June 20, 2016

MicroAdventure - May


Location: Nandi Hills
Plan: Climb to the top!

This year has brought out a continuous resfeber in me. I suppose it's almost half the excitement of this project-  the anticipation of a trip about to happen but the whereabouts of which is still unknown. Same story every month.

My family has begun planning a macroadventure in August. With not much time to prepare for the four day trek in Uttarakhand, my dad suggested a climb up Nandi Hills to test the knees. I wasn't too pleased with the plan. Having visited Nandi Hills a dozen times before, it had transformed from a quiet family picnic spot to a pilgrimage of Bangalore's summer holidayers making their way up by the bus load. 

But (seems to have become a habit) it was already near the end of the month and my initial surfing plans had to be cancelled because of the onset of the monsoons and I didn't have a good enough back up. So, Nandi Hills it had to be.

It rained almost through the night and was still drizzling when we left home. Around 7, when we reached the base it began raining again, so we drove around for a while. Empty roads, sleepy villages and the clouds made quite a lovely Sunday morning. The loveliest sight was seeing the Skandagiri peak over the clouds. That was a night full of adventures a few years ago. Every time I see it, it brings back a flood of memories. 


We waited almost an hour for the rain to stop, then found our way to the end of the road near the Silver Oaks farm, parked the car, and started the climb. On the map, you can see where the trail starts from the farm which is on the opposite side of Nandi Hills where the road is. 

The weather was absolutely perfect. The coolness of the breeze, the low clouds moving past us, the dampness under the trees, the overcast sky hiding the sun- we really couldn't have asked for a better day. The rainy weather added another bonus- the lack of people! Just a few other early risers and some friendly chit-chat on the way.  


The trail was mostly steps that wound their way through the trees. At every bend, we could see the the fields below and other surrounding hills. Considering that that the trail is called Tipu's Steps, it wasn't a surprise to find some ruins of mantapas from the eighteenth century- the stone camouflaged between the branches, and the steps leading us under them.




It's Nandi Hills! What new things could I possibly see on a hill that I had been to countless times. But this trip was hugely different to the usual trips here. The climb was pretty easy and the effort usually spent in hauling myself up and focusing on the top, I could spend noticing little things. The rains brought a variety of creatures out of the shrub and onto the steps. I've always been fascinated with tightly curled up millipedes and snails with their sensitive feelers.




It took us about 80 minutes to get to the top with many many breaks along the way. Once at the top, we spent no more than ten minutes before turning around and heading back down. A couple thousands steps later we were back down at the car- a bit sweaty, jelly-legged, but quite refreshed. 

Looking forward to a change from Bangalore hills to Himalayan foothills soon :) 





P.S. Most of the pictures are my Dad's. Although I took the camera card on this trip, the battery was super low and died right in the beginning. Silly me. 

May 05, 2016

MicroAdventure - April


Location: Makalidurga
Plan: Night Trek and Camping

A heat wave hit Bangalore this month. Unfortunately a large portion of work this month has been outdoors on site monitoring construction. What's left of the week, I've been choosing to spend in listless slumber in an air conditioned room. Some feeble attempts at a mircroadventure were made, but the idea of venturing out anywhere except to the Himalayas didn't seem worth the effort. 

I have some great friends who decided to help me out! With only April 30 left as an option to do anything this month, there had to be some frantic planning. It took a couple of days to find a doable option and another day of extensive packing discussions. Finally, on Saturday afternoon Sanjana, Kaushik, Joel, Vivek, Rohit and I were all packed up and headed to City Station.

There was nothing seamless about our experience buying tickets and getting onto the train. From the ticket lady who didn't know whether the train even existed, having to run over to the opposite end of the station to platform 9, obstacle course running when we saw the train already moving, to the annoying train guard laughing while we struggled to clamber on (he told us later, that he knew that we were going on some trek and wanted us to practice running :P) we barely made it onto the train.

Two hours later after the sun had set and city lights were replaced by darkness and the occasional clustered village lights, we got off at Makalidurga station. Our trail began with 3km along the railway tracks. Armed with torches, and a dog from the station who appointed himself as our trail guide, we set off into the night. We started off with a fairly decent pace, having to stop just once to let a train whiz by. The real adventure began once we got off the tracks and had to find a trail that passed between the hills. Every clearing between the trees could pass off as a path. But thanks to someone who had generously mapped out a rough outline of the trail on Google maps, we were somewhat confident. 

