the centre of the town without realising we were heading towards the Palani Hills Forest Conservation Area.IMG_6687.jpg

We had to stop and park just to catch our breath at the stunning beauty of the place. A Christmas evening, an endless forest of pine trees with raindrops just dripping off the tree leaves- it was simply magical. We had to just wander around with smiles pasted on our faces- picking up pine cones and feeling blissfully lost in the green wonderland.

Tip: As often as “popular tourist places” are popular for a reason it’s also worth your while to take a step away from them, and take a bit of a detour, to make memories that are so much your very own- a snapshot of time for yourself without the world trying to burst in to your moment of calm.

Later that evening, we made our way back into town for dinner and the restaurant walked into was right in the middle of the vegetable market that was wrapping up for the day. We did get our seat but unintentionally, we had dropped into a popular choice that quickly had people walking in. Some chatter with a group of girls playing Jenga in the neighbouring table and we made our way back to our stay to get to sleep reminiscing about the day that was and looking forward to the one that was to come.

The next morning, we headed away from the chilly Kodaikanal to the warm embrace of the 2500-year-old city of Madurai with a 3-hour drive. While there’s plenty to see in Madurai, on this trip we wanted to take it slow. We headed to the iconic 6th century Madurai Meenakshi temple. I’ve been there just once before and find more joy in the markets around the east side of the temple. They are still very much housed within an ancient pillared hall- the sheer variety of items found in the narrow lanes is mind-boggling. From fabrics of all kinds, iron utensils and knives to ghungroos with rows of tinkling brass bells made from scratch.IMG_6729

IMG_6737.jpgWrt the temple itself, one can easily spend hours just wandering even from outside the temple to admire its 12 pillars in all the 4 directions. The mythological significance of this temple is that it’s believed the Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) married Lord Shiva(Sundareshwar) in the location of this temple.  You can spend a whole day and not be done strolling around the mandapas(pillared halls) and shrines. The shrines are dedicated most notably to the 2 main deities and their son, Lord Shiva.IMG_6764.jpg

Of the mandapas, there are 4

  • Ayirakal mandapam: The one with 1000 (945 precisely) pillars with detailed sculptures of mythological creatures. Large colourful blooms grace the ceiling.
  • Kilikoondu Mandapam – believed at some time to have housed parrots trained to say the word “Meenakshi”
  • Ashta Shakti Mandapam – with shrines dedicated to 8 Goddesses.
  • Nayaka Mandapam– a hall with 100 pillars and an idol of Lord Nataraja (the dancing form of Lord Shiva)

The last is a personal favourite.

If not particularly religious and eager to stand in the endless queues to see the deities in the various shrines, what we’d recommend is that once you go in buy some prasadam (we like the puliyodarai) , sit on the steps of the Potramarai Kulam(the pond with the golden lotus) and enjoy the sheer level of artistry that has gone into every inch of the mammoth temple complex.

Note:

  • Photography is not permitted inside the temple. You are also not allowed to take in phones – so stick to your group once inside the temple or it’s easy to get lost in its vast interiors. However, they have a cloakroom kind of area at all gates where you can leave your belongings just outside the temple. Ensure you remember which gate you parked kept your things at.
  • Food (including offerings to the deity, like oil for the lamps) is not allowed inside the temple.
  •  Parking is not easy once you come very near to the temple. However, you can search for parking spots on google maps and it shows up some paid parking options a short walk away from the temple.

While my personal favourite is the panneer soda when in Tamil Nadu- you may want to try some of the numerous sodas sold in the stalls around the temple, to cool yourselves too.IMG_6753.jpg

We realised that the next place we wanted to visit-  the Thirumala Nayakar Mahal was just a short walk away from our car parking spot. So we decided to take to the streets on foot even passing a couple of men who were painstakingly dying thread by hand to be used in sarees.

The palace itself is relatively recent ie., from the 17th century and its pillars are definitely the memorable part of the structure. It consists of the Swarga Vilasam- that enclosed space that housed the throne and perhaps even court meetings and the Ranga Vilasam – the large open hall with high pillars that was built for performances.IMG_6801.jpg

After the hills and the plains, for some reason, we had an urgent wish to see the beach! And so a short detour later, we landed in the city of Chennai. We polished off our lunch at a charming Sri Lankan restaurant – that I promised myself I’d visit again just for their yummy seeni sambol.

Even though the sun was at its peak by now, we couldn’t resist walking up to the Besant Nagar beach and just taking a minute to mentally capture the scene of the endless waves, so we could revisit it when back in good old Bangalore. Topping off the day with some fun ice cream flavours from a place by the beach we decided it was just the right end to another lovely little journey.

1 day trip · 4 day trip

Bijapur- Of origami mosques and kite flying

After an overnight bus from Bangalore dropped us in Bijapur one fine morning, and a quick round of freshening up, we hired an auto rickshaw for the day to take us around the historical city of Bijapur.

Jamia Masjid/Jama Masjid/Jami Masjid (all names used in various articles of literature) is said to be the largest mosque in the Deccan plateau during the medieval times. It is a white , large and calm spot within the city. The first aspect of the building one notices on entering it are the arches in clean lines when looking up inside the mosque- for some reason it reminds me of origami folds.IMG_4050.jpg

The tiles in the prayer hall were interestingly made to look like prayer rugs and the most special/ornate part of the mosque is the mehrab with Persian inscriptions inscribed in black and gold. The kind caretaker even translated a line for us on our request. It is said that the mosque was originally built by Ali Adil Shah who was from the Shi’ite sect of Islam- hence the simple structure of the mosque- but the inscriptions were added on later by the Sunni king Muhammed Adil Shah. The money for building this structure is said to have come from the battle of TaliKota were the kings defeated Rama Raja in the 1500s. Aurangazeb contributed to the structure by adding a gate to it in his time. The large square courtyard also has a tank for ablutions before prayer. It is believed that there is sufficient place for 20,000 people to pray in the premises within the gate simultaneously.IMG_6191.jpg

