Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Amer Fort - Jaipur

On the day we landed at Jaipur, we visited the Amer Fort located at Amer. Due to the Navaratri festival, Amer and the fort were crowded. Amer hosted stalls of sweet-meats and savories local to the place. People were walking all the way to the fort to visit the temple of Sila Devi; a lengthy queue awaited people. The parking area was overflowing with vehicles.

Amer Fort is spectacular. It sits like a crown on the hill. The fort has a stone ramp on which elephants can walk up to the fort, and enter through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate). You can opt for elephant ride; costs Rs. 900 per person. You can also avail services of a guide; check at the ticket counter. We had a guide accompanying us from the airport. To know more about the history of the fort, read Amer Fort on Wiki.

From Suraj Pol, you enter the first courtyard - Jaleb Chowk. This is where the soldiers would assemble. There is an entrance to the main palace ground and to the Sila Devi temple. The Ganesh Pol is the gateway to the private palaces of the Maharajas.

The second courtyard is called Diwan-i-Am (Public Audience Hall). Here the Raja would hear and receive petitions from the public. The 27 colonnades have elephant shaped capital with galleries above it. You can see a fusion of Indian and Arabic style.

The third courtyard has private quarters of Maharaja and family. The entrance to this courtyard is through the Ganesh Pol. This is a beautiful gate; decorated with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures. The Mughal Gardens and Sheesh Mahal are the star attractions. The Sheesh Mahal has mosaics and colored glasses. The Sukh Mahal is famous for the marble inlay work and a piped water supply that keeps environment cool. They had a Jacuzzi!

The fourth courtyard was where the women from the royal family lived. There are several rooms in which the queens resided. The architecture is such that the queens could not find out at which room the king resided. Clever!

There is a light and sound show at evenings (7.00pm); please check the timings.  The show is supposed to be good. At evenings, the fort is illuminated; would look awesome.

Also check out our hot air balloon safari at Jaipur!

Words of caution: Please get a government approved guide. If you are visiting the fort with kids, take extra care of them. Don't offer cash or kind to anyone. Beware of people who try to befriend you. Wear comfortable footwear; carry umbrella or wear a cap; carry bottle of mineral water. Use dustbins to dispose waste. Don't ever touch the artifacts!

Amer Fort, Gardens, and Amer

Gate to enter Jabel Chowk and pillars at Diwan-i-Am 

Ganesh Pol, Diwan-i-Am, mirror work, arches

Ganesh Pol


Jaccuzzi, mosaic work, stone work

Painting, inlay work, and mirror work

The exits!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Hot Air Balloon Safari at Jaipur

We were planning a visit to Jaipur, and went online searching for off-beat things to do. Voila, we found Skywaltz, which arranges hot air balloon safari. We checked out their website, and booked for a tour with them. Lucky us, we were the first tour of the season (Oct - Mar). Opted for fully refundable tickets because success of such safaris depend highly on the weather; opted for early morning flight. Yay, we were all set for our first hot air balloon safari!

On the day of our tour, we were picked up from our hotel (at 5.30am). At the safari venue, three balloons were getting ready for the flight. We were served hot beverages and cookies. The dawn was yet to break, and the balloons that were getting inflated looked beautiful. The safari was scheduled for about hour or so. We climbed in to the basket, and our captain briefed us about the flight, the precautions, and the landing drill. After practicing the landing drill for a few times, we set sail.

Oh, what a feeling! Gently the balloon glided, cutting across the wind, and leaving the land behind. We could see the Amber Palace on the hills. The landscape varied from houses, trees, tilled lands, to water-body. Birds chirped. Hares ran. Camels looked up scared. People, brushing their teeth or standing in their yards, waved at us. There were times when the balloon flew so low that it touched the trees. The balloon rose up, up, and flew away.

And then the dawn broke. The sky was splashed with hues so pretty. The Sun seemed to be in a hurry to shine; rose quickly. Imagine this sight - the balloon flying towards the rising Sun. I know that words aren't sufficient to capture such an experience. Hopefully, my photos can help imagine the beauty of the safari! After about one hour, we were ready to land. The landing was super smooth; no necessity to put our landing drill to use. We got off the basket, watching the balloons deflate. We got certificates, clicked photos of the group along with captain, and departed to our hotels.

Words of caution. Ask the safari operators about refund policy. Please listen to your captain, and adhere to the guidelines. Wear jacket and shoes (closed at the toes). Drink water. Don't get excited about clicking photos and forget where you are; you may jump off the basket! Leave children behind; probably, young adults (15+ years) are fine to accompany. If you have any sort of phobia, please let the captain know. Landings may not be smooth all the time; be prepared to have a bumpy landing or to get dragged on the ground.

