Memories from the road trip

It’s just over a week since we returned, but the eight day road trip in Tamil Nadu is already a distant memory. It was a whirlwind (but great) tour with a bit of everything: starting with the temple circuit of Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, a beachy time at Tranquebar, a bit of wildlife at Point Calimere, nature like nothing else in the form of mangroves at Pichavaram and finally, the French Connection at Pondicherry.

Since the husband and I kept putting up regular updates on social media, this was an itinerary that interested a lot of friends. I am going to be blogging about each leg of the journey in detail, but here, as a starting point, a snapshot (or several snapshots, really) of our trip.

Have a look at the highlights of our road trip and do let me know in the comments if there is any part of it that is particularly interesting to you or you would like more information on.

Happy travelling with us!

Our first stop was Thanjavur (Tanjore, to the more anglicised among us), an easy seven hour drive from Bangalore. Several pitstops later, we pulled up at Svatma, a spanking new heritage hotel close to the big temple. Svatma was a delight in many ways, but the highlight was the food, easily among the best I have eaten at any hotel.

Tanjore1

This is from an evening at the Brihadeeswara Temple, known locally as Periya Kovil (or the Big Temple) – all decked up for the occasion of it’s builder, Raja Raja Cholan’s 1030th birthday.

Tanjore2

One of the most amazing discoveries in Thanjavur was the area around the palace, especially the art gallery – what I expected to be a modest display of paintings turned out to be a stunning collection of bronze and stone idols, all the way from the 3rd century on. There was a special Nataraja gallery, filled with beautiful bronzes of the “dancing god.”

Tanjore3

Then, the two other points in this Chola triangle – Gangaikondacholapuram (built by the son, similar to the Thanjavur temple but smaller in scale) and the diminutive but exquisite Darasuram (built by a later day Chola, and my favourite among the three).

GKC

Darasuram

Another surprise discovery came in the form of the Pullamangai temple near Kumbakonam. We had never heard of it before (nor have any of our friends or family) but this was recommended by someone at the resort we were staying in. And I am glad we made the long detour to Ayyampettai. At first glance, it looks like any modern day temple with garish colours, but the inside was another story, especially the carvings along the outer walls. This statue of Parvati – in the form of Mahishasuramardhini (the demon slayer) – was one of the most beautiful, graceful I have ever seen.

Tanjore4

After the serious bout of temple hopping, it was time to chill out by the beach at Tranquebar. We stayed at the 17th century The Bungalow On The Beach (which was literally that), the Neemrana property there. Hours and hours of sitting on the balcony outside our room, feeling the cool breeze on our faces, watching the waves crashing against the shore, seeing the fishermen venture out into the sea, wondering what brought the Danes all the way here…

Tranquebar1

Tranquebar2

From here, a side trip to Kodikkarai, also known as Point Calimere, a lesser known habitat for the blackbuck. This being the beginning of the migratory season, we were also lucky enough to see dozens of flamingos, cranes and other such avian fauna in Kodikkarai.

Kodikarai

Leaving Tranquebar with a heavy heart, we made our way up the coast to Pondicherry, stopping for an hour long boat ride at Pichavaram. After the Sunderbans, it is the second largest mangrove forest in the world, a surreal experience in a maze of narrow canals and arches created by water plants.

Pichavaram1

Finally, the last stop on our trip – Pondicherry of the colourful buildings, with its filter kapi and French pressed coffee sitting side by side.

Pondy1

Pondy2

Alas, all good things must come to an end; on our way back to Bangalore, we stopped for idli and coffee at Vasantha Bhavan and found it offering paw bachi and thai poori too.

Road1

Road2

So, until the next post, ta!

Memories of river cruises and boat rides

It must be one of the best things to do ever – sitting on a boat, book in hand (or not), feeling the cool breeze on your cheeks, watching life on the banks, watching the sun set in the horizon, watching the birds head back home… It’s definitely one of my favourite things to do ever. And here are some of my fondest such memories.