Just a few meters away, the driver then took us to see the facade of Mahtar Mahal Masjid. The pretty jharokas(windows) instantly transport you to Gujarat/Rajasthan despite being on one side of a narrow busy lane. It is said that this 17th century structure was built when the king Adil Shah donated a large sum of money to a sweeper since a soothsayer advised him to do so to cure his leprosy- whether it helped or not is not entirely clear :). So well that gave the structure it’s name that translates to “Sweeper’s Palace”. However there are a bunch more legends around it so we personally cannot be certain of its origin.IMG_4066.jpg

Our next stop was my favourite of the day – Asar Mahal. Asar Mahal said to house two strands of hair from the Prophet’s beard (second strangest thing I’ve heard since the wars over Budhha’s tooth in Srilanka). It functions as a mosque now and therefore women are prohibited from entering it. Didn’t dampen my time there, since I found the reservoir next to it much more interesting – there were kids in all sizes having a great time- some being instructed by a teacher under a tree, some flying a kite, some more playing gilli-danda – all quite interested in us and in being photographed with their younger siblings. It made me wish I too had carried a kite along! The reservoir was built to commemorate Taj Sultana, King Ibrahim II’s 1st wife.IMG_4086.jpg

Gagan mahal– All that’s left of this 16th century palace are the still-standing-wall and the majestic arches aptly aiming to reach the sky. The space in front of it is a well maintained park used by locals to take a break from their day or kids to frolic around. The structure was meant to be the royal residence and the royal court by the Sultan Ali Adil Shah.IMG_4099.jpg

Barah Kaman: is a 17th century unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II, his wife, daughters and his mistresses. Earlier called Ali Roza to indicate the king’s name it was changed to Barah Kaman since it was the 12th monument to be built during the reign of Shah Nawaz Khan. It’s quite a dramatic structure that leads one to wonder how it would look complete. Succeeding to the throne at the young age of 18, Ali Adil Shah II struggled with battling the Marathas and the Mughal invasionsIMG_4142.jpg

Jod gumbaz – from outside it’s an almost non-descript old building but was one of the only spaces here that seemed to have a huge section of spiritual followers, even waiting in line to offer their prayers. We were charmed by a lady with stunning tribal jewellery and attire also in the queue. However it isn’t as well maintained as some of the other structures in Bijapur. Jod(pair) refers to 2 mausoleums that house tombs of Khan Muhammad and Abdul Razzaq Qadiri – the general and spiritual advisor of the young Adil Shahi Ruler Sikander who helped Aurangazeb defeat their king.IMG_4151.jpg

We next made our way to Taj bawdi, a pond built by Ibrahim Adil Shah in memory of his wife, Taj Sultana. To avoid the place being dirtied, it can only be viewed from outside today but is still an impressive pond with flights of stairs leading to the water and a few rest houses meant for travelers also seen on the other side. However just outside it we met a huge group that were celebrating their village festival and had taken a break right there to have lunch they’d carried along.IMG_4159.jpg

By this time we were starving and yearning for some kadak roti with ennegayi but unfortunately the restaurant we found had only north Indian food. Only half day in and we gobbled our food to continue on our way.

4 day trip

Goa : of water views and pouncing kites

Continued from here

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Day 3:

While I snuggled in a bit more, Anand went to pick up our friends from the bus station who were joining us. I stepped out to realise the room itself was in a nice area with ducks, ducklings, pretty plants and a small lawn. Once they got here and relaxed a bit, we all head out to breakfast at the beach. One of the best parts of having breakfast at the shacks is to scrunch one’s toes in the cool sand while waiting for your meal, entertained by a view of the water, a sprinkling of tourists and a couple of boats idling on the water.

We obliged a boat guy who promised us a view of birds and the mangroves next to the beach.

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Mangroves unfailingly remind me of the lovely book “The Hungry tide”

We piled onto a boat and he rowed us by showing the usual suspects: Kingfishers, cormorants, kites and storks. There were a few catchment(?) areas in the water where they bred fish.IMG_20150529_105848015.jpg He also put up a show to make it worth our while where he threw out some meat into the water and the kites swooped down to pick them up displaying their accuracy and plumage.IMG_20150529_111655855.jpg After the relaxed ride, we headed back to our rooms, cleaned up for lunch and then decided to move on to the fort called Cabo-de-Rama. Just as we entered, however, Anand realised he wasn’t sure where he last left his camera and seeing his worried face we decided to head back to the room to check!

To his visible relief, we did find the camera safely in the room, but one of our friends decided she needed a nap and chose to stay back at the room. It was also quite hot for the climb in the fort, so the rest of us decided to give it a shot the next day and instead headed off in the same direction to the Agonda beach. Being the off-season it was completely bereft of tourists and only had a couple of locals and a group of guys playing volleyball.

Being the off-season it was completely bereft of tourists and only had a couple of locals and a group of guys playing volleyball. I walked on the edge of the water, Anand played for a while with the group and our friend sat by the water. After a nice evening spent there and we headed back to the hotel to get dinner. Restaurants were less in number compared to the in-season time, but we walked into a nice looking place called ‘Spicy Bella’ seated ourselves and got told that most of what we wanted to order was not available. Just out of sheer laziness we still hung around, made our order and waited. Only to have it delayed significantly and then an item just forgotten. We were too lazy or sleepy to argue and had our meal and that was that.

Day 4:

The next morning we walked into one of the smaller but warm looking places called Café Rumba. We instantly took a liking to it. IMG_20150530_095151699_HDR.jpgThe food was served at typical Goan relaxed manner but we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast and our time there.IMG_0137.jpgWe decided to then head off to the half-explored Cabo-de-Rama fort we had missed the previous evening.

