Author Archives: vineethkartha

The Onam Sadya Demystified


With another Onam round the corner, all Kerala restaurants are flaunting its customers with the promise of a Kerala feast or the Onam Sadya as it is more popularly known. I thought it appropriate to decode the Onam Sadya ( and no, Onam Sadya does not include beef and liquor).
The ‘Sadya’ is not specific to Onam, for a culture that believes in ‘Annadanam Mahadanam’, a feast is the part and parcel of all celebrations.
It is a time where kith and kin join together and have atleast one meal, which is prepared and savored by the entire family together.
The sadya is served on a plaintain leaf, that is laid on the floor where you sit with legs crossed( also known as Sukhasana in Yoga) infront of it. There is lot of information avaialble that explains the benefits of sitting in the Sukhasana posture while eating.

The items on the leaf are arranged in a particular order as in the picture below.

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Pickles, chips and pappadam take the left corner, the side dishes or kootu curry takes the top row and the rice  on the bottom row. This order is maintained so that the people who serve can identify what might be missing on a leaf and what needs to be served.
To really enjoy a Sadya one has to do a bit of planning in advance and has to be displined in sticking to the plan. The aroma of the steaming rice on a plaintain leaf makes it really difficult to stop yourself from over-eating. You have to decide on how much rice you are capable of eating. Divide this into three portions and during the first serving ask for only the first portion. One half of this portion of rice is to be enjoyed with parippu curry (dal), ghee and pappadam. The second half with Sambhar. The side dishes can be used to add more flavour to each scoop of rice you take.
Once you have savoured the taste of parippu curry with ghee followed by the taste of the moderatly spicy sambhar, with a touch of side dishes like olan, kichdi etc. Its time for your digestive system to get soem aid in digestion. This is where the second portion of the rice comes in. This portion is to be had with rasam or puliserry ( curry made from buttermilk). This gives a soothing effect to your tongue as well as your entire digestive tract.
Then comes the most favourite part of any meal, the deserts. For Sadya the desserts are the payasams. Sometimes you may have multiple varieties of payasam, but traditionally the Ada Pradhaman ( made from Ada, jaggery), followed by Palpayasam ( made with milk, rice and sugar). The payasams are to be had in the same leaf where you had rice. The sweet payasam mixed with the salt, sour and spices of the curries takes you on cloud nine. Usually a modern day meal ends with the desert, but for a sadya, the last part is the last portion of rice which should be had with curd. Ask any Tamilian and they will tell you how a meal is incomplete without curd rice. Having curd which is rich in lactobacillus, is like taking probiotics. This aids in digestion, prevents acidity from all the Payasam that you had. The sadya is usually served for lunch, and noon time in South India can be really hot, curd acts as a coolant to the body.
And then as a climax the guest folds the plantain leaf from top to bottom which is a gesture that he is happy with the food served. In a way it shows that the guest is grateful to the host for providing him with a meal and the host is grateful to the guest for having blessed him with his presence and well wishes. So the next time you are invited for a Sadya keep these in mind, enjoy the food and most importantly make it a point not to waste any of it. Happy Onam to all my readers.

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The ‘Arabian Nights’


On the 7th of May 2017, I woke up to the morning rays hitting me through the windows of an Airplane. I looked down and saw waves, brown in color and not the usual shades of blue. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was looking at the sand dunes and not the ocean. I was flying over the Arabian deserts to one of the marvels created by Man – The City of Dubai.

In the last 27 years of my existence on this planet I have never seen a desert and all I know about it is from the books, photos or videos that I have seen. The picture painted by all these media were quite dull and melancholic. Those sand dune patterns looked as if some one had painstakingly arranged them to form wavy pattern there was a symmetry and the contours were almost parallel.

As soon as we landed in Dubai the entire landscape had changed. The brown sand dunes gave way to skyscrapers made of steel and glass. The suns reflection was glaring from each of those glass panes making them even brighter. I was travelling with my family and my uncle was there with his friend to receive us at the airport. Unlike my usual trips the next seven days of this trip was well planned and charted, thanks to my uncle and his friend, Mr. Nawas. Being the beginning of summer ‘Arabian Days’ were hot. So all our activities were planned for the evenings and from the information I gathered that’s when the city of Dubai really comes to life.

During lunch time I realized that although I had crossed one sea and a couple of international borders, I was not going to miss Kerala cuisine. Dubai had more Kerala cuisine hotels than the Arabian ones. After lunch we set of to see the Dubai mall and the aquarium that spanned over three floors of the mall. All those creatures in an artificially created habitat miles away from their real habitats. Although I despise such places, it made me think about the educational value such places hold. It is one way of educating the younger generations on the wide variety of life forms that share this planet with us.

After spending almost 2 hours in the aquarium, we were all mesmerized by myriad life forms under the sea. The surprises for the day was still not over, next we headed to the Dubai Miracle Garden.

This was a real ‘Wonder’ for me, how on earth could all these flowers remain so fresh and colorful, in the scorching heat of Dubai. I should admit that I have never seen such a well maintained garden, ever. And the fact that this is located in the one of the most water scarce landscapes on earth adds to the beauty of the place.