One of the balloons that flew with ours sort-of landed very close to a water-body. I wondered what would happen if the balloon landed on the surface of water and people (like us) didn't know to swim. Well, there are no life-jackets in the baskets.

Having said that, please try hot air balloon safari!

Check out our visit to Amer Fort, Jaipur.

The three different hot air balloons

Landscapes of Jaipur

Our captain and the other two balloons

The dawn break


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Drive to Devarayanadurga

During the week, my friend and I decided to drive out of town. Our destination was their farm and Devarayanadurga. On a beautiful Saturday, we began our journey from Bangalore drove via Dabbaspet to reach the farm, and later drove to Devarayanadurga, which is about 65 kilometers from Bangalore. The roads were good except in a few places. Yes, we saw birds; will post the list of birds later.

On this route, we stopped at Kamath for breakfast. There are several hotels and eatery joints on the entire stretch of Tumkur road. After a lazy breakfast, we headed straight to the farm. The farm was a soothing sight for a sore eye. Fruiting trees in plenty. Coconut and arcanut trees standing tall. A big buffalo shying away as we approached. Ferocious dogs barking at us! And a variety of birds merrily singing their songs. We drank tender coconut water, ate cherries, and smelt the freshly plucked mangoes, and chit-chatted. We clicked photos of birds. Yes, the greenery helps beat the accumulated stress (of city life)!

A shed of sorts
Ant nest, and fruits at farm
From the farm, we continued our journey towards Devarayanadurga. The traffic was manageable. Only word of caution is that honk wherever necessary; the vehicles can speed down the hilly roads. The forest looked dry; however, we heard chirping of a lot of birds. My friend said that a leopard and vultures were spotted near their farm. So, yes, the forest does have animals.

There are sign boards indicating the different tourist places. At the bottom of the hill is the Bhoganarasimha temple; at the top is the Yoganarasimha temple. People can either climb the stairs, or drive up to a point and then climb the last few steps. We chose the latter because the Sun was shining bright on our heads. The steps are well-laid. Vendors selling puja items, fruits, flowers, cool drinks, and other items welcome every one. Oh, there are plenty of monkeys trying to steal from people! Be careful. The view from the top of the hill is beautiful. On the opposite hills, one can see traveler bungalow or guest houses.

Views from hilltop
Yoganarasimha temple complex
From the temple, we headed towards Namada Chilume. There is a deer park and Karnataka Forest department nursery of medicinal plants. Quoting from Wikipedia -

Myth has it that Sri Rama on his way to Lanka halted here. As he did not find water anywhere around to wet the "Nama" (a kind of paste Hindus apply on their forehead), he shot an arrow into the ground, and a spring sprang and thus the name (Rama)-Namada chilume. The spring can be still seen, and there is a foot impression of Lord Sri Rama near that.

We lost track of time admiring the deer, and were pleasantly surprised to see the non-captive Gray/Hanuman Langurs (with their young ones). The fig trees with fruits definitely attract birds. We sighted many barbets and sunbirds; however, getting a good photo was a challenge. During weekends and holidays, this place has visitors. During the weekdays, I am sure that the place will seem lonely. Ensure not to wander off. Stay safe.

Namada Chilume and Deers
It was time for us to drive back to Bangalore. This day-trip made my soul happy; thanks to my friend!


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Skies as seen while driving on Bangalore-Mysore NICE road

For Thursday Challenge - Tranquil (People Relaxing, Fair Weather, Skies, Quit Waters, Calm Landscapes,...)

One late morning, we decided to drive to Bidadi to have Thatthe Idlis for breakfast. We took the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (NICE - Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises); skies looked stunning that day. Here are a few photos clicked from cellphone.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Thekkady and Munnar Trip

These days we travel at the spur of the moment. One such travel was to Thekkady and Munnar at Kerala. We got our Beast (vehicle) cleaned, and took him out for a spin; he loves to travel! Our route from Bangalore was: Bangalore > Hosur > Krishnagiri > Salem > Dindigul > Theni > deviation to Thekkady. The direction map is available on Google Maps. This trip was for five days; first stop Thekkady, and second stop Munnar.