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Golden rain tree/Konna poo blossoms just outside the fort’s entrance

It was a functional church just inside but what I especially liked was the small structure behind it that was in ruins and had the banyan creepers and roots all over the place inside and around it. We also managed to startle a poor snake that was resting on the ground covered with dried leaves.

Once our friends were done with the photo session by Anand, we walked on up to the fort’s ramparts to walk around it. There are a couple of locations besides cliff drops that provide a view of the ocean and a welcome breeze in the otherwise hot place. IMG_20150530_122952637_HDR.jpgWe went looking for a flea market at Margoa and only found a general vegetable market at the city centre that also had some area with clothes (pretty ones nevertheless). We had our lunch at a nice place called Pepper Café with huge portions and then headed off in search of our elusive flea market and instead landed up at the Anjuna beach where finally we saw 3-4 stalls while the others had closed down for the end of the season.

We spend a beautiful evening there watching the hypnotic crashing and merging of waves till the sunset after which we reluctantly made our way back.

We incidentally had one of the best meals of the trip in a roadside Dhaba where we stopped for a break. He served us roti, dal and egg burji all of which we managed to wipe out as soon as it arrived. We headed back to our hotel and after a good night’s sleep and drove back to Bangalore the next day with memories of yet another trip safely tucked in our minds.

Up next : China- Chengdu : Of poets, parks and paintings

 

4 day trip

Gokarna : of war-ships and moments of calm

CaptureMercifully due to the ideas of leaves lapsing, we are forced into unexpected vacations occasionally. This time it lead us to Goa.

After going round and round a roundabout we managed to spot and eat at an unassuming ‘Preethi canteen’ that was supposedly famous for Anand’s favourite item on any menu – dosa! We then drove ahead. And while I assumed we were going towards Gokarna, we came to a diversion after which he opened up the maps and stubbornly refused to let me look at it to my increased suspicion. This diversion went on and on for a long time.

And there it was. A still lake reflecting the small hills and trees lining its edges. IMG_0043-2.jpgWe spent a while there watching a couple of kids’ antics on their cycles in the water and a group of older guys learning to ride bikes.

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It was called “Madagadakere” – a lake that never dries up and is quite a lovely spot completely bereft of crowds to spend a lovely morning. After a while there, we set off further towards Gokarna. There are a lot of boards on the way indicating tourist places of interest and it would be fun some day to go on a trip just to see all of them, we, however, decided to stop at a temple called Ikkeri.

It’s strange why some of these temples are famous and some not-so-much. Because this was as pretty as the Halebidu temple. IMG_0069-2.jpgMy favourite part were the engraved ornaments on the shiny Nandi at the entrance and the window-like structures reminiscent of the havelis in Rajasthan.

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We considered visiting the Jog falls on the way back but it was already late in the day and were content just stopping by at one of the bridges over the riverside and an unassuming viewpoint by the road that overlooked a pretty scene too. We finally took a suspicious looking road and in the pitch darkness and reached the cottage we had planned to stay at for the night near Kudle beach. The day’s fatigue led us early to bed after having the simple food cooked by the chef+ caretaker+ gardener of the location.

Day 2:

The next morning we awoke to a pretty scene of a small garden, from the edge of which, we could see the ocean rushing at the rocky hill. We settled on the swing and waited for our breakfast while watching 2 little kids playing with the sprinkler and having the time of their lives. IMG_0088-2.jpgWe then walked down the rocky path to the beach and spent some time in the café there. From there we headed onward to Om beach via a not-so-long walk that still had me exhausted since I wasn’t in the best of health. I was however quickly cheered up by a couple of cats that instantly took a liking to the 2 of us and purred away at our cuddles. Unfortunately, we had to leave the 2 behind to walk further on until we reached the lovely Om beach. The beach was admittedly smaller than I’d expected. But it was hot and it had a lovely beachside restaurant ‘Namaste Café’ where we had a perfect afternoon just lounging with food and a view of the sea.

 

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Om beach

 

We finally managed to extract ourselves out of our comfy perches to pack and head to Goa. On the way, we stopped at a point at the Karwar port just to see boats coming back in and curious fisher folk wondering why we touristy people were hanging around there. IMG_0097-2.jpgFurther on the way was an invitingly named ‘Warship museum‘ that we stopped on a whim.

It was interesting and fun. The entire ‘museum’ was a single warship INS Chapal that was actually used in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. It was complete with the missile holding areas, but was one where visitors could walk into all its chambers and imagine for oneself the working life and living conditions of those at sea. It would be an excellent place to visit for any child/adult who is considering/has ever considered a job at sea. Tall people would have second thoughts, though newer ships used today supposedly allow for more vertical height. Anand had to duck in most of the areas and the living spaces were optimised for minimal space too.

We reached Palolem and confirmed that there were no shacks available to stay. They had all been dismantled for the rains and would be put up the next season.After a check on a couple of hotels that seemed either pricey or unavailable, we found a nice place 2 doors away from them called ‘Palolem delights’. We couldn’t see much of the surroundings having reached later in the evening, but the room seemed nice enough. After dinner at a restaurant near the beach called Olive garden, we called it a night.

 

Up Next : Pouncing kites and water views

2 day trip · 4 day trip

Bidar : Of lightning strikes and scenic rewards

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We headed back to the hotel for lunch and some respite from the sun. We then went towards the Gurudwara: Guru Nanak Jhira, unexpectedly since someone sent us towards that when we asked for the route to the Baridi Tombs. Neither of us particularly wanted to spend time there with the shorter evenings in winter and so lesser time to see other things we’d planned, and so went in and headed back out quickly. It’s quite a huge space and they are adding more rooms to it. It is believed that GuruNanak found a source of water/a spring here in the otherwise arid town and therefore the term “Jhira” or stream. It’s quite a culture shock to all of a sudden see a huge number of Sikhs in Bidar solely here! We saw 0 anywhere else we had wandered in Bidar. IMG_5719.jpg

We did notice however that there were 3 small tombs near the Gurdwara too. The gates were closed (since it was a Friday ?) and so we had to move on after a refreshing drink of lime juice from a cheerful vendor there.