Trekking at night is quite the experience. Darkness, the shadows, sounds in the bushes, the brilliance of the nights sky, the vague outlines of the Makalidurga hill looming over on our right, and some sort of glistening patchy-ness in front of us that was probably the lake. 

A couple of kilometers later we began the ascent. With our heavily stuffed backpacks of tents, bedding and lots of food, pulling ourselves over the rocks was not easy. Our dog (by now named Lieutenant Worf) stuck with us and seemed to be quite the faithful companion. Keeping to the trail wasn't as easy as we hoped. Often finding ourselves in the thicket of brambles at dead-ends, we had to back track quite a few times until we found one of those slightly inconspicuous white arrows painted on a rock. 

By this time, our water supply had already crossed the half way point. We had hoped to buy water on the way, but unfortunately didn't find any places once we were on the train. Having packed everything else, but missing out on essential water was quite a silly move. Once we were down to just two remaining bottles, we had to make a new plan. We could complete the remaining kilometer, finish the water and have nothing more for the descent, or camp out where we were and miss out on the summit with some water for the next morning. We chose wisely, and were lucky to find a fairly level patch of ground just off the trail. 



Once the tents were up, we each had a nightcap of two sips of water. The stars were beautiful and the breeze refreshing. We managed a couple hours of sleep despite some disturbances in the night. Lieutenant proved to be the ultimate watch dog, but at some point early in the morning decided that he had served his time and left us for another group of trekkers. 

We were up before sunrise while the moon was still bright. We set out quite quickly downhill with one goal in mind- water. With replenished stomachs from a house on the way, a ten minute wade in the lake (would have definitely jumped in, if we didn't have a train to catch), we completed the last few kilometers of the trail and the railway line and were at the station in time for the train back to Bangalore.

Sleepy, achy, hungry, relieved. But mostly quite thrilled with all the adventure that came with the 15 hour trip. :)  






Photo credits: Everyone, except me. I lugged my camera all the way without the memory card. :/ 

April 03, 2016

MicroAdventure - March


Location: Coorg
Plan: Night Trek and Camping, Find a waterfall and sit under it, Go to Coorg and find an accessible natural water source! 

This summer weather has made me quite grumpy. I've been spending a large percentage of each day complaining and sulking about (and blaming everything on) the weather. To make things worse, I did not have an escape plan and somehow the days went by so fast and it was already the last week of March. I had some random ideas towards the end of the week, but sadly they didn't materialise into actual plans. I sulked more on Saturday, knowing that Sunday was my only day to go somewhere. Anywhere.

Aditi, who somehow tolerates most of my complaining all day at work came to my rescue. She messaged me Saturday evening telling me that she'd come along if I had any trip plans. Exactly 2 hours later, we were at the bus stop! We spent 7 hours on a bus with hard non-reclining seats and slightly squished next to a lady who didn't have much regard for personal space. It was still worth the cheap tickets though! At 5:30 in the morning, we found ourselves in the chilly Madikeri bus stop up in the Coorg hills waiting for daybreak. 

Sunday is a slow day for the already slow-paced town. With the exception of a few morning walkers, life unfurled gradually over the course of our town exploration. We watched gardens being swept, cars being washed, newspaper rounds, and milk being put to boil in the coffee shops. We nosily peeked through gates and over walls as we walked and within two hours, we had covered most of the little streets and even scaled the ramparts of the Madikeri fort.








Post breakfast, the town seemed to be a little more awake and we inquired about waterfall options in the area and then headed out to the closest one from the town. It was quite a disappointing waste of a couple of hours, I should say. The trickle of water that formed a greenish frothy pool at the bottom of the rock face was not what I had in mind. The pathway at the edge of the water was filled with selfie-stick tourists who somehow still felt the need to take a gazillion pictures. Ugh. The ride there and back through forests and coffee estates was quite pretty though. 



Our borderline desperation attempts to find some water to jump into put us on a local bus shortly afterwards for an hours ride to the Cauvery river. The conductor had to wake us up at our stop and we jumped off the bus in a daze only to find ourselves still another ride away from any water. 

We reached the river at Dubare Forest and much to our dismay, found the place teaming with picnickers and squealing rafters. We walked along the river banks until we were far from all of that. The summer had brought down the water levels baring many rocks that divided the span of the river. 





This space was our own and the water was so inviting! I cannot tell you how the next few hours passed. With barely any energy to do any proper swimming, we let the gentle current rock us into bliss. The surface of the water was warmed by the sun but deeper down, a refreshing coolness. We found perfectly shaped rocks to wedge ourselves between, and with just our faces out of the water surface, we could easily be mistaken as lifeless. 


