Saturday, 17 November 2018

Lakshadweep Samudram experience - 2

Overview: Kavaratti is around 18 hours sail from Kochi. We were greeted by bright sunshine, and a welcome tender coconut drink. The glass bottom boat ride was offered complimentary along with Samudram package. The clear waters of Kalpeni made it easy to peep at the corals from the boat. We registered for scuba diving programme as well, which didn't require swimming skills. I was briefed about scuba diving, and did a mock drill in shallow waters and did some breathing practice. We were taken in a group to the middle of the lagoon, from where we were supposed to jump. It was a magical dive, with colourful marine life and beautiful corals, and I had never experienced like this before. We came back from our dive and played by the shore for sometime. Buffett lunch was served in the afternoon and we were taken on an island tour in the evening.
The same schedule was followed for the next 2 days in Kalpeni and Minicoy. Kalpeni has a massive stretch of land with turquoise waters and has a coconut processing unit set up by the Government. Minicoy has a lighthouse built in 1882 during the time of Lord Ripon, at a strategic location along the sea route between the Suez Canal and Singapore.
Boat used for the annual event at Minicoy

Kavaratti

Kalpeni

Kalpeni

Kalpeni

Coconut oil extraction at Kalpeni

Minicoy Lighthouse
 
Textile unit at Kalpeni

Minicoy

Minicoy

Kalpeni

Kavaratti

Kalpeni

Friday, 2 November 2018

Lakshadweep Samudram experience

Overview: I finally booked the Samudram package to Lakshadweep islands after a few months of planning. The bookings were open from the 1st week of Oct after monsoons. The booking process is pretty easy through the Govt website, but the tickets get filled up pretty fast. They also keep slots for waiting list in case of cancellations.
The cruise starts from Willingdon Island in Kochi, so we took an overnight train from Bangalore to Ernakulam. Kochi welcomed us with grey skies and slight drizzle. It takes around 20 mins to reach Lakshadweep Wharf from Ernakulam railway station. We need to queue up for the boarding passes at Lakshadweep Wharf. There was some chaos and confusion at the boarding pass counter, as there was only one person managing the show, and the queue was building up. The officer had to search for the boarding passes and get the papers signed. Also he had to put the T-shirts and caps into a bag and give it along with the boarding pass. After a wait of around 45 mins, we got our boarding passes, and then there was another queue for security check. Its similar to the airport, where the baggage is scanned and the passengers are frisked. The baggage has to be checked into a cargo vehicle, and is transferred to the cabins directly. A bus would be waiting at the other end, to carry the passengers towards the ship. We could see the first sight of the ship MV Kavaratti at the port in Mattancherry.
An interesting story behind MV Kavaratti is that this very vessel was used for evacuating 4000 Indians stranded in conflict hit Yemen in 2015.
Coming to the ship, it can house around 700 passengers and 200 ton cargo. Out of that, around 200 berths are reserved for tourists for the Samudram package. The tourist cabins are set up in 3rd, 4th and 5th decks, and have Diamond class (2 bunker) and Gold Class (4 bunker) cabins, and are fully air conditioned.
We were welcomed at the 3rd deck and were asked to occupy our allotted cabins, and the baggage was sent directly to our rooms. Ours was a 4 bunker room, with cupboards and a study area. The beds were clean and toilet was also spacious and clean. Towels and soaps were also provided for the guests. We took a walk around the ship and explored the area completely. The tour leader Jaffer briefed us about the package and daily itinerary in the evening.
Regular announcements are made all around the ship and also in the cabins for food timings.
The ship leaves Kochi in the afternoon on day 1, and reaches back in the morning of day 5. The transit between islands is done at night time. Overall, the experience in the ship was memorable, with well managed tour and friendly crew and the tour leader.

MV Kavaratti

MV Kavaratti

MV Kavaratti

MV Kavaratti

MV Kavaratti

MV Kavaratti

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Visit to the Kaas Plateau and the Sahyadri Range