 

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We next went looking for the Baridi Tombs and the map simply wouldn’t point us to it. We asked people and realised that the place was referred to as the “Bareed Shahi Park” (note the spelling of Bareed). img_5726While the Bahamani tombs did have people picnicking, having an actual park with kids playground and fake deer felt a little close to the morbid view of things- like a playground in a cemetery…or maybe that’s just me.

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We strolled around amidst school kids and harassed teachers trying their best to rein them in and maintain a semblance of order. It’s a small place with small tombs especially in comparison with the ones at Ashtur. Still pleasant enough for a 1/2 hr of relaxing.img_5733

Madrasa of Khoaja Mahmud Gawan

This was one place that seemed all kinds of interesting to me and I’d made up my mind to visit. Firstly it was a residential university of the time, it seemed to have beautiful tile work on its façade and legend says that it was struck by lightning. [The Archaeological Society of India says it was a gunpowder explosion that crashed into it, but I like the lightning theory better so I’m sticking to that story.] And so going through a lot of red soil in the air and on the roads we got there.

Only traces of the blue, green, white glazed tiles and delicate calligraphic text remains but it’s enough to make you sigh wistfully at how wondrous it may have looked in its time.

img_5836It then provided free accommodation for 1000 students while teaching them mathematics, theology, astronomy and other subjects and had 3000 books in its library too. The portion of the structure ahead is now a functional mosque where people had come to pray at the time we got there. A portion of the collapsed structure is supported by a pillar to hold it in place now.img_5785 The caretaker opens up each area and shows you around briefly as the study halls, the professor’s chambers, and student’s living quarters. Oh, what we would give to have a quick peek into the past to see it with amidst the bustle of academics and wisdom.

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Deva Deva Vana :

We decided to spend the evening at a place that’s a little less dusty than the city and headed to Deva Deva Vana that we had spotted on our way to Bidar. A stroll around the eco-tourism park helped us rewind from the interesting past 2 days. The plants around had boards with names to familiarise us with the diversity of the vegetation there but otherwise no information available. It wasn’t at its greenest in winter when we got there, nevertheless made a pleasant place for a relaxed walk as the evening got cooler and ended in yet another lovely sunset.

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As we drove back towards Bangalore the next day, we stopped this time at a mosque we had seen on our way in. It is supposedly referred to as Bidar’s Taj Mahal and rightly so. A structure in pure white marble – Astana Chishtiya Hazrat Multani Baba, Gangwar Shareef. It too functions as a mosque as we had seen quite a few people coming back from their prayers on our way to Bidar.

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A little ahead we decided to make yet another pitstop at an unnamed lake (even on online maps) by the road. We were amply rewarded with the perfect end to the trip -pretty scenes of birds completely oblivious to our presence going about their day with casual and enchanting grace.

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Up next : China – EmeiShan – Of mountains and miracles

2 day trip · 4 day trip

Bidar- Tombs, forts and people

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While the world readied themselves to party the new year in, we decided to visit dusty tombs of dead kings, cobweb ridden forts and a university struck by lightning – so well, Bidar it was.

As we left on a Thursday afternoon, we were lucky to see a winter sunset that was needlessly dramatic – the orb of a gorgeous shade of gold with a sharply defined outline and the bluish-pink sky, on the other hand vying for your attention. Further on ahead, a cop at a highway checkpoint asked for a lift and we obliged. We were well rewarded with recommendations of tourist places nearby. We also got a peek into his life with 18-hour shifts, 24*7 availability, being witness to the aftermath of avoidable traffic accidents every day and the crimes he gets to clean up after every day. We soon felt guilty of how less we appreciate their work every day to keep our cities and villages safe even when often it’s just one of them on a long, lonely and dark highway.

Tip: You could also stop at Lepakshi on the way from Bangalore to Bidar which is a lovely old temple.

On the brighter (sparklier) side, with it getting darker earlier due to the winter, we were taken by surprise at the perfectly clear view of endless stars that lit up the night sky and left us smiling for a long time. After checking in to the hotel and dinner we crashed and woke up to the image of a pretty pond and guava trees outside our balcony.

But we had more road to cover- through tractors full of sugarcane and fields of cotton that looked like they were specific areas blessed with a snowy Christmas. The roads are great except for a small stretch before reaching Bidar since the roads there are being laid afresh. When there, expect your vehicle to be covered liberally with deep red soil on every bit of its exposed surface.

After checking in and a relaxed lunch, we headed off to our first stop.

Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalil Ullah

Our first stop was Chaukhandi. This is a strikingly designed octagonal tomb of Hazrat Khalil Ullah who was the king’s spiritual advisor. Its distinct shape makes it easily visible from afar too.

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It has a reverent air around it as devotees continue to visit it as a dargah. There is lovely Quranic calligraphy work around its façade. The smaller building beside the more prominent one, was where musicians used to play trumpets and drums as appropriate to the shrine.

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There are 3 graves inside the tomb and are a few smaller ones around it, some with adornments on their outer structure too. There is a small step pond beside the main structure.img_5200

Tip: Make sure you are well covered, including for gentlemen- wear trousers in lieu of shorts. To this place the only pointer, if you don’t have a map, is to look for road signs to “Ashtur”

Bahamani tombs:

This is just a little away from the Chaukhandi and really takes your breath away. It is made of 8 main tombs and several smaller ones. The tall and graceful arches along with remnants of the richly coloured designs made for a sight for sore eyes.The one dome that has crashed in opening up to the sky, lends it a special touch of intrigue and mystery.