We stayed in their until our fingers and toes resembled raisins and we had started smelling of the river. The only other people we saw were a group of stark naked village kids who jumped between the rocks in and out of the pools fishing with one piece of cloth. They were fully immersed in their afternoon fun oblivious to the hot rocks, the sun and us. 

It was seriously difficult to pull ourselves out from the water. After drying ourselves in the sun we headed back on the bus to the town. Aditi wanted to try some local Coorg cuisine, so we managed to find one restaurant that was open for an early dinner. We were ravenous and gobbled up the food despite it being a below average meal. We were asleep before the bus even left Madikeri and woke up back in Bangalore at 4 in the morning and we were back at work a few hours after that. 

So much post-trip depression to add to Monday blues. I found myself dreaming about floating in the river so many times through the day. Until next time. 

March 04, 2016

MicroAdventure - February


Location: Jayamangali Black Buck Reserve, Tumkur
Plan: Spot some black buck and (hopefully) camp in the reserve. 

I had made two other plans for February's microadventure, and both completely flopped. One Sunday, my brother and Dad went out birding to Jayamangali and much to my delight, found out that with permission from the forest reserve, you can camp there.

The day before the trip, we got a reply from the forest department rejecting our request. I was quite grumpy at the thought of failing my yearly plan in month 2. Nevertheless, my optimistic family packed up the car with tents, sleeping bags, pillows, cameras, binoculars, 16 litres of water and plenty of food, and we left home at 3 in the morning.



We were in the park at dawn. We spent about 3 hours driving through the reserve in our not-a-four-wheel-drive car. The bird enthusiasts were quite enthralled by their sightings and even saw a few lifers (first sighting in their life). I learned a few new bird names which I've already forgotten. Most exciting of all were the black buck. Despite the open grasslands, they weren't easy to find. Camouflaged against the grass and with their ability to disappear behind bushes and rocks, it was quite a treat when we spotted them. We usually saw them in pairs or groups of females, a male and an immature male. They always saw us before we saw them and they watched us as intently.  





Black buck are not found in many regions of India. Being a near threatened species, Jaymangali is one reserve where they are found in abundance (about 150 of them). The males have stunning markings- the dark browns and whites, their curly antlers, eyes and ears. Even their butts are quite pretty! The females are quite plain in comparison and the immature males are sort of a cross between the two - female colours with the antlers (after some argument on the subject, we came to an agreement!)

Another bonus of the day was that, besides the forest ranger and some of the villagers passing through, we were the only people in the reserve. We found a lovely watch tower where we spent the hot hours of the day sleeping, eating, and watching the birds and more black buck from the higher vantage point. The best time for animal spotting in the wild is sunrise and sunset, so we spent the last hours of the daylight driving through the park again. 










Towards the end of the day, we went back and met the forest watchman to ask if we could stay. After a few phone calls to the forest range officer and lots of begging, we were given permission to camp there! 

The reserve had a few tent platforms and we had only a short time left before nightfall to pitch our tents. Before long, we were engulfed by darkness, lots of noisy crickets and cicadas, but thankfully no mosquitos. We relied on phone torches and starlight as we ate dinner since we forgot to bring the torches. We also only packed 2 spoons, so we had to take turns eating! The forest house had nice toilets, so our camping night didn't have to be completely wild. :) 





I sat out in the chair for a while on my own after the others went to sleep watching the stars and listening to some unidentifiable noises from trees and bushes. There were some lights on the hills in the horizon from the villages, so the night wasn't as dark as I had presumed it would be. The rest of the night went by with no wild visitors. 

We had an early start the next morning. After packing up and eating, we drove around a little more. Spotted more birds and more buck, and then it was back on the road and back to the city. All in all, it was such a restful trip (for me at least). A perfect way to spend the Sabbath. I caught up on all the lost sleep from the week, the fresh air cleared my lungs of all the city dust and smoke that I breath in on my commutes and the quiet time with family and wildlife was certainly rejuvenating. 



January 15, 2016

MicroAdventure - January

Hello dormant blog! I keep making plans to start putting together all the almost-long-forgotten material I have built up over the last couple years. But getting started is always a bit hard. Let's see how this year goes.

Last year I did a project to make a playlist significant to each month of the year. It was great fun and often challenging to think of themes and make the perfect playlist. In case you want to listen - here.