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Dubai Miracle Garden

We walked through the garden and by then it was dinner time and we headed back. We all went back to the hotel tired but exited about the days ahead.

The next day everyone woke up at lunch time and post lunch we were all geared up for Day 2 of Dubai. This time we headed to the Dubai Marina we took a boat trip around the Palm Jumeirah. I witnessed one of the most breathtaking view of the sunset. The sky was painted Orange and setting seemed magical from that boat.

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Day 3 was the best of all. We were to witness the real Dubai. The desert safari was the most awaited event of the trip. We were instructed not to have a heavy lunch as the ride was going to be bumpy and there would be amazing food at the end of the ride for which we had to keep a good appetite.
Our guide was Mr. Allah Baksh, a fine gentleman from Pakistan who could speak malayalam. He was a very good host and kept us entertained through out the evening. We started off around 2:30pm and soon the city landscape gave way to the barren desert land, with a couple of Palm tree plantations on the way. We stopped at one of the highway supermarkets to freshen up. Due to the immense pressure from my cousins we stopped at a Quad biking place and spent half an hour driving those crazy machines in the sand. Most of the time we would either bump into each other or get stuck in the sand ricocheting sand onto whoever was behind us. We then headed for the sand bashing. Mr Baksh expalined to us how the tyre pressure of the vehicle had to be reduced to almost 50% to drive through the sand dunes. The next 1 hour of the ride was like a roller coaster. And there was nothing but sand visible in all four directions as far as our eyes could see. We stopped on the way to click some photos.

We then went onto one of the camp sites where food and the shows for the night were arranged. It was an awesome evening with a blend of food, adventure and tradition. The ‘Tanoura’ a traditional Sufi dance where the performer continuously keeps spinning to a psychedelic music, was mesmerizing to witness.

The next day was the set aside for Burj Khalifa. A Dubai trip would not be complete if you have not seen the Burj Khalifa. It is truly a remarkable feat that the Dubai Government achieved when it constructed the tallest standing man-made structure. But while on our way back from Burj Khalifa we happened to pass in front of the Ras AlKhor Wildlife sanctuary. I saw a flock of birds and in a split second I realized that I was looking at the ‘Lesser Flamingoes’. There was no way I was going to leave Dubai without clicking a few shots.

We then went on to visit the LED glow garden, another man made spectacle. The whole place was decorated with colored lights and there was a Dinosaur park, with Dinosaur models that looked real-life. They even mimicked the movements of a live creature. The attention to detail given by the architects of the Dinosaur park is truly remarkable.

Day 5 was less hectic as we spent a day at Dragon Mart, the largest Chinese bazaar in Dubai. We had dinner cruise in Dubai Marina. The Dubai skyline looked really wonderful with the Burj Khalifa standing as an odd one out.

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On day 6 we left early in the morning for Abu Dhabi. We spent an entire day at the Ferrari world, A Ferrari branded theme park, It had some amazing and thrilling rides. This park houses the fastest roller coaster in the world. It was almost 5-6hrs of pure fun and adrenaline rush.

We then went to visit the The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet. The chandeliers in the mosque have been imported from Germany.

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A Chandelier in the Main Hall

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The sheer will power of the rulers of a barren land has transformed it from a desert to marvel. There is nothing that you will not find in Dubai, they have artificially created natural habitats for animals and they have created modern technological wonders as well. The entire city and the sights there are truly miraculous, they seem like a tale from the Arabian Nights.

In God’s Own country, at the People’s own festival – Thrissur Pooram


It was peak summer time in Kerala, but I was determined to check out one item from my Bucket list and that was to witness ‘Thrissur Pooram’ in all its glory. Our Journey this time was on the chariots of Indian Railways. For an overnight journey I believe trains are the best option if you are in India. You get food sleep and a comparatively safer journey. The journey began on the evening of 3rd May. Next day early morning we stepped out from the comfort of the AC coach of the train onto the hot and humid platform of Thrissur railway station. But this discomfort was short lived. From the day I landed in Thrissur I had decided that I will reserve a few lines in my blog post for the good natured people of this beautiful town in God’s Own Country.

Unlike other major cities and towns in India I have found the people of Thrissur more polite, and tolerant towards outsiders. Right from the auto rikshaw and taxi drivers to the road side vendors are people willing to help and guide you. We took an Auto from the railway station to our hotel. The driver was kind enough to give us a quick tour of the city and informed us of the major attractions there and what timings were apt for each place. At the end of the journey he charged us a fee which I felt was reasonable (this happens rarely in Kerala as taxi and auto drivers never miss and opportunity to loot you). He even gave a breakup and an explanation of how the rates were decided.

Soon after freshening up we decided not to waste a single minute. The next action item was to visit the ‘Vadakumnatha Temple’ and then have an authentic Kerala breakfast. We took a bus from our hotel to the temple, it was a short fifteen minute journey with the loud devotional songs typically played in these kind of small private buses in Kerala. You will have a conductor with a whistle in his mouth leaning at the doorstep of the bus swaying with every rash turn the driver takes, which will throw some passengers off their feet, who were not fortunate enough to get a seat. These buses are the lifeline of many villages and towns of Kerala and for people who are willing to be a bit ‘adventurous’ this can get you to a place in time without burning a hole in your pocket.