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It’s interesting to note how young some of the designated rulers at the time were, some just 8- 12 years old. One wonders what lives those children led. The queens were called “Mallika-i-Jahan” (Queen of the world) very dramatically and were often the regent queens till the children grew up.

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The people there seem to have the opposite energy levels those in the Chaukhandi. Children frolicking around, families playing a joyful game of kabaddi with some of its best participants in a hijab and, a group of young men learning to ride a bike inside the premises and taking ubiquitous selfies of course. It’s the perfect place to spend a beautiful winter evening.

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As we climbed atop one of the structures a young girl of about 9 yrs old approached me asking why we were taking videos(she assumed due to the huge DSLR) and what we’d do with them. I explained as best as I could and then we exchanged names.

“Are you a Hindu?” she then asks.

“Well… I guess…but what difference does it make?” [there wasn’t enough time to express my opinions about religion]

She giggles in agreement.

She continues, “You are very nice…..but………..you have short hair.” More giggling! 😐

She then proceeds to call her sisters too and each one requests a separate picture with me. Revelling in the glory of fleeting celebrity-hood I agree with a grin.

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The setting sun lends marvellous shades of gold to the tombs and their facades adding to their charm. Reflecting on the place we decided that while all of us die, some of our tombs are possibly grander but considering we aren’t around to enjoy them, we might as well enjoy our evening for now.

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Bidar fort:

The next day was the main focus of our whole trip, the Bidar fort. It is considered one of the most formidable forts in the country. However, a few steps from the entrance and you’re instantly transported to another time half expecting sentries to bring down the draw bridge for you at the doors. The 3 moats around it are clearly visible just a short climb up its ramparts. It lends itself to a day of joyous exploration with something new at every turn. Despite it being a sunny day, areas of the fort are deliciously cool with their design optimising for air flow. The inside of the fort starts off with the Rangeen Mahal and the Prince’s Mahal on the left with the Fort’s museum on the right. The Tarkash Mahal and the Solah Khamba Mosque are soon after. Further inside one would reach the Diwan-i-Aam, the Takht Mahal and several other structures.

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Diwan-i-Aam

The hall for an audience with the public – was contrary to its name, well, closed to the public, since it was undergoing renovations. A peek from the gates, however, led us to view a large area for the people to meet their king and walls with tall arches all around.

Tarkash Mahal

Is a corruption of “Turkish” which is what the queen was, and this was made for her. This too was unfortunately closed and seemed to have multiple steps and sections, much left to our imagination.

 

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Tarkash Mahal straight ahead and the Solah Khamb mosque on the right

 

Solah Khamba Masjid

This is still used as a mosque. It has 16 pillars in the front but a total of 96 smooth, round, huge, white pillars beautifully aligned to make up the structure

Rangeen Mahal

This was one structure I was yearning to see and it did not disappoint. Marble tiles in stunning shades of blue, green and white make you long to see how it may have been when it was all in place.

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The courtyard of the Rangeen Mahal
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The splendid ceiling 

 

Prince’s mahal

Just beside the Rangeen Mahal was the Mahal of the prince.  All that was left were strong pillars, sectioned off rooms and wide spaces.

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Takht Mahal

This was a favourite of mine. Easy to get lost amidst its huge sections separating the rooms with beautiful archways and huge windows to look benevolently(I hope) at the peasants in the plains below. img_5551

Renovations are ongoing to put back together the waterbodies in each courtyard attempting fervently to re-create the glory days.

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The Persian influence in architecture is noted in the tiger with a starburst seen right at the entrance of the building.Just behind it are secret passageways and tunnels to escape into the earth in case the enemy attacks.

 

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As we moved towards the exit, we also stopped at some old granaries still in pretty good shape. There are huge canons around the fort area too.

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It’s a delightfully enchanting space to spend a relaxed day stumbling into its various nooks and spaces, discovering a cannon at one spot and a vibrant blue mosaic at another, feeling like an intruder in space you yearn to really see in it’s prime.

 

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We wished we could, if only for an instance, breathe life into those spaces to get a peek into the lives and times of the people of the era, their every days and their celebrations, their joys and their heartbreaks. For now, we’ll never know what secrets the place may be holding close to its heart and what tales the palaces would be yearning to share.

Up next : Bidar : Of Lightning strikes and scenic rewards

4 day trip

Andhra : A short heat respite and a suspicious gate-keeper

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely Capturehills

Continued from here

Day 4 :

It was our last day at Andhra Pradesh and we had a drive of 2 hours via marvellously empty roads for most of it. On the way, we stopped by some people selling honey since Anand wanted to buy honeycomb from them. The language translation app promptly failed to translate what we had to say, but I managed to show them a picture of the honeycomb on my phone. They insisted that the honey came from it and that it was what they were selling. The lady even inserted a lit matchstick into the honey to prove its genuineness. After a while of both of us failing to communicate, Anand went over to see the honeycomb itself that they actually happened to have with them. The lady came to me and then insisted that the communication failure was desperate and then to our shock switched to Hindi asking us if we spoke the language. Much to everyone’s amusement, we did and bought 2 small pieces of honeycomb and continued on our way after sharing some biscuits with them.

After that little incident, we drove further on and finally reached Gurramkonda fort. I thought the name was funny. Also, I was looking forward to the huge staircase leading to it and eager to explore the place for other interesting nooks. We were welcomed by a kingfisher right at the entrance and Anand stopped to take pictures of it while I walked on ahead. There was just one person who seemed to be the caretaker who followed me in at a distance. There were a bunch of young boys there and assuming I didn’t know the language at all, continued a conversation on how to reach out to me and ask for my name [at the least]. By now, the caretaker promptly decided to stand by the side and watch. Anand joined me and the caretaker then was quickly alert insisting that he couldn’t take photos with his camera there, while the rest of the folks there were clicking away. Apparently, cameras on phones were ok! The confusing rule meant that you could only have poorer quality images of the place but clear pictures were simply not ok. We figured he was confused that it was a video camera and told him it wasn’t one. Then went on to ask for someone else we could speak to, and that gentleman also insisted on a call that cameras even for photos weren’t allowed. Siddhavatam fort had asked for a fee with a receipt provided but apparently, even that just wouldn’t do.