So, I was looking for something similar- a fun project to last me the year. I then discovered this. And now Alastair Humphreys is now my new inspiration. His list is tailor-made for England residents and I don't think some of his ideas are apt for the Indian context, so I'll have to make do with my own ideas for each microadventure (I don't even have a bivvy bag!)

Just two days after this breakthrough, I found a microadventure I could manage over the weekend, as well as three trip buddies as eager to get out of the city as I was and soon the bus tickets were booked! Seemed like a simple trip, but the spontaneity of it gave it extra points for adventure. 


Location - Kudremukh National Park
Plan - Hike to the Kudremukh peak

We arrived in the little town of Kalasa in the wee hours of the morning after an overnight bus ride (with a driver who seemed to enjoy the curvy mountain roads a bit too much!). For about half an hour we wandered the streets guessing constellations in the clear sky. A brisk walk was necessary to keep ourselves warm until we found a light on in a tiny tea shop. Hot teacups were perfect to thaw out our numb fingers.


Daylight brought some life into the town and after breakfast, we caught the local bus to the village of Balegal. On meeting the jeep guys, we were sadly informed that Kudremukh peak was closed to control forest fires. Having heard this before on a trek a couple years ago, this news was a bit of a downer. They suggested another peak to scale as an alternative- Kurinjal. All geared up and ready, we boarded the jeep. Quite unaware about what kind of trek this would be, it added an element of suspense. 




The level terrain started to ascend once we crossed a stream. We trekked a steady slope that cut through tawny grass lands, while a couple sambar deer watching us from a distance. The morning sun was quite high up, so the forest was a welcome break. Dipterocarp trees towered above us, moss hanging low from their branches, their buttress roots spanning large areas on the forest floor. Being dwarfed in these surroundings brought conversation to a halt. Has it ever felt like the trees are listening? 






Back into the grasslands, the last couple of kilometers zig-zagged up the side of the mountain bringing to view vast panoramas around every bend. The last leg was a bit of a push, as we pulled ourselves up over rocks on the steep peak of Kurinjal. The sheer expanse and magnificence of the surroundings from the top always remind me of the Creator. A combination of peace, feeling sucked up by awe and being alive - it only intensifies with each trek.

With time on our hands, there was no rush to get back down. We had time to appreciate the views again, the forest and the stream. The icy water was refreshing and numbing in equal measure. We built rock cairns (as if there was a need to contribute art) and picked up a stone each as souvenirs (with a slight guilt of displacing them). 





We took the remainder of the day slowly - enjoying home made food, drives through villages and walks along the ridge of a barren dam. Dusk came quickly and we found a portico to rest weary feet and discussed "Happiness" and anything else besides the city and work that we would have to go back to. 

February; what adventure awaits?! To plan, or not to plan: that is the question. 




October 21, 2015

Karaikal Passenger



Good morning and good evening from my daily commute.

Oh, the joys of a window seat on the train.

The city-scape and landscape with new detail on every journey.
The fields and the villages gradually changing into high-rise apartments and bridges under which unfortunate commuters wait in standstill traffic. 
The morning crisp breeze versus the evening sultry air. 
The sun setting into hues of red and purple.
Building facades transforming into light matrices.
Village mud roads into highways dotted with red and yellow.
The slow moving horizon and blur of faces thronging the gates of the railway crossings.

The deep chugging.
The shrill whistles piercing the air.
The tinkling of the key chain seller.
The clapping and coquetting of the hijras.
The vendors announcing their menus: lime rice, poori bhajji, idli chutney, samosas, bhel puri, muruku, peanut chikki and lots of chai.
The pleadings for seat space,"Auntie, swalpa adjust maadi."
The impatient sighs while we halt at railway signals.
Hungry, whining toddlers.
The silence of those with phones- eyes glued, ears plugged.

The hyperactive children clambering up the baggage racks.
The bickering, gossiping ladies with handbags that need seat space.
The uncles with their newspapers.
Vacationing families with packed breakfasts.
The commuters with their backpacks and emotionless faces.
And the dosing grandma whose head keeps falling on my shoulder.

The smells of onion chutney and tamarind rice.
Fresh jasmine and strong cologne.
Smelly feet and sweaty children.
And eucalyptus from the trees at the Bellandur Road station.

The bogey we share with invisible mosquitos and the odd cockroach.
Once a bird flew right through.
(So far no mice!)