The bus had a stop right in front of the temple.

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It looked very calm and quite. We saw people putting up bamboo structures that would serve as support for platforms for the media to cover the event. There were some smaller structures also, which were meant for the street vendors. We saw a couple of stalls being setup. Without wasting much time we went into the temple. This is by far the largest temple compound I have ever seen in Kerala. Legend says that this temple was built by lord Parasurama to atone for the sins of killing Kshatriyas. There are many stories associated with this temple. Since I am no expert on legends and folklore , it is better that my readers obtain these information from the right sources. But one thing that I can say for sure is that this is a marvel, it boasts the skill and craftsmanship of the architects of Kerala. The area around the temple once used to be a teak plantation which was cleared by Shaktan Tampuran to conduct the Thrissur Pooram. The place is still called ‘Thekinkadu’ which translates to forest of teaks.

After a stroll through the rich history of the temple we went on to have breakfast in one of the nearby hotels, since it was still early in the morning we had limited options. After this we roamed around the city for some more time.

Before I go into the details, I believe I should give my readers a quick introduction to ‘Thrissur Pooram’. Thrissur Pooram is a relatively young festival compared to other festivals in Kerala. Before the Thrissur pooram the largest temple festival in Kerala used to be the the ‘Aratupuzha Pooram’. Many of the temples participating in ‘Thrissur Pooram used to be a part of the Aratupuzha pooram. Once due to heavy rains some temples got delayed to participate and they were denied entry to the Pooram. Thrissur Poorma was a retaliation to that insult. The Maharaja of Kochi His Highness Rama Varma Raja also known as Sakthan Thampuran is considered to be the architect of ‘Thrissur Pooram’. He unified ten temples of the region and they were to participate in Thrissur Pooram making it the largest temple festival in Kerala.

The major attractions of the Pooram are the processions by the constituent temples, the Elanjithara melam, Kudamattom, and the fireworks display.  The 10 temples split themselves into two groups- some side with the Paramekavu Bhagavathy temple and the others with the Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna temple. The rest of the activities are like a competition between the two sides. Its an opportunity for both sides to show off the unity and determination of their devotees in making the Pooram a huge success.

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Paramekavu Bhagavathy temple

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Thiruvambadi SriKrishna Temple

One of the major attractions of the pooram is the ‘Kudamattom’ where beautifully colored and decorated parasols are displayed. On the day before the pooram both teams put the parasols for public display. This is called the ‘Chamaya Pradarshanam’ which means display of decorations.

 

We went to see the Chamaya Pradarshanam of Pramekavu Side.

The next day again we reached Thrissur town in the morning. Processions from the constituent temples had started, the roads were free of Motor vehicles and Elephants had taken their place. Huge male elephants with long tusks and decorations carrying the idols of the temples. Though the whole setup looks magnificient, I felt pity to these large animals who seemed to be undergoing discomfort and were in great pain standing on the hot road under a burning sun with a large load on its back.

These processions continued throughout the first half of the day. The famous Elanjithara melam that happens inside the temple compound started at around 3PM. We were just lucky enough to gain entry into the temple. The crowd was so large that at some point I even gave up the hope of getting in.

I do not have words to describe the grandeur I saw there, the joy and excitement I saw on every face on that street. There were people from different parts of the world, from different walks of life. I was glad to be a part of the Pooram. I was impressed by the way the organisers of the Pooram were able to coordinate so many aspects. The way the Police, the people and the tourists cooperated to make this the largest temple festival in Kerala. I cannot claim to have witnessed the entire Pooram, I am yet to witness the Fireworks display. Afterall whats the fun if you finish off everything in one go its always good to leave something behind for later. Because that will serve as a motivation to come back again.

 

 


It was the first day of a long weekend. While most of Bangalore was still slumbering, my wife and I had packed our bags and by 4AM we had hit the roads. This time our destination was a small hamlet somewhere in the State of Andhra Pradesh called Gandikotta. Known as ‘The Grand Canyon of India’, this place is still in its pristine form, not many tourists have started flocking in to see this natural marvel. This was almost a 300 Km ride so we decided to stop by at Belum Caves in Kadappa district.

Even with the summer at its peak, a bike ride very early in the morning in Karnataka, is still very chilly. Almost an hour into the ride with my gloves and Jacket on, I was still shivering, Every passing minute I was dying for the sun to rise so that I could bask in the warm rays. By the time the Sun was at the horizon we had reached Le Pakshi. For people planning a visit to Gandikota from Bangalore I would suggest they cover, Le Pakshi, Belum Caves and Gandikota in a single trip.