By now, the caretaker was quite annoyed with us and insisted we do not go anywhere other than the main building itself. Even though the group of guys had just gone ahead. Overall irritated, we tried to still leave the place without letting the experience ruin the place for us. So we went ahead to the other side, happened to a ruined small structure and a humongous well, and headed to our next spot.

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The lovely stairs at Gurramkonda fort

If there’s anyone who could figure out for us, please do:

  1. Is it privately owned property?
  2. Why the rule about cameras not allowed but phone cameras being allowed?
  3. Why there are no boards around about this ban?
  4. What else is worth seeing there other than the building itself? There was a passage uphill to what was a temple(?) but it seemed purely for groups of guys only 😉

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    The 3-storeys of the building clearly visible from behind it

Our next stop was Horsely hills, “the Ooty of Andhra Pradesh”. We had to admit it was significantly cooler than any place we had been in the last few days. The route to it was also scenic and filled with greenery.img20161101112805 Though it was only 11 30 we were quite hungry post our early breakfast and interestingly there was no place to have a meal! There was just one small shop selling chips and soft drinks and the only “open” restaurant said they’d take open only at 1PM. We picked some snacks and then decided to walk around the area. There was an animal complex with random birds and a couple of crocodiles, separately of course. There was a Manasa Sarovar- “the only natural water source there” but that was dry too. The Nature study centre had a few exhibits of animal taxidermy, snakeskins and trivia about the flora and fauna of the region. img_4515Overall the place had nothing breathtaking but is probably a nice place to bring a book and your own food to spend the day or even come with a group AND food to relax there. At 1 PM, however, the restaurant staff told us they’d only start taking orders at 1:30pm and we decided our stomachs deserved better. We drove ahead and at a petrol bunk staff’s recommendation finally had a modest meal at a newly opened restaurant on our way back.

And there ended our trip with more highs than lows and an opportunity to look back in wonder at its sights and scenes. What will stay with us other than the grandeur of Sidhhavatam is probably the magic of Pulicat that we were lucky to witness.

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Up next: A different country, a personal favorite of mine

4 day trip

Andhra : Nail-biting adventures and new favourite places

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely hillsCapture

Continued from here

Day 3 :

We woke up to the sound of the conch shell from the Vontimitta temple. We freshened up and headed off for another round of camera work there and had some of the pongal they were distributing as prasad. After breakfast our next stop was Nandalur. We’d read it had remnants of an old Buddhist site.

We followed maps and reached a place with an extremely rusted gate that led to a path overgrown with thorny plants on either side. In a moment of bravado, and a scene befitting a horror movie with stupid explorers, we continued in, almost expecting the gate to close behind us at any minute. The path ended at a grave like that in a dargah, wrapped with chadar . There were steps with a hand rail that led uphill too, but visibility to the top was not very good due to the shrubs everywhere. The place was completely deserted, the only sign of life nearby were the small rice fields around it.

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Just a few steps up were 2 caves, both very dark and filled with bats so we chose not to enter. Some way up and we saw the promised stupas.

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Can you see them?

It was very hot by then and I chose not to climb up but Anand did. From the top, we had a view of what would have been the Cheyyeru river but was completely dried up and so looked more like a distant desert.

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Desert or river?

While I waited, an older gentleman came climbing up from the other side of the site, perhaps from the fields below, probably thinking we were lost. He started a conversation with me but I had to tell him I was pretty useless in the Telugu department. Disappointed he waited for Anand to come down but met with the same fate there too. There had been nothing more to see from atop than a larger area than what I had seen. “Arming” me with a pen-knife for my safety (?) Anand went on ahead following the hand-rail. However, that too seemed like a never-ending path with no clear boards and so he returned in a short while.

We next headed back into civilisation and the Sri Sowmyanatha Swamy temple. The temple was functional and at first glance, looked quite huge too. It also had a small pond in front of the temple. Unfortunately, it was also a place where we were severely visually appraised despite being completely covered in appropriate clothes. The devotees also took it upon themselves to insist we do not take any pictures in the temple, even of the pillars and walls, despite no sign stating so.  It is supposedly a temple with interesting architectural and mythological details, however, we were turned off by the cold stares of the people to really enjoy it. We sat a while at the temple pond beside a mum feeding her child the prasad and then headed out.

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From here we went on to the place called Sidhout fort, that we’d seen in a picture hung up in our previous hotel. However, I preferred the local name Sidhhavatam instead. We could view the fort even from the bridge on our way towards it. We loved it right from the get-go. It lies on the banks of the Penna river. Since we noticed a board just before getting there, we drove ahead to what was the Lankamalla sanctuary/reserve forest. Though understandably because of the traffic through it, there were no animals or birds visible, it was a pleasant drive after which we returned to explore the fort itself.

Right beside the entrance was a small rice field that had a bird making a point sitting right on the scarecrow.

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Cheeky fellow

It was hot but we were lucky that it drizzled twice while we were there, reducing the temperatures to pleasant levels.

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Can you see the approaching rains?

There are 2 entrances to the fort and both of them had beautiful work on their halls and pillars.

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The fort itself houses multiple temples, mosques, Hindu and Muslim burial places and interesting little structures in various levels of ruin.img_4322-cr2 One, I decided, must have been a charming little area to store potions or makeup!

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Beside the mosque is a house where they sell soft drinks and snacks. This is the only place inside or around the fort with anything to eat/drink at all.

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The sun and the moon, all at once..