The eyes of ladies judging my clothes.
Babies eyeing my bright blue phone 
My neighbours peering at the front cover of the book I'm reading.
And the nosy boy reading my text messages. 

Days when I can put my feet up on the seat in front of me. 
Days when seat space is a luxury, luggage racks become seat space and lap space become luggage racks.
And standing space and leaning space will have to make-do.

But despite all the excitement on the train- 
My favourite is thrill of a passing express train at the station.
Standing a few feet away.
Feet apart for balance.
The gust of breeze, the thundering of wheels. 
The monstrous engine barging through.
The streaks of blue, indigo and yellow.
Eyes squinting.
The platform quaking underneath.
The roof sheets shuddering overhead.
The station master with his green flag in silent adieu to a couple hundred passengers on another train from somewhere else going someplace else.

April 28, 2015

My Roman Holiday

Hello!

The other day, I was cleaning out a cupboard in my room and I found a travel journal from a trip to Rome in 2002 when I was 11 years old. I remember being quite enthralled by the trip on a whole - the exciting history, architecture and art. But my travelogue dictates otherwise; I seem to have been more excited by all the new food we ate. I have listed out in detail everything we ordered at each restaurant. I was quite amused at my focus on the food so I've have typed out what I wrote. 



key- [additional notes]

My Roman Holiday

Thursday 21.02.'02

7:30 am - Plane was delayed 'cause of high winds in Rome - 1 hr. Take off about 9:00
Breakfast - Roll and cheese, plain roll, yogurt, sweet roll with almonds, jam and butter, orange juice and hot drink.
Flight was 2 hours.
Lunch - Special mushroom fettuccine, Ravioli, Onion Pizza, Veg Penne (first we got meat by accident)
Walked passed Colosseum, Santa Maria (Moses statue). Ate dessert whilst it was raining.
Supper - 2 pomodoro, 1 carciofi and aubergine fettuccine, 1 agliata coushette [sp. courgette] fettuccine (white)
Bed early (Hotel Aphrodite) 

Friday 22.02.'02

8:30 am - Woke up and had showers. Got coupons for Breakfast - sweet rolls and orange juice.
Bus to Vatican, St.Peters Square.
Lunch - 4 penette pomodoro, dessert and drinks, rolls and cheese.
Museum was closed. Climbed 346 steps (halfway was by lift). Sun down in the square.
Supper - Starters - fish my mistake, then changed to veg [I remember that we ordered fried zucchini flowers which came with anchovies], 1 ravioli (Rohit), 1 penne pomodoro with aubergines (TLC), Pizza with mushrooms (Mum), Pizza with aubergines (Dad)
Bus home.
Good night.

Saturday 23.02.'02

Breakfast - same
Pantheon, Trevi Fountain
Lunch - (small quaint rest.) 2 Risottos, pieces of pizza- roast potatoes and courshete [sp. courgette
Went to some Basilicas and looked at some of the Forum.
ICE CREAM for dessert.
Temple of Jupiter - disappointment.
Michele Angelo's Square.
Supper - PIZZARITO PASTARITO!! folded veg pizza (D), 1 farfelle white mushroom (M), 1 spirelli garlic pomodoro (T), 1 spinach ravioli (R) [I deciphered the drawings of the pasta to name them here] Big helpings.
[insert signature]
Played UNO

Sunday 24.02.'02

Woke up. 
Breakfast - Roll and juice.
Got a bus to the Colosseum. Got a piece of it (second floor corridor)
Then followed the map through the Palatine. I got a piece of it (Oval fountain wall near the dining room)
Lunch - Pizzas. R-Magherita, T-Aubergine (Melanzane), D-Funghi, M-Veg
Walked through part of the Forum.
Dessert - R-Lemon Cake, M-Caramel Cream and Pannacotta, D-Pannacotta, T- Choc mousse and Pannacotta.
No Supper.
Good Night.
Played UNO

Monday 25.02.'02

Checked out, kept luggage there, had breakfast.
Went to Vatican Museum. Saw [Creation of Adam] and spiral staircase.
Lunch - (Piazza Navona) M- Cream Gnocchi, D-Melanzane pizza, T&R- Spaghetti Pomodoro, M&T- Funghi Pizza
Collect Luggage
Train to Airport
Sky bridge. Gate 28 changed to 20.
No veg supper.
A.Kirra picked us.
Back Home.

I looked through the photo album from that trip, but my Mum seems to have only taken pictures of monuments and paintings and none of the food. Here's the coolest one from the set - the spiral staircase of the Vatican Museum.