The summer of 2017 – Nam and I were planning our first long vacation together. We were looking at 13 days in the first half of June. After working out multiple itineraries, we settled on Eastern Europe. We wanted to experience the best of what each place had to offer. This meant staying with the locals, having the best of the local cuisine, exploring the small lanes by foot and travelling light by public transport across cities – in other words, backpacking! The way I see it, there are two types of backpackers – ones who go where the roads take them and others who research and plan well ahead. It is difficult to be the first type when you are a working Indian and have less than 15 days of vacation (sigh!). Also, I prefer to be second type – it ensures that you do not miss out on the top experiences. In fact, I enjoy planning trips almost as much as the travelling. Continue reading How to Make an Itinerary→
One random weekend, Pilla, Mehta & I were chatting on our group and we realized that we’d never gone on a trip together. So we started planning for the weekend of 15th August. Potential destinations – anywhere in the southern half of India qualified as the three of us were sitting in Cochin, Hyderabad and Bangalore. After much debate, we zeroed in on Ooty, Pondicherry and Kodaikanal. And then, we went to Sri Lanka! Continue reading Backpacking in Lanka→
It was one of the weekends when Spilla was here for his project. We decided to rent out a car and go for a drive somewhere nearby. After a lot of research and debate, we decided to make for Hogenakkal Falls which was on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. We first tried Zoomcar but couldn’t get the car we wanted. Then we decided to explore other options if available and found Carzonrent who also offered self-drive cars. We did a quick check of how much the rates added up to with the distance and mileage and found that for longer drives, Carzonrent made much more sense as it was the cheaper option. We booked a Swift for our drive on Saturday.
Last time we met, we had just taken off from Chennai. You didn’t read the prequel? I suggest you do that to get the context. Won’t take more than 3 mins, I actually clocked it. It’s right here <— Click! 😛
We entered the flight happily as we had checked into the window seats. Sadly, mine – 14F – was right over the wing! Bah! The screens in front of our seats showed where we were in our 1200 km flight over the Bay of Bengal. Soon after breakfast, we began our descent towards Port Blair and saw the rising sun. There was sea all around with no land in sight and the sky was filled with magnificent red and pink. We got lower and lower and only when we were really close to the water, some islands came into view and we headed for the biggest one in sight. As we touched down at Port Blair, my heart raced thinking that, for the first time in my life, I was on a group of islands with nothing but vast sea all around me for thousands of miles!
Our taxis took us to the circuit house where we were to stay for a couple of days. Along the way, I was gripped with excitement – I had this feeling that we had come to a different world and I almost expected to see something other than regular vehicles on the roads. My bubble popped as I realised that we were still on planet earth and very much in India. However, the roads were maintained very well. I was amused to see the number plates on the vehicles with registration “AN” – first time I ever saw one. The circuit house was along the coast and overlooked the Ross Island. It was a very beautiful sight with sparkling blue water dotted with boats and the island in the background! We learnt that there was a good mix of people from all over the mainland settled here in the islands – majority were from Bengal and Tamil Nadu. After a sumptuous breakfast of chhole and ‘palak puri’, dahi vada and bread halwa, we headed for the Cellular Jail.
The Cellular Jail – or more popular as Kaala Paani – was a terrifying complex. It was well maintained with a nice courtyard and lawns but thinking of the history and the torture that the inmates were put through, anyone would cringe. As we entered, there was a hall with photos and exhibits depicting the making of the prison, the list of prisoners and the story behind this place. We proceeded to the cells which were locked with very innovative locks – would be impossible to pick it open from within.
We explored the entire prison and clicked 100’s of pics – we had 3 DSLRs in the group and 11 people, in other words, multiple combinations of solo pics, profile pics, group pics and double pics, or in other words still, a free session on “how-to-improve-your-patience” for the photographers 😛
We saw lights inside all the cells and guessed they were for the light and sound show.
So we put that on our list of things-to-do as well. On our way out, we met some friends from college who were also on a trip to Andaman – after having explored most of Kerala and the south during the two years of college, there is a very high chance that most of the college ends up in Andaman or Lakshadweep.