A couple of meters ahead from here is a small narrow passage with steps leading right to the Penna river! That was quite the little treat to come out to the river and dip our toes into its calm waves so easily.

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A tiny stairway led us here!

The fort has vast lawns the allow for children to have a fun time playing there. We were the only non-locals around. IMG_4410.JPGThis place had so much to explore, admire and learn from that we could have easily spent the day here if we had food along. img_4277-cr2It has very surely been added to the list of our most favourite places.img_4307-cr2

Tip: carry water, wear comfortable shoes and have a hat/scarf to protect your head from the sun. Give this place enough time to enjoy its little treasures. Also, you may have couples canoodling at various locations inside so you may want to make yourself heard to avoid mutual awkwardness 😀 Sometimes a loud voice like mine is a gift.

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He seems shocked.

We next headed to Pushpagiri to see the temple by the river. We love rivers and so this was something we couldn’t miss. We checked-in to the AP tourism hotel at Kadapa and then left from there following maps. However, when we reached the end of the road, we realised that what we wanted to see was right there, but on the other side of the river!

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So near, yet so far

There were a couple of temples on the side we had reached but I instantly lost interest in them in my longing to go to the other temple instead.

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The Pushpagiri group of temples are quite lovely, except to an impatient lady

Tip : Search for Chennakeshava temple in Pushpagiri when you try to go here. Looking for just Pushpagiri will lead us to where we had reached.

It was already 5:30pm by this time and we had to go quickly to the other side by going all the way back to the highway and then going on a parallel road to that we had come on. The route was 13km long and we were worried if we’d get there before dark to be able to enjoy the temple and more importantly the sunset on the river.

On the edge of our seats, we drove on but the situation had decided to turn as dramatic as possible. First, a rickety auto decided to block the narrow road by going as slow as it could for most of the route- the kids seated at the back decided to also judgmentally snicker at our poor car that was still awash with slush from the Pulicat lake. Next, a pair of buffalos decided that the best place to mate was just ahead of our car on the road. And after that, a rooster jumped right on top of the car while the villagers laughed out at the scene to their heart’s content before getting it off . By now, a cow decided she was in love with Anand and insisted on kissing him throw the car window. After that series of comical moments, we finally got to the temple but daylight was fading.

Anand stayed back to take photos of the temple while I rushed in, completely ignoring the devotees, the priests, and the idol, running directly to the back of the temple and the river. And there it was, worth it all, a beautiful evening scene with everything we had hoped it’d be. By the time Anand joined, the sky had turned a delightful shade of pink that was eagerly reflected in the placid river.

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Sigh!

A few people were performing a pooja on one side and letting into the water, small lamps in containers made with leaves stitched together by sticks. Yet again, we seemed to be the only tourists around. We sat by the water watching people, the river, the sky and truly absorbing the perfection of the moment. We were the last people to see the curtains closed on the idol in the temple, but well, we weren’t complaining.

 

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Chennakeshava temple

 

 

We headed out as it had gotten quite dark and it wasn’t a very well lit place. Just as we drove off and looked at the river one last time, our last view of the place was that of a single oil lamp floating away in the river alongside us on the road. Now if that’s not a great Diwali, I don’t know what is. 🙂

 

Coming up next : The Ooty of Andhra Pradesh and some not-so-welcoming places

4 day trip

Andhra : Of flamingoes and monkeys

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely Capturehills

Continued from here

Day 2 :

We had read up online tips to go early to Pulicat lake, so skipping breakfast that’s what we did. On the way were rice fields everywhere we looked and we also saw a guy cycling with one hand on the handle bar and an open tray of eggs in the other- one must truly travel to see such wonders!

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Oh how the green soothes our city-weary eyes

There is a tourist information centre that we entered. Most of the small rooms there seemed locked. We walked on ahead and an old man came hobbling towards us to open it up for us. We got our knowledge download about the various flora and fauna in the region but he also informed us that there were no flamingoes there yet. Heart-broken we decided to still explore the place since it was beautiful. The road to Sriharikota [If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the launchpad for India’s satellites] passes right in between the huge lake which is the 2nd largest lagoon in India. For some reason, the birds all show a decided preference for one side of the lake. Most travel bloggers had reached the place from Chennai and we hadn’t been able to find details of the route from Andhra Pradesh.

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Worth the visit even if just for the road and the lagoon

The lake itself is calm and lovely and would have made a nice day trip by itself. Just a little way in we begin to see spotted pelicans, egrets, and herons in plenty. Cormorants also made an occasional appearance. It was a pleasant way to spend time just watching them standing in the water, their reflections perfectly mimicking them in the clear surface, taking flight in flocks and completely ignoring us.

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Anand, however, was distraught at the lack of flamingoes, the key reason why we had changed our entire trip plan to include Pulicat lake. We saw a mud road that we had ignored earlier, a diversion from the tourist information centre,  and decided to check it out. It was quite slushy with plenty of potholes and passing buses that generously and violently splattered the bright red mud on our car. After going for a while and seeing nothing, we headed back disappointed.

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This is a sample of what the road will do to your car- and it wasn’t even the monsoons

As we joined the road again, Anand pointed to a flock of birds in the distance asking if they looked like flamingoes. They were too far off and we had to use his camera to see them at all. And there they were 🙂 Our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They were too far off, though, and we had no idea of the route we had to take to get to them! The only option was to take the mud road yet again.. And so we went.

We first happened on a flock of birds/young ones of birds. After a long while, we actually did see flamingoes very far off. We headed back and took a small sandy deviation through the vegetation and there they were. Still far but closer than our other views of them- the greater flamingoes. Anand waded through the waterlogged area to take a few pictures to make the whole journey worthwhile.