Overview: Having planned a trip to Kaas Plateau for the last 4 years, finally we decided to do it in 2018 while on our annual trip to Shirdi. From Shirdi, we took an overnight train to Satara, where we camped. Kaas Plateau falls under the Sahyadri ranges of the Western Ghats which is a UNESCO World heritage site.
Prior booking is needed to visit the Kaas Plateau due to heavy crowd during the season. It is around 25kms from Satara. Our vehicle took us to Kaas early morning. At first, we could see a carpet of yellow flowers all around. It is said that different colours of flowers bloom at different time. Yellow was more prominent during our visit. We could see shades of blue and purple as well. A walk of about 2kms would take us to a pond which is filled with water lilies. One with great interest in nature can easily spend around 2 hours at Kaas. By this time we were hungry and quickly bought a plate of the local Pitla-Bhakri from a lady near the flowers.
From Kaas we proceeded towards Mahabaleshwar, around 45kms away. The roads are pretty fine except a small stretch of around 300metres, which is in a really bad shape. Just before Mahabaleshwar, there is a very beautiful wax museum, run by Oshonic society for blind, founded by Bhavesh Bhatia. There are very talented people, who hail from differnt parts of India, from Ladakh to West Bengal to Andhra Pradesh. Its amazing to see blind people create such masterpieces which we couldn't resist but buy.

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

Kaas Plateau of flowers

From here we headed to Old Mahabaleshwar, which houses the Mahabaleshwar temple, and the Krishnai Shiva temple, where the river Krishna river originates. Its a very ancient temple, built in Hemadpanti style, now protected by ASI. This place is also the source of 4 more rivers- Koyna, Venna, Savitri and Gayatri. The Panchaganga temple marks the source of all the rivers.

Mahabaleshwar temple

Krishnai Temple of Lord Shiva

Mahabaleshwar

Krishnai temple of Lord Shiva

From Mahabaleshwar, we headed towards Panchgani, were we spent some time at Sydney Point, soaking in the beauty of nature. From there, we proceeded to Wai ghat, where there are temples dedicated to Ganesha and Lord Shiva alng the ghats of the river Krishna. Other attractions near Wai are the Lohare Palkeshwar Caves and Pandavgad Fort.
The last place we visited was the Baramotechi Vihir, a massive stepwell built during the time of Virubai Bhosale in the mid 17th century. It has some interesting pillars and some carvings depicting Chatrapati Shivaji and some images of Lord Ganesha.

Panchgani

During our visit to Satara, we had one day to spare when we explored the town of Kolhapur. We visited the Mahalakshmi temple, locally known as Ambabai temple. The temple is built in the Western Chalukya architecture and dates back to the 7th century, and is one of the 108 Shakti Peethas.
We had a good darshan and had the temple lunch just a few metres away from the temple. We spend a while admiring the architecture of the temple.


Kolhapur

Kolhapur Mahalakshmi temple


From Mahalakshmi temple, we went to the Panchanga Ghat, where we saw a few partially submerged temples. On the banks, there are a few temples built in Hemadpanti style, but the temples were closed when we went there.


Shiva temple at Panchganga Ghat

Shiva temple at Panchganga Ghat
We then went to the New Palace, which is the residence of Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj, a descendant of Chatrapati Shivaji. The palace was constructed in 1877, and has a huge clock tower, similar to Big Ben in England. The interiors have been converted into a museum, displaying artifacts from the time of Shahu Maharaj, including his weapons and his hunting achievements.
Kolhapur Palace

On the Satara-Kolhapur road, in the town of Karad, we saw an ancient stepwell, probably dating to Chatrapati Shivaji's times. The stepwell is massive, and is protected by the Archaeolgical department.

Pantancha Kot

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Goa: Experiencing the charm of Goa in the monsoons -2

Overview: Today was the day of forts, starting off with Reis Magos fort, which was unfortunately closed. However we explored the fort from the exterior. This was built in 1551 by the Portuguese, later occupied by the Marathas. The other two forts in the vicinity are Fort Aguada and Sinqeurim. Sinquerim Fort acts as the wall for Hotel Taj Aguada. From here we went to Aguada Fort, one of the most scenic forts in Goa. The entrance to the fort has a massive doorway, and the walls can be scaled by climbing a series of stairs. One can have a spectacular view of North Goa from this fort.
Reis Magos Fort 
Sinquerim Fort


Fort Aguada
 From Aguada, we proceeded towards Vagator beach in search of 'Shiva's Face', which we had seen on Google Maps. We parked our vehicle and climbed down towards the beach. Being monsoon, the beach wore a deserted look and the shacks were empty. We immediately spotted the image of Shiva carved on a rock. It was beautiful, with the serpent which could be seen on Shiva's right. Further excavation may yield interesting results. It was told by the experts that this image was carved during the Hippie era.
From here we went to Chapora Fort, most of which is in ruins, but offers a scenic view of the sea from the top. One of the scenes in the movie 'Dil Chahta Hai' was filmed at this location.
Next was Corjuem Fort, this one a bit away from the coast of Goa. This fort predates the Portuguese and was built by the Desais of Sankhali.
Shiva's Face