Following Google maps we had to leave the Highway and soon the roads turned into narrow roads. At the horizon I could see chimneys of  a large factory, that explained the dust. We had reached Kadappa, A place famous for its granite stones. In every corner we could see slabs of stones piled up, some places the entire walls were made up of such stacks of granite slabs. There was a beauty to that symmetrical arrangement. It seemed as if some one with OCD had gone around town stacking every available slab of stone. Such views continued for almost half and hour and then at a distance we could see a white statue of Lord Buddha, we were almost certain that, that was our Belum caves. We reached just in time or rather before time. The ticket counters were just opening and a few of the staff had gone down the caves just to make sure it was safe for the tourists to go down the caves. We quickly grabbed a coffee from the APTDC canteen nearby. We were ready to explore the second largest underground caves in India.

Belum caves is an underground cave system that has been formed naturally. The place was discovered in 1884 by British surveyor and later by a German speleologist  H. Daniel Gebauer explored the caves, there hall at the entrance into the caves is named after Daniel Gebauer. Being a dark and dingy place the cave is home to a decent number of bats. If you ever intend to take photos of this place do not even bother wasting your time and effort unless you have a tripod. The whole cave system is lit with dim lights and strips of LED. The dim lights infact add to the ambiance of the whole place. It was humid and we had started sweating.

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Entrance to Belum Caves

Since there were only very few people, I got enough space to calmly explore the whole structure. From the information I gathered about 3.5Km of the  caves have been explored but only around 1Km is open for public access. As we went further deeper the pathways became narrower.

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We went on until we reached Patala Ganga the deepest point in the cave system.

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Water stream at Patala Ganga

After that exhausting journey we grabbed some lunch from the ‘Haritha’ restaurant by APTDC. A word of caution to fellow travelers, the entire route does not have any good place to eat, so it is advisable to carry food and water with you.

We still had to cover a distance of 60Kms to reach Gandikotta. We left Belum caves with our minds still wondering how the caves would have been formed and if it indeed was a natural formation how mother nature does these tricks.

The final 20 Kms of this journey was through a barren land, you can see the entire landscape and there was no sign of any hotel or resort. At this point the sun was at its peak and the Andhra summer is not something for the faint hearted.

But I should admit that even barren land had a beauty of its own,unlike the concrete buildings of Bangalore. Except for the heat I was enjoying everything else on the way, and then suddenly out of nowhere we see some flags fluttering and on it the APTDC symbol. The whole place looked like a palace from a fairy tale.

Both of us where completely exhausted quickly checked in had a second round of lunch and had a power nap. ‘Haritha’ run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism department is the only hotel available in almost 70Km radius of this area. I was pleasantly surprised that although this is a government run hotel, still it had some pretty decent standards and the service was amazing. The only downfall is that the staff speak only Telugu, a few of them can understand English or Tamil. We managed with English, these folks are so cooperative and dedicated that soon the language will not be a barrier. Our room boy told us that we should head to the Juma Masjid which was half a kilometer from the hotel for a sunset view.

We drove through the Gandikota fort and on the other side were a couple of small houses which was still inhabited by farmers. The road led us straight to the Juma Masjid. We went around the place. There were a couple,of tourists scattered here and there but the whole atmosphere was calm and peaceful.

The place also had a decent number of birds especially laughing doves, bushchats, sparrows, hoppoes, purple sunbirds and Red Vented Bulbuls.

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Common Hoppoe

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Yellow Throated Sparrow


A few minutes walk from the Juma Masjid will take you to a breath taking view of Penna River flowing in between two cliffs.
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From the day I had been planning this trip I was skeptical whether Penna river would still have water flowing in this summer. But those doubts soon vanished. We climbed up some of those rocks to get a good view of this magnificent river and the path that it had cut out for itself over the millenniums. The sun was slowly setting behind us. It felt as if the sun was also peeping from behind us to get one last glimpse of the Penna River before it went down. Soon after sunset we headed back to our room to enjoy the hospitality offered by APTDC.

On A Tiger Trail


It took almost 1.5 years and three visits for me to finally pen down an article on Jungle Retreat. The first trip we made was in January 2016, where we encountered a tiger while on a trek, the next trip was in December 2016, again we were on the trek when we all heard a tiger growl almost 10 meters away from us. Out of all the Wildlife destinations I have been to in the past one year, Wayanad was the only one that guaranteed us some adventure, and Jungle Retreat always felt like home. And that is why we decided to visit it a third time. During the scorching summer to get away from the polluted Bangalore atmosphere, into the Jungles of Wayand.

It was an early Saturday Morning, we set out from our nest in Bangalore to  ‘The Jungle Retreat’. We had decided to leave early so that we could enter the of Nagarhole Wildlife reserve as soon as the gates open. My brother-in-law was behind the wheels.

We reached the Nagarhole gates by 8AM. In the next one hour we saw a myriad of birds and animals which included common hoppoes, Indian Rollers, Racquet tail drongos, A pair of wild dogs, Gaurs, barking  deer and spotted deer . I was frantically clicking photos as we passed by these (there was a strict instruction not to stop anywhere in the sanctuary). Spotting of the wild dogs was a pleasant surprise, because from one of my previous visits I had learned that these were a rare species to find.