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The dots across the picture are dragonflies who wanted in on the action

Tip : Stay in your vehicle if taking pictures. Somehow they moved away when we walked towards them silently but seemed to have gotten used to the sound of vehicles passing by. Eat before you get here. There is no food around, not even snacks nor water. Interestingly the only thing nearby is a shady wine store. Also, the lake is beautiful but the mud by its side is not seating-friendly. So a picnic, if any will have to be while seated in your vehicle.

Satiated we headed off to the Vontimitta temple, a 4-hour drive, some of it through the ghat section where I drove a while too. Even from outside we could see it was a beautiful old temple. Perhaps since we reached in the evening, there was a lady singing in the temple accompanied by musicians.  The temple had lovely pillars with intricate carvings or beautiful women and ferocious creatures.img_1012

Considering we were the only tourists, the security guard even enquired if we were from the “department”. It was bigger than an average temple and it seemed like it does get crowded at some events since there were arrangements made for queue management too. IMG_4155.CR2.jpgThe place had monkeys in plenty and they frequently alternated between being menacing while trying to pull my notebook and being delightful when jumping across the flowering plants in the temple premises and munching on coconuts.

We checked into the AP tourism hotel next door. It has a brilliant view of the sunset over the Vonimitta lake with wispy white trees in the foreground, that had us captivated.

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In case you choose to stay here and actually know Telugu you should try explaining to the bellman there that he actually needs to help us with our luggage to then be “offered” a tip. We carried all our bags in ourselves while he walked alongside with 2 towels for us. He then demanded Rs.20. We were confused for a while after which we decided we didn’t have the language skills to explain anyway and carried on.

Later that evening, we considered taking a walk since the weather was lovely and the temple seemed somewhat lit up. However, we had forgotten for a moment that we were actually on the highway with not even a footpath to make our way walking. Just as we thought of heading back, a beautiful burst of fireworks lit up the sky and formed the backdrop for the temple. Unexpectedly perfect moments like these are perhaps why we travel and what brings a smile to our faces.

Coming up next: A nail-biting adventure in Andhra Pradesh

4 day trip

Andhra : Avani and Chandragiri

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely hills

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Day 1:

Andhra has held our fascination since our past trip when we realised it has a lot of places to explore that are not popular at all. So on a 4 day holiday, we decided to use it as a chance to discover what it holds.

Just as we started off on the road, we noticed a signboard by Karnataka tourism to Avani. We took a detour to check it out. It’s a small group of temples with no visitors other than ourselves .

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Perfect to be alone with your thoughts

The only other people around were the caretakers. The places houses a group of small temples, each having mostly lingas in the names of not-so-frequently seen characters from the Ramayana in addition to Rama, of course. Shatrughaneshwara, Lakshmaneshwara, Vali and Sugriva, Bharatheshwara – there are lingas supposedly installed by each of them to make up for the sin of fighting against Lava and Kusha without knowing of their being related to them. There’s also a small temple for Sita too with a very pretty Ganesha idol sculpted on one of the pillars in there. As typical, each of the temples with the linga also has a Nandi facing it. One of the temples had a fine ceiling.

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This group of temples has a rocky hill making up its backdrop.And atop it is said to be one of the few temples dedicated to Sita and a couple of other temples. Lava and Kusha were supposedly born there.  We decided to come back for it some other time since we had quite a distance to cover and it looked like small trek that would probably be better earlier in the day when the weather was cooler.

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The hill behind made a lovely backdrop to the scene

Beside the group of temples is a large temple pond that’s easy to miss because of the shrubs growing around it. But we love temple ponds, so visit it, we did.

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Pretty scenes

We had also seen a board to Mulbagal and we went in search of it. It was a Someshwara temple but in our opinion, its charm was lost by painting over its natural shades of stone to make it a more technicolour palette. It also had a smaller temple pond in front of the temple.

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The one I skipped

We got back on the main route towards the Chandragiri fort while munching on some sweet, fresh guavas we bought from kids on the way. The route was scenic with marigold fields in brilliant shades of orange and yellow cheering us on.

Chandragiri was the place for royalty to stay when they visited Tirupati. The Raja mahal and the Rani mahal are the 2 structures you’d see as you enter the area.IMG_3803.CR2.jpg

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Seems a half-hearted attempt for the Rani, me thinks

The Raja palace houses, across multiple floors, a museum of artifacts from various historical places in Andhra Pradesh including our special favorite- Gandikota. What we found interesting were the idols of the various planets as per Indian mythology, each with its animal of choice. Apparently, Krishnadevaraya was housed in this palace till his coronation, so just as a reminder are life-size statues of him, his brothers and each of their consorts made in plaster of Paris. [Spoiler alert : he is much thinner than one may have imagined him to be.]

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Corridors of history

There are monkeys all over the place, one even threatening to snatch my wallet as I tried to pay the entrance fee! The place has a huge oak (?) tree and the monkeys will tease you by eating its fruit and throwing it at you. They may also pee on you from atop the tree. You have been warned. The littler ones, however, are painfully cute as they scamper around the place.img_3805-cr2

There is a small pond with pedal boats but they didn’t seem functional. There is also a sound and light show towards the evening but considering how far we were from our next pit stop we didn’t deem it worth the wait. Also, there were people exploring the area behind atop the rocky hills but with no lunch in sight yet, we didn’t have the energy to try.

We visited the small Rajarajeshwari temple with a big well near the fort too.IMG_3842.CR2.jpg

Tip : Eat a meal at whatever place you can find, however modest, BEFORE getting here. There is nothing in the surroundings, and the canteen inside the premises was closed. The place is perfect to have a packed meal.However, the monkeys will make it very hard, if not impossible to actually eat in the open.

We reached our pit stop for the night at the AP tourism hotel at Kalahasti. The food was not the best, but the rooms were decent. We played a while on the swings in the kids’ park and called it a day.

Tip : If you see “Snowfeast” ice creams, do not eat them. They were the first ice creams we have ever discarded 😐

Coming up next : What lies in store for us at the 2nd largest lagoon in the country!