Chapora Fort

Corjeum Fort
We next proceeded to Aravelam Caves, but before that, we stopped at the beautiful Radha Krishna temple built in Konkani style. Aravelam Caves are calculated to date back to 2nd century BC, carved out of a laterite hill, and having 3 shrines with Shiva Lingas in them. Some inscriptions can also be seen in one of the shrines in Brahmi script. There is also a beautiful waterfall near this cave. From here, we saw the ancient Jain temple at Kudnem, which is now protected by ASI. The temple complex is in ruins, and hardly anyone can be seen around.
Aravelam Caves

Aravelam Falls

Kudnem Digambar Jain temple
With this, we decided to wrap up for the day and proceeded to our hotel for the rest of the evening.

To be continued..

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Goa: Experiencing the charm of Goa in the monsoons - 1

Overview: Goa during monsoons is different then its normally imagined. Less touristy, green all around, deserted beaches.
For experiencing a part of Konkan railway, we took the Bangalore City-Karwar express, covering the best of nature between Mangalore to Karwar on the Konkan line. Green fields, misty mountains and massive backwaters and rivers greeted us on the way.

Along the Konkan Railway
After reaching Madgaon late in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel near Colva beach. We spent the evening by the beach watching the beautiful sunset, and planning for the rest of the trip.
We started early next morning, starting with Safa Masjid, built in 1560 by Ibrahim Adil Shah in Ponda. This is a small single chambered mosque with tiled roof having a flight of steps in the front entrance. To the south of the mosque, there is a 600 sqm water tank with Mihrab designs. The tank has a natural spring which keeps it filled with water throughout the year. This place is not to be missed while in Ponda.

Colva Beach

Safa Masjid
We next proceeded towards the Pandava caves, which lies on the banks of the Mahadayi river. There were 5 caves, with nothing inside them. These caves are also believed to be Buddhist caves acting as a place of meditation. The place lies in the middle of nowhere, with only the sounds of birds and nature.

Pandava Caves, Tisca

Our next destination was the Mahadeva temple at Tambdi Surla. The temple lies in the interior jungles of Molem wildlife sanctuary. The approach road is stunningly beautiful with dense forests and waterfalls all the way. The temple is facing east and stands on a simple moulded plinth. It consists of garbhagriha, a pillared mukhamantapa where the Nandi is seated. The temple reflects the later Chalukyan and Hoysala architecture, and a Kadamba shikhara, dating back to 13th century. Near the temple is the trail which leads to the Tambdi Surla waterfalls.

Mahadeva Temple, Tambdi Surla
Next we headed towards Salaulim Dam, but before that on the way we saw a board showing us directions to some heritage site near Shigaon. We decided to walk down the path and explore the site. To our disappointment, it was just a small cave, with nothing worth capturing from inside. We then proceeded towards the dam.

Caves at Shigaon
There is an entry fee of Rs 15 to visit the dam, and can be reached by a flight of steps. The dam is worth seeing, and the semi-circular plunge for the waters is something unique which was a spectacle. We thought of having our lunch near the dam but unfortunately there is no proper restaurant nearby. We finally had pizza at Sanguem for lunch.

Salaulim Dam
Next, we reached Usgalimal Rock engravings, known as petroglyphs, which were carved by prehistoric men around 20000 years ago. The engravings are very clear and images of animals and some wierd circular patterns can be identified. These engravings are found on the banks of the river Kushavati. Apart from the prehistoric site, the place is ideal to spend some time amist nature and clear waters of the river.

Usgalimal Rock Engravings
From here we headed towards Netravali Bubbling lake, tucked in the middle of spice plantations, a strange phenomenon where one can witness bubbles from beneath the surface of the water. One can keep observing the lake and can see bubbles forming and moving upwards, something which is unusual. Its a nice place to spend an hour or so in silence. This lake is actually a stepwell, built during the medieval period, and a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna stands next to the stepwell.

Netravali Bubbling Cave
Some random waterfalls


We then headed towards Agonda beach, where one can see wierd rock formations on the western side of the beach. As it was monsoon and dark clouds were forming in the horizon, we couldn't see too many people on the beach. Cool evening breeze made things even better for us and we spent some good time admiring the little rough sea.

Agonda Beach rock formations

From here, we went 18km northwards to Cabo de Rama fort, a pristine fort in South Goa, offering panoramic views of the coastline along the Arabian sea. This fort was originally built by a Hindu king, followed by the Muslim rulers before being captured by the Portuguese. This fort is currently in ruins, but serves as a perfect place to unwind for the day.

Cabo de Rama fort

To be continued..