We crossed the other end of Nagarhole within an hour and then we headed straight to Tirunelli temple. The idea was to have breakfast from one of the tea shops nearby. After having an authentic Kerala style breakfast in a Hotel with thatched roofs and shaky benches (The food was really delicious. I would recommend my readers to try one such place while in Kerala). We reached Jungle Retreat and there was the familiar face of Darshan and Manu to welcome us. They have been our hosts in our previous visits too. Mr. Anil the owner of the place was also there. We checked into our rooms and from the balcony I could see Anil heading out with a group for the customary Jungle Trek.

We quickly freshened up and took a stroll around the property. There was a large bird hovering over us, the distinct white under wing pattern was a definite give away that it was a crested serpent eagle. We had a JLR safari in Nagarhole scheduled for 3:30PM, we had our lunch, and took rest for almost half an hour. Then we started off for the safari. Mr. Santosh from JLR was waiting for us with his Jeep. There were other tourists also with us. I took one of the side seats with my camera ready. When you are in the jungle every moment you spend anticipating a miracle. You expect a tiger, a leopard or  even a herd of elephants to cross your road or atleast to appear somewhere in the distance. But in such anticipation people tend to ignore the smaller creatures, plants and flowers of the forest. Its a privilege to even hear the sounds of the jungle and one should be ready to enjoy that. Because on some trips that maybe all that you get.  We saw some shy barking deers and some curious sambar deers.

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Sambar Deer

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Malabar Giant Squirrel

There were some guest appearances by 3 monitor lizards, a grey mongoose, couple of Malabar Giant squirrels, a lesser adjutant stork, peafowls and even a cobra. Mr. Santosh tried various corners of the Sanctuary to get some good sightings.

When you are out in the jungle, you tend to loose track of time, there is a never ending excitement. Who knows maybe at the next bend there maybe a tiger waiting, or maybe behind the bushes. And even after the safari ends the excitement lingers for some  time. Content with whatever we had seen we headed back to our room. We had the customary camp fire arranged for us, a little away from the Jungle Retreat property. We then headed straight for that. This time Mr. Anil was driving we all sat besides a stream, under a moonlit sky around a fire that was devouring every piece of log that was thrown into it. There was a pot of hot steaming soup above the fire. Everyone was chatting and sharing stories, while Chathettan a tribal guy who has been with the Jungle Retreat was busy cleaning  a stone and was grinding some chutney to accompany the soup and tapioca. Mr. Anil and Manu were sharing there experiences in the wild and it was so fascinating to hear those stories. On our way back the keen senses of Manu and Anil picked up on some barking deer calls. Anil was explaining that barking deer calls are the most reliable calls and that the reason at this moment can be nothing but the presence of a tiger. Everyone was alert and were straining there eyes in the dark to catch a glimpse of that tiger. But then we all had to return back knowing that we were very close to a tiger and although we had not seen it, It might have already seen us and might have decided that we were not worthy of its audience. After all it was the king of the Jungle in these areas. The next day early morning we got up and went for birding. Having been to the lakes in and around Bangalore for birding, it was a completely new feeling to go birding in the Jungle, I accompanied Manu and we found position on a rock near the property were we set base for the next one hour. We had a couple of visitors in that one hour.

 

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White Rumped Munia

After this we had breakfast and were geared up for the jungle awareness trek. This was one single activity that we were all waiting for. Manu was our guide for the day. He took us on a different route this time, stopping at points to make sure that there are no elephants. We got the strong smell of elephants at certain locations. Almost half a kilometer had passed by when Manu saw a pug mark. He was explaining to us that it must be a couple of days old. He was going into the technicalities of how the age and sex of an animal is determined based on the pug marks. As we moved ahead there was a strong pungent smell and Manu confirmed that it can be nothing but a recent kill made by the tiger, we followed the scent and found the hoof of a spotted deer. The whole area was scattered with pug marks, thanks to recent rains in the region the ground was wet and muddy. The pubmarks were clearly visible even to the untrained eye. Manu even noticed that a leaf which had fallen inside one of the pug mark was folded and it was just beginning to unfold, his conclusion was that the tiger must have stepped on that leaf and if it still unfolding then the pug marks are not more than an hour old. Blood was still dripping out of the hoof piece that we saw, which meant that the tiger was still around with a half finished meal and we were entering its territory. Manu gave us a signal to turn back and we took a detour and hurried back in to the safety of the electric fence around the Jungle Retreat property. Thanks to the expertise of Manu once again we all returned back in one piece to tell the story of how close we went in disturbing a tiger that was having its meal.

Lakes of Bangalore: Part II – Kasavanahalli Lake


In the second post in this series I will be taking my readers to Kasavanahalli Lake a beautiful but dwindling lake on the Sarjapur main road. This lake has been in the news for the wrong reasons. It has been a witness to encroachments by the land mafia on several occasions. On the boundary of the lake there is a drainage that flows by from the high rise apartments nearby. If you avoid these boundary areas the lake is mostly calm and looks unpolluted. Unlike the Kaikondrahalli lake there is lesser activity at Kasavanahalli lake and may be for the same reason you will be able to have a more fruitful birding session here.
The location marked on google maps is correct. From Sarjapur Main road take the road opposite to the big bazar and continue till you reach Ozone fern city. There will be a small mud road that leads to a cemetry and then a school gate. Go through the gate and you will reach the lake.