Bosphorus

Bosphorus absolutely tops the list here – you float past grand mosques, ruined fortresses, seafood restaurants and pretty houses by the water (each of which I desperately want to own). You can float all the way to Anadolu Kavagi, a fishing village close to the Black sea or get off at some point mid way and make your way back to Ortokoy. The latter I recommend especially on a Sunday it is where you can sip on a hot chocolate, tuck into a plump kumpir (jacket potato) and then graze through the Sunday flea market.

Read my story on a Bosphorus cruise – One river, two continents

“It is of this experience that Orhan Pamuk has written, “To travel along the Bosphorus — be it in a ferry, a motor launch or a rowing boat — is to see the city house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and also from afar, as a silhouette, an ever-mutating mirage”. The Bosphorus is a strait between the Black Sea and the Marmera and runs through the heart of the city, dividing it into two – Rumelia and Anatolia. For a moment out there, you are straddling two continents. The Bosphorus is everywhere in Istanbul; in many ways it defines the dualism of this city: European and Asian, traditional and modern.”

Bosphorus1

Bosphorus21

Nile

The grandest of them all, the Nile and the cruise we took was for four days, all the way from Luxor to Aswan, from where we made a day trip to Abu Simbel. The Nile cruise is an utterly fascinating experience, punctuated as it is by regular stops and excursions to temples and ruins all along the way. At Aswan, we also got into a smaller boat and floated along for an hour late in the evening. Definitely one of my favourite holiday memories.

Nile1

Nile2

Seine

What is not to love about a spring evening in Paris? After walking around the city all day, we eagerly looked forward to sitting down and giving our tired feet a break. We again chose a late evening cruise (surely one of the best time to be on water) and watched the lights of Paris twinkle and wave to us as we crossed bridge after beautiful bridge. Especially watch out for the illuminated Eiffel Tower.

Seine1

Seine2

Ganga

Nothing to beat an early morning ride on the Ganga – this is the time the ghats come to life and people begin to dip their feet tentatively into the cold water and then immerse themselves totally, getting up with hands folded in supplication. The flower sellers make their way around the devotees, the pandas get busy with their business development activities, local boys nose dive into the river and everyone manages to wear a purposeful look on their faces. This is what I have written about Varanasi – Shortcut to Salvation.

Ganga1

Ganga2

And then, there are those boat rides, not exactly on rivers but wonderful experiences nevertheless:

– an excursion into the floating village on the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap – Shifting Shapes

Cambodia1

– cruising on the good old backwaters of Kerala, all the way from Alleppey to Kumarakom…

Kerala

– punting, or rather, being punted on the Cam in Cambridge, past those glorious college buildings and the lucky, lucky young men and women who study there. My first ever published story was on this experience – Apunting we go on the Cam

Cambridge

And finally, a ride on the canals of Amsterdam, easily of my favourite cities in the world – I could easily live there for the rest of my life!

Amsterdam

To Ladakh by air

It was mid-May when we visited Ladakh and the road from Manali to Leh was not yet open. It is considered one of the best road trips ever, and I hope to do it some day. But for then, we had to fly in to Leh from Delhi. Bleary-eyed, I sat looking out of the window for the promised glimpses of the mountains below. Dry brown slowly gave way to dark mountains with peaks capped by snow and clouds and then suddenly there was only pure white – and the sight took my breath away.

A view from the top

On the way in, the sunlight was harsh and direct, making photography difficult – and luckily, on the other side when we flew out. And so, we were blessed with the best possible views.

From the skies

Not so fast!

Of all the things I enjoy about being on the road, the signboards from BRO (Border Roads Organization) must come somewhere at the top. The BRO itself is one of my favourite organizations ever – they make travel seem so easy and comfortable in some of the highest, steepest and most dangerous roads of India. And in return, all they ask is that you stop for a moment and acknowledge their hard work, if only as silent thanks on particularly difficult stretches.