The roads were peaceful because we travelled on a working day. We stopped at Adiyar Anand Bhavan (AAB) for breakfast, and drove nonstop till we reached Thekkady. The weather was humid till we reached the hill and forest range. Trees had bloomed pretty flowers, and that attracted birds and small animals. Who doesn't like the spring season?
Waterfalls, bamboo, and different trees
Thekkady is filled with resorts and hotels of all kinds. Ensure that you book accommodation well in advance. You can find spice shops, massage centres, handicraft stores, and tours agencies. Don't get scammed; check details about anything and everything before availing services. The place has Periyar Tiger reserve, Periyar lake, Gavi forest reserve, and many more tourist stops. On the day we arrived, we familiarized ourselves with the place. We walked a lot, sighted lovely birds, a family of wild boars, langoors, and malabar squirrel. At evening, we saw Kathakali and Kalaripayattu shows. Kathakali is a form of dance; the two performers were wonderful. Kalaripayattu is ancient martial arts of Kerala; Rashid and his team were excellent. We relished Kerala cuisine.
Kalaripayattu weapons and artist performing with fire, and Kathakali performance
The next day, we decided to visit the Gavi forest reserve. The jeep arrived at 5.30 am, we hopped on to it, and set to gamble our luck to see wild animals. We saw the dawn break on a super cold morning. The reserve opens by 6.00 or 6.30 am for visitors. At the check post, we paid entry fees, and waited in queue (along with 6-7 jeeps) to enter the reserve. Remember that there are no toilets anywhere in that area; you'll have to surrender to Nature.
At last, the gate opened. The vehicles adhered to the speed limit (say of 30kms/hr). Our heads would turn all over to sight an animal. Slightest  sound, say falling of a dried leaf, we would get eager, and assume that some animal must be moving. After a while, you'll realize that the vehicle noise might have forced the wild animals to go deeper in to the forest. Or that we weren't lucky to spot animals.
However, the forest itself looked beautiful, with trees and grassland. We heard calls of birds but couldn't stop to get a glimpse of the birds. We aren't supposed to get down from the jeeps at the reserve. At one point, we saw all jeeps parked, and people looking down the valley and clicking photos. We dashed out of the jeep, and looked. And looked. Not at the elephants because there were none; but at the beautiful landscape. Stunning!
Glimpse of Gavi
Our drive continued till we reached Gavi reserve. The forest department had organized breakfast for the tourists. Neat toilets and washrooms were available. The lake looked inviting. The flowers at the garden looked pretty. We trekked a little on our own before breakfast; saw langoors and birds. We had an option of trekking inside the jungle for 1 hour, 2 hours, or 3 hours; we opted for 3 hours. We were assigned a guide of some sorts to accompany us during the trek. We began our trek puffing and panting. Leeches entered our shoes and socks; it was their breakfast time too! Two foreigners, who had opted for similar trek option, offered us a band-aid; that was cute.
During our trek, the guide gave no commentary about flora and fauna. It was just about searching for wild life (without luck). Because we love the trees, we enjoyed our trek. Each tree is different. We found litter of civet cat and of elephants. My husband also spotted a deer. We saw remains of wild jackfruits that monkeys and langoors had eaten. We saw tiny insects, which I can't identify. We admired wild flowers. We heard calls of birds, and of hornbills fighting. The colours of the forest were absolutely brilliant. By the time we completed our trek, our stomachs were growling. The forest department has lunch spread out for us; decent spread of dishes. We had options to row a boat and visit spice garden; we dropped both options and returned to Thekkady.
Wild board, nest of wild ants, spider's web, langoor, deer, and squirrel
Yet another glimpse of Gavi
The next day we headed towards Munnar. We took the Thekkady-Anavilasam road. The journey was pleasant. Spice gardens and estates filled the area. We checked in to a resort at Munnar and explored the tea estate. Because we had already visited Munnar and seen the tourist spots, we decided to chill at the resort and visit the neighbouring resorts. The resorts try to sell all types of sight-seeing plans; evaluate before falling for the tours plans.
When the tourist crowd heads out for sight-seeing tours, there is peace at the resort and surrounding areas. We took our camera, wore our shoes, and walked. How much we have walked we don't know; but the walks were amazing! The tea estates are primarily owned by TATA enterprise; you need permission to enter the estates; however, you can walk on the public roads that form a border to the estates. We met natives, spoke to them, sat on cement benches looking at the estates, and clicked photos. Yes, we sighted several birds during our self-created bird-watching session. Our lunch was excellent. We met some interesting people who knew to converse light. We were thoroughly rejuvenated. Tranquillity at its best!

Tea estates at Munnar
With a promise to return to this place, we drove out of Munnar; took the Bodi route to reach Theni, and then retraced our journey to Bangalore. The drive down the hill was on bad roads; there must have been landslides earlier and the government seems to be widening the ghat roads. Hardly was there any traffic on that road. It's so much better to be away from the crowded roads. 

Bangalore welcomed us with slow-moving traffic and honking noise. We woke up to reality - Holiday was over! We smiled thinking about how much our pets would have missed us. They would want our complete attention the minute we stepped in to the house. We had gifts - spices, tea, chocolates, sweets, and banana chips - for our family and friends members; would be nice to see a
smile on their faces. That's fun too.

Joining Photo Theme for Thursday - Landscape.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A blur photo clicked at Beach Road, Pondicherry

A blur photo clicked at Beach Road, Pondicherry.
The evening was pleasant. The sea was seductive. The people were at their best. We loved the place!