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The lake has almost 2km of jogging track. It is not paved with tiles and there would be cattle on these tracks, but still its much better than the human crowd.DSCN0763

There is a small island in the middle of the lake and that would house painted storks or Asian open bills. This lake is also rich in Pied King fishers. If you patiently wait you will be lucky enough to see these beautiful creatures hovering over the lake and plunging in to the water and coming up with a fish.

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I waited there for almost 30 mins enjoying this view.

For a complete bird list and Photos visit the links below.

Birdlist

Photos

The Lakes of Bangalore : Part I – Kaikondrahalli Lake


Bangalore a city once famous for its beautiful climate, gardens and lakes, has been declared as one of the most polluted cities in the country.
In a recent study conducted by the prestigious Indian Institute of Science has said that this city will be ‘Unlivable’ in the next 5 years. The maddening pace at which urbanization and ‘development’
that has happened in this city has ruthlessly cleared out the greenery and the Lakes that once were the pride of Bangalore.
This series of blog posts is based on my visits to the lakes in and around this beautiful city.
The first post in this series is about Kaikondrahalli lake. This is the story of a group of people who decided to save a lake that was almost at the verge of extinction.
This lake is on the Sarjapur Road, at about 6-7 km from the Outer Ring Road.

I had come to know that a restoration project was undertaken to save the lake somewhere in 2010, where people from the area had gathered and approached the BBMP to prevent illegal
encroachments and to prevent the drainage that was flowing into the lake. Today this is a well managed area and is quite clean and pollution free.

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I visited this place on a fine Sunday morning. A 48 acre area in the midst of the dusty and polluted area of Bangalore.
This lake is part of the Varathur lake chain and is also connected to the Kasavanahalli lake. A picturesque spot full of bird activity and fresh air.
The early rays of the sun paint the whole scene with a beautiful orange tint. This place has a wide range of ecosystems.
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There are marsh lands, shrubs, and really tall trees. This provides habitat for a wide range of birds.
The first sight I saw was that of a spot billed pelican gliding through the water. The water was so still and clear that even the reflection of the pelican was like one in the mirror.
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When I reached there were already a few people on the jogging tracks. I strolled along the sides of the lake listening to the tweets of so many birds, most of which were hiding in the bushes and trees.
There is an island in the middle of the lake, which is a breeding ground for cormorants, purple herons, darters and the spot billed pelicans.
I was lucky enough to see a Kingfisher having its breakfast.
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On one side of the lake there are high rise apartments and on the other side there is a slum. The lake is sandwiched between this stark contrast.
There are constructions going on and one can only hope that this fast paced development does not ruin what is left of Kaikondrahalli lake.

Snaps from Kaikondrahalli lake

Bird List

Birding @ Ramadevara Betta


After spending a restless Saturday at home, I decided to go trekking at Ramadevara Betta. This was 12th of February. A fine Sunday morning. Finally the winter slowly receding from Bangalore, the mornings are not as cold as it used to be till a couple of weeks back.  Started off from Bangalore around 6:00 AM in the morning and we crossed the NICE road tollgate by 6:30 AM. The sun was rising behind us and the moon was setting just in front of us. I decided to stop to take a few quick shots.

 

I was enjoying the bullet ride when my wife reminded me of breakfast. Till then I had forgotten about that but since she mentioned it I could feel my stomach rumbling. We had reached Bidadi by then. We saw ‘Stop Over’ ( Had a bad experience previously). Further ahead there was this place called ‘Malgudi Vatika’. There was serene atmosphere to this place. Two gentlemen dressed up in white Shirt and a white pyjama, resembling the characters from R.K. Narayan’s stories. The waiter had a thick rectangular moustache, which was perfectly trimmed at the edges. He had a black ‘Freedom fighter’s cap’. He reminded me of some shop keeper character in the small town of Malgudi, which R.K. Narayan had described.

After breakfast it took as another 1.5 hrs to reach Ramanagara. Right after the Ramanagar town we took a right. The distance to the the base of Ramadevara Betta from the main road is hardly 8 kms. The road goes through a village and there are houses and a few farm lands on both sides. There were hardly any shops after taking the deviation from Ramanagara.

Ramadevara Betta is a hill full of Granite rocks. It has a very old temple dedicated to Lord Ram. It is believed that Lord Ram visited this place during his exile. More than a trekking spot, this is a pilgrimage site. For nature lovers this place has thick vegetation full of birds and butterflies. Ramadevara Betta is also a vulture sanctuary and hence it is under the control of the Karnataka Government. The place has been maintained neatly. This was one of the very few places were I have seen almost zero plastic waste.

This place is also famous as ‘Gabbar Singh’s ‘ hideout in the Bollywood movie Sholay.  ‘Passage to India’ a Hollywood movie was also shot at this place.