We collected our tickets to Jolly Buoy Island for the next day – we’d heard that it was one of the MUST DO places in Andaman. There was an incident of a boat capsizing near one of these islands in the week before we arrived. So the tourism department made it compulsory to collect tickets in advance so that boats and ferries don’t travel beyond their maximum capacity.
We then proceeded to Carbin’s Cove Beach which was on the edge of this island. The drive along Marine Drive to the beach was truly breath-taking – smooth roads curving along the coast, clear waters on the left and a gentle breeze in the hair.The beach was beautiful with a lot of coral washed ashore. We relived our childhood when we used to collects shells on the beach, but this time we picked out the most beautiful and intricate corals. We walked along the shore till the end of the beach where we found some nice photo spots.
On the way back, we had some tea and proceeded to the Cellular Jail again for the light and sound show.
We arrived quite early and decided to wait in the park opposite to the jail entrance. We whiled away time drinking loads of ginger tea (some 15 cups) and cleaned out the vendor’s stock of dal vadas (got no count of them). The other vendors gaped in wonder as this guy went back home, totally sold out, within an hour. The light and sound show began with patriotic songs and took us through the story of the prison – the plight of the prisoners, the hunger strikes, how the prisoners were made to run mills and grind oil from coconuts, David Barry the jailer and Savarkar.
We walked back from the prison to a restaurant – Light View Restaurant. As usual, we didn’t compromise on food – ordering everything fancy on the menu. After fighting it out for the tandoori chicken and stuffing ourselves with food, we decided to take a walk back to our guest house. The roads were very well lit and there were hardly any cases of crimes.
We walked along the Marine Drive, clicked some photographs on the empty roads and enjoyed the calm and silence.
It felt surreal as a deadly tsunami had struck here a few years ago. We were told that the tsunami had washed away the roads we were walking on and the water had brought in boats and trees and whatever came in the way. The administration on the island had done a great job of getting things back in order and maintaining it beautifully. We ended the eventful day with dumb charades!
Early next morning, we left for Wandoor – the place from where we had to catch our boat to Jolly Buoy Island. This island was closed for many months after the tsunami. Even now, it is still open only for 6 months in a year – when the sea is calm. The other six months, tourists are taken to Red Skin Island. We had breakfast – puri bhaji and paratha – from a Bengali hotel in Wandoor near the jetty. Plastic was not allowed and we had to get rid of our water bottles. Instead, they were renting out Milton water bottles – the type we used to carry to school.
The area had a huge group of islands – most of them preserved as is (without human intervention) – and the place was classified as a marine national park. We got into our ferry, suited up (with life-jackets, of course) and started for Jolly Buoy. The water was a very clear blue and we could see the fish cruising in the water below. The islands we passed had really tall trees and thick vegetation.
As we reached Jolly Buoy, we saw that it was an island right at the edge of the vast ocean.
We had to get off our ferry into a glass-bottomed boat to reach the island. The water here was clearer than any I had ever seen. The corals at the sea-bed were clearly visible and we saw entire schools of clown fish (in common tongue – Nemo) swimming through the corals. The boatman took us close to the shore where we got down into the beach. He kept trying to convince us to take an extra ride on the glass boat for a nominal rate (not so nominal actually). We preferred to play around in the water. After all, you never ever get to see such clear water, especially in a beach! This place could be called paradise – the white sand of the beach, the islands surrounding ours, the beautiful clear water with corals in the bottom, the sea with multiple shades of blue as the depth changed and the clouds moved above, the warm sun and the cool breeze.
It couldn’t get more picturesque than this! We all smeared on sunscreen and jumped in. We swam around in the water, played a bit of catch and repeatedly got foxed by the salty water – the clarity of the water made me think it was a swimming pool again and again and I kept burning my eyes as I went underwater! It was undoubtedly the most beautiful place I had ever been to!
We took the ferry back and came to Aberdeen Jetty (the one in Port Blair). The last boat to Ross Island was fully booked and we couldn’t make it. A bit disappointed at having missed that boat, we went for lunch at a hotel called Ananda. The food was pretty good and we were all ravenous after having spent the whole morning in the salty sea water. In the evening, we decided to explore the local Aberdeen market. Once again we met some friends from college, had dinner at Ananda (we discovered that the Paneer Kulcha there was super awesome!) and returned to our rooms!