Now back to the signboards – quirky, funny, some downright inscrutable -these are to be seen on major roads all over India, one of the best examples being the Mumbai – Goa highway. However, on the hills, where the BRO is involved, these signs achieve another level of interestingness.

On long desolate stretches in say Sikkim or Ladakh, I often had nothing better (and I would have liked nothing more) than to watch out for and make note of these signboards. And recently, I found myself categorizing these signs (blame it on a long career in market research, this urge to classify and segment).

The most common ones are those that warn you against speeding: if married, then divorce speed. Or This is a highway, not a runway (and the scarier version – This is a highway, not a dieway!) The absolute winner though is, Darling, I like you but not so fast. Cheeky! And so completely unexpected.

Then there are the ones that caution against giving in to the lure of the er, curves – I am curvaceous, go slow – declares one in a spirit of complete abandon. Also take in On the bend, go slow, friend and Steady your nerves on these curves

Drinking and driving do not mix is the other prominent theme – and they even have different slogans for different types of liquor, like so – after whisky, driving risky and drive on horsepower, not on rum power.

Most of these warnings are stern and stark, talking of accidents and death without any thought for the less brave drivers on the roads – If you sleep, your family will weep. In between, though these are fewer in numbers are the cheerful optimistic ones: Safety on the roads is safe tea at home. There is then the one that declares – Today is my No Accident day – or another version of it – Alert today, Alive tomorrow. Er, what about losing alertness for that short time it takes for the driver to read these signs – but hush!

2009 on Itchy Feet

Looking back at the year that was…

I started the year with a three week stint at the ayurvedic hospital in Cochin, seeking yet again a cure for my aching back. We ended that with a relaxed couple of days in Fort Kochi.

Kitsch is king

kitsch is king

April saw us taking off to Sikkim, my birthday on the snow near Nathu-La, a desperate search for the Kanchenjunga from Pelling and a bone-crunching trip up North to Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley. 2009 was the year V and I took our longest holiday together – 2 weeks in Sikkim – it is usually long weekends, or a week with both ends combined, for us.

Weekend market near Pelling

market gossip

Sunset on Mt.Narsing

Sunset on Mt.Narsing

We made a couple of trips to the Sindhudurg region in June-July, where I met fellow traveler Lakshmi for the first time. Both times, we stayed at homestays managed by Culture Aangan and drove through the region, soaking in the greens of the Konkan during the rains.

Sunset at Damapur lake

Waiting

It was the year we moved to Bangalore. Just before the move, in August, we took part in the Great Driving Challenge and went to the semi-finals stage, participating in the four day audition at the Royal Palms Hotel in Mumbai. We had great fun, made new friends and several plans to resume road trips.

On to the auditions

On to the final audition...

I made several trips to Chennai through September and October to be with my parents, since my father went through a bypass surgery in early October. I managed to squeeze in a day at Melkote with friends and a three day photography workshop at Hampi with the getoffrass guys in early November.

At the Melkote temple

Walking down

Twilight in Hampi

Sunset silhouette

We ended the year with a week long visit to Sri Lanka (more on that soon) – covering mainly the Buddhist circuit around Anuradhapura and the hills of Nuwaya Eliya.

Tea at Nuwara Eliya

Wishing you a new year as happy as this smile!

Sunset at Negombo

New year, new beginnings...

Overall, the year was a bit subdued in terms of travel – ok, we did take two long holidays, but you know I am a great fan of short and several travel breaks. On the other hand, I got around to writing more regularly on this blog – which I hope to continue this year. I bought myself an SLR camera finally towards the end of the year. And I published several travel pieces in newspapers and magazines that I had not worked with before.

And the plans dreams for 2010? A couple of weeks in Europe definitely. I keep saying this at the beginning of every year – but this year, I hope to see this through. Weekends out of Bangalore (the Bandipur, Kabini circuit, Coonoor and the Nilgiris), Pushkar during the mela (again, how many years has it been now since I started saying this?), more of Rajasthan (again!) if possible or Madhya Pradesh.

Anyone game for a trip together? Give me a holler!

And so I dream on…

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