Before the trip I had read about this place and it had been mentioned as a moderate-difficult trek. But right from the base of the hill there are steps and railings. There are a few temple priests to guide you through. There are a couple of small shrines on the way. Me and Pooja were climbing slowly listening to every bird and trying to spot as much as we could. The Purple rumped Sunbird was quite elusive and Pooja managed to get a shot of it.

 

This was followed by a tussle with the Oriental White eye to give a good pose. We were already happy to have spotted two new birds to add to our list. There were a couple of beautiful spots on the way to the top that gave a very good view of the surrounding hills.

The flight of steps lead to the Ram Temple, after which this place got its name.

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We had reached the final flight of steps. It looked really steep and here the steps were actually carved into the rock. They look intimidating but are easy to climb as there are railings.

These steps take you to the top which has a constant wind blowing and beautiful sceneries  with a 360 degree view. At the top we were greeted by a paddy field Pipit, and finally when we had decided to decent back out of nowhere an Egyptian Vulture flew by. It happened so fast that I did not have time to focus my camera and take a shot. Although the Vulture sanctuary is well known for the Long Billed Vulture, I was happy with what I had just s, and we began our decent.

The trees here are full of birds, I was able to spot and identify only a few of them as I am new to this game. But Ramadevara Betta is a good getaway spot from the busy city life.

 

A Weekend at the Scotland of India


On January 26th when the nation was celebrating its 68th Republic, I set out on a family trip to the Scotland of India – Coorg.

Being a family trip I was not on my RE. Since it was a car ride, I slept for the initial part of the Journey. Then we sopped over at ‘Stop Over’ in Bidadi for breakfast. Looks like the staff there was not ready to accommodate the Long weekend rush. We had to wait for almost an hour to get our breakfast, and it was an even tougher struggle to finish that breakfast.

We resumed our journey and we crossed some beautiful countryside roads. The beauty of the Karnataka country side is always a welcoming sight. Cattles, farmers, farm lands small puddles of water.

We crossed Srirangapatna. Since we had already been there in the past we decided not to halt. The roads were really smooth and I dozed off a couple of time during the journey.

We reached ‘Athithi Comforts’ in Kushalnagar around 12:30 PM.

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Checked in and rushed in for lunch. Over lunch we decided to visit the the famous Namdroling Monastery and Harangi dam. As these seemed to be close by to our hotel.

The first stop was the Namdroling Monastery. I have been to this monastery before during my schooldays. The picture I had of this place from my memories was of a colorful and serene place with lots of paintings. Like everything else the colors of the monastery had faded with time. It was dull but the place still had its serene and peaceful environment. We roamed around, occasionally glancing at the display boards that had descriptions about the various paintings and about the Buddha Idols that were the main attractions of the monastery.

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From Left Buddha Padmasambhava, Buddha Sakyamuni and Buddha Amitayus

 

The monastery was established by the 11th throne-holder of the Palyul lineage, His Holiness Drubwang Padma Norbu Rinpoche in 1963, following his 1959 exit from Tibet as the second seat of the Palyul Monastery.

It was prayer time and we could hear drum and trumpets accompanied by chanting, adding vibe to the whole monastery.

Our next stop was Harangi dam. The road to the dam was really interesting, lonely roads with greenery on both sides. I really missed not being on my bullet. We reached the dam, but unfortunately the dam was closed and was not accessible for the public. We stopped our car and decided to make the most of what we had. I tried clicking a few cormorants and parakeets that were around.

We still had time to kill and then we decided to make it to Raja’s Seat before sunset to enjoy the view. Being a cloudy evening it got dark soon and we just made it to the place.

I was still excited about the few birds that I was able to identify that day and the photos that I clicked.

The Second day plan was to cover Tala Cauvery. We were all excited to see the birth place of  one of the largest rivers in South India. Again the road from Madikeri to Tala Cauvery was full of curves and steep slopes and filled with beautiful picturesque backgrounds.  All the way I was dreaming of a beautiful stream of water flowing through the mountains, may be a small water fall-  Ah what a perfect spot to see some birds. But to my utter dismay all that was there was a  regular temple with a small pond of water, there were some people, taking dips in that pond. This pond signified the origin of the river. We all were wondering whether we had missed something, the origin of a river cannot be a Pond for sure, was this a hoax or maybe we really missed something. From the temple there was a small flight of steps that led to a hill top that had some pretty decent views. The disappointment created by what we expected Vs what we saw at Tala Cauvery over shadowed everything else, even those beautiful spots seemed dull to us and we decided to head back to Madikere to get some lunch and maybe visit a couple more places and finish off the day.