Part One of our trip had been amazing. But we had some exciting plans for the rest of the week as we were heading to the other islands in the Andamans. I see that my nine and a half minutes have just run out.
The previous diary that I wrote of North India, had 6 parts and I decided to shorten the next trip’s account to make it reader friendly. This will be a story of 6 islands – in three parts. A trilogy is the safest bet, at least in movies – LOTR, Matrix, Bourne, Oceans, Toy Story. The only thing that works for me with more than 3 parts is Federer’s Grand Slam victories. I wouldn’t mind seeing him win a 100 times!
This part is the prequel – the one where the story takes off.
This story starts off in a supermarket where we are holding tubes of sunscreen like monkeys holding an iPhone. SPF 20, 30, 40?!! Having no clue about the technicalities, we made a rational decision like a manager – after trade-offs between the price, brand and SPF level, we picked out a few. Pleased with ourselves, we returned to college. (We later found out that our choice hadn’t really been the best one! :P)
We were a group of 11 – six from our hostel wing and five adopted members. We started our trip with steak burgers at Downtown Café in Calicut. Super Yum! We then headed to the railway station to catch the West Coast Express to Chennai. It felt like a really short trip with time flying as we played bluff and mafia.
We were welcomed the next morning at our very own Mehtaji’s home with delicious grilled sandwiches, bhel puri and sweets. I had taken on my usual role of the money bank with my camera bag acting as the ATM. We booked tickets for the movie Queen, which had recently released. And missing movies in Chennai would be a crime, given the cheap ticket prices. We checked-in for our flight the next morning so that we got window seats. All planned and set, we walked to the Marina beach. Right next to Mehtaji’s home was the main office of AIADMK (a prominent political party). The shops near the place had small photos and frames having Amma’s photo – like you get the ones for Gods near temples. Chennai is indeed different!
At the beach, we shot some balloons (with those moong dal bullets), discussed the atrocities of the college admin while sitting at the shore (will never get tired of doing that), ate a sub (chicken ham with loads of mayo) and went in for the night show at the nearby theatre. The movie was delightful and kinda fit in with what we were looking for – a last big escapade to enjoy a long trip without having to worry about deadlines or leaves.
The next morning we took taxis to the airport. We spent some time doing bakar and cracking some very punny jokes – couldn’t help it with so many Mallu’s in the group. Soon, we were on our way to Port Blair as the rickety Air India flight took off to cover the 1200 km over sea. So as promised, this prequel is where the story literally takes off. Stay tuned. Click here for Part One of “A Tale of Six Islands”
We wake up early the next day. The hangover of the snow experience is still there and it is something which I will never be able to forget.
This day was to be spent exploring Manali with its temples and monasteries and of course the “Maaaal Road” (read Shimla to understand what Maaaal Road is 😛 ). We first go to Vashishta Muni temple. The temple is a wooden structure with a slate roof.
There is a hot spring gushing out near the temple which has been converted to a public bath. The water was pretty hot indeed. However I was hoping to see more of an open hot water spring. But there is no “pool” as such. There are pipes which carry the water out of the mountain. Not entirely “natural”! 😛
The best thing about the road to Shimla is that the climb is not a painful experience. Travelling to the hills in India may not always be pleasant – going from Kozhikode to Wayanad in Kerala can be the most nauseous drive, thanks to the myriad hairpin bends and the crazy buses. Given that Shimla was more than 3 times higher in altitude than Wayanad, at 2400m, I kept my poly-bags ready. Our driver, Kalyan Singh was a Himachali through and through and the most talkative person I’ve seen. That’s what keeps him going without getting bored or sleepy – alertness is something which is really required in such treacherous terrain or the vehicle may casually slip down the slope (we saw quite a few such vehicles during the trip). This guy was a good planner and had packed these polybags before we left Delhi, as Himachal was a plastic free state. He knew the roads and mountains really well – something I relate to – remembering routes and places.
I finally got an internet connection! So I’ll continue where I left – Delhi.
After covering Delhi, our next stops were Agra and Fatehpur Sikri – a one day trip. It was part of a conducted tour. The bus left Delhi at 6 am – ya, we had to wake up early even though the previous day had been pretty tiring. Anyway, as long as you’re travelling to cool new places, these things don’t matter. Continue reading A Day filled with History and Wonders→