After lunch, we visited the Madikere fort. It had a small museum with some relics and old artifacts. The museum building itself seems to be an old church and there were memorial stones all over the place. A small typewriter kept on display caught my attention and I stood gazing at that ancient piece of technology for sometime, imagining how many letters and documents that machine would have punched out in its years of service. We then took a stroll around the fort looking at the view and wondering how soldiers would have used those vantage points to spot enemies. There were some sparrows and a coucal on the walls of that fort, but since it had started drizzling, I had left my camera in the car. We also visited the Omkareshwara temple. The temple has a design that is quite similar to the ones seen in Muslim dargahs. It was almost getting dark and we decided to get to Abbi falls as it was nearby. By the time we reached there it was already dark. I don’t know if it was the dim lighting or the gloom cast upon us by Tala Cauvery, but Abbi falls looked beautiful.

Next day morning I woke up early and decided to go for a walk. I had recently picked up the hobby of birding. I picked up my camera and started walking. The sun was just rising and i could hear the birds singing on the tree tops, but I just couldn’t make out where they were. Finally I managed to see a brown shrike, a spotted dove, a red whiskered bulbul. This got my spirits high for the day. This was the last day of our trip and Nisargadhama and Dubare Elephant camp was left on our list. After breakfast we first went to the elephant camp. The camp was closed due to some strike but we had a good view of the cauvery river and people enjoying rafting. I was still on the look out for birds.

Nisargadhama was again a typical picnic spots with tourists littering the place, there was a deer park. Its a pity to see these beautiful creatures in captivity. On the final leg of this trip I was able to ‘shoot’ a Ashy Drongo, a yellow wagtail and a magpie robin.

Three days had gone by in this beautiful place and now it was time for us to return. With a bunch of photos and memories we bid farewell to the paradise called Coorg.

 

 

The Monarch of BR Hills


Sometimes things don’t work out as planned and all you can do is just wait for everything to fall in place. From the last week of December, 2016 I had made plans to visit BR Hills. I had heard from friends and over the Internet that the ride to BR hills was beautiful and cannot be missed. But then every week the plan got postponed until 14th January 2017. Again as in my previous trip to Savandurga, we were a group of 4 ( my wife Pooja, and our friends Arun and Vidya).

From Bangalore through Kanakapura, Kollegal route we set forth to the K. Gudi Wilderness camp situated inside BRT Tiger reserve. Enjoying the scenic country side beauty of Karnataka. I must say it was difficult to keep your eyes on the road. There was so much to look around and see.

But the most interesting part of the ride was the final 11km just before K. Gudi wilderness camp through the BRT Tiger reserve. The jungle was silent and calm except for the leaves rustling in the wind and the occasional chirping of a few birds. There was a Blue chested Kingfisher that was trying to race with us, but I just slowed down to enjoy its beauty. Then lay ahead of us 11km of sheer pleasure, roads winding up the hill and through the jungle. I do not have words to describe what I saw or experienced in that 11 Kms. And probably the only sound to be heard was my enfield thumping as it was climbing the hill. Usually from my past experiences in such trips the jungle roads will be littered with bonnet macaques and spotted deer, but this time there was no one.

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Cottage at K.Gudi

Around noon time we reached K. Gudi wilderness camp. My friends were already there had checked in and were out with their cameras. So we hurried into our rooms not wanting to miss anything. The welcome party at the camp was organized by an Asian Paradise Flycatcher.IMG_1908.JPG This was followed by another show by a couple of Blue-throated bee eaters. We took a stroll around their property and by then lunch was ready. At 4pm we all had geared up and were ready for the jungle safari. From our previous safari experiences expectations were low and we took it causally. Our guide was Mr. Narayan and besides the 4 of us there were 2 more people on the Jeep (Dr. Prem and his son). After the first half an hour of the trip I felt that Mr. Narayan had some kind of super power with which he could spot almost anything at any distance. All the way along we saw drongos, white breasted king fishers, Tickell’s blue fly catcher and so on. There were some barking deers too. This continued for almost 2 and half hours and I guess Mr. Narayan was not yet in a mood to give up and took us on the main road in the opposite direction of the camp. It was getting dark and the cold jungle breeze was getting colder with each passing moment. And suddenly there it was, on the road side a magnificent beast with orange and white fur, with black strokes like the strokes made by an artist using a paint brush. I was in a trance for a moment trying to figure out what had just happened. There was so much excitement in that jeep and I was still not able to get hold of the moment. Having missed a golden opportunity in the past at Wayanad, this was like a second chance for me. I decided not even to touch the camera. This was the moment and I had to be in it. I was not going to let anything distract me from it.

Seems like luck was on our side, the tiger just decided to sit down relax and it gave us a grand pose. My friend started frantically clicking, even Dr. Prem was busy with his camera. Since all I had was my mobile phone, I thought I will enjoy the view. It never took its eyes off us but at the same time he was not scared or anxious. It seems that he knew that he was in control and that we were at his mercy. After all this was his jungle, his kingdom and we were the outsiders. And finally when he got bored by our gimmicks, just stood up and started walking towards our side. I could feel the tension in the jeep as it started walking, it gave us one final look. By then a couple of cars had lined up behind us, that grand creature just disappeared into the bushes.

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Mr. Narayan drove like crazy back to the camp. We were received like heroes and everyone had gathered around to look at the photos.

That night we all went to sleep with a sense of accomplishment that none of us have ever felt in life. Maybe this was by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

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