Friday, December 15, 2017

Dark forest waterfalls

This area is known for dense evergreen forest. The king cobras caught near our villages are sent to this forest!! The name “Dark forest” gives an enigmatic feeling. But it is aptly named as the sunlight struggles to reach the ground!!

Whenever I passed though the road, the name of this place always intrigued me. So was the small path that went into the forest next to the sign board. Recently, I came to know about a small waterfall inside the forest. But there was only a small window of opportunity to visit the falls. Rainy season was ruled out due to leeches and multiple stream crossings. Summer would not hold much water. It meant that only the months of November and December was the right time to visit this place.

During my recent visit to my native place, I along with my uncle and cousin visited this place. Having parked our car next to the sign board, we entered into the forest. Very soon we where in for a surprise. Leeches welcomed us with full energy which we responded with liberal application of salt on our legs!! If this was the case in the month of December, you can imagine how it would be during monsoon. 

The forest was dense, sunlight was a rare commodity here and the walk involved numerous stream crossing. We were also bit careful about the snakes that were common here. One of the previous group had encountered a king cobra that had raised its hood. They had promptly returned back!! All this was in our mind as we made our way into the forest.

The path which was clear in the beginning started to fade out as we entered deeper into the forest. We walked along the stream to reach to the top of the waterfall. It was bit tricky to get down as the forest was thick to navigate and all the trees had thorns!! Somehow, we managed to find the way through rocks.

This was the falls undisturbed by human interference. We spent a long time appreciating the beauty of the place. One should not come here expecting a huge waterfall. The experience of dense evergreen forest is something priceless. 

While it had taken an hour to reach the waterfall, the return was quick and we reached the main road in thirty minutes. Before getting into the car, we counted the number of leech bites and ensured that we do not carry those creatures back home!! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kambala, the buffalo race!!

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Kambala is a traditional buffalo race in the district of South Canara. This is a very old tradition where the two pairs of buffaloes controlled by a person is made to run on paddy fields. This was seen as a form of entertainment for rural people after harvesting season. Today, it is an organized event in the form of contest under the banner of “Kambala Samiti”. The race is normally held between the months of November and March at many places in South Canara. 

While Kambala was running for long time, I got interested only recently thanks to the “advertisement” from PETA!! Subbu was able to get schedule of Kamabal and we planned to visit on December 3rd, at Kottara, Mangaluru city. This was the newly formed Kambala ground. 

Kambala track

Normally Kambala starts at 8AM and could run for more than 24 hours depending on the number of buffalo pairs. When we reached the place at 9AM, the inauguration was just happening. While people were busy at the stage and at ground, we went around the place to have a feel of the place. Many buffalo pairs had arived and were resting at designated places. Most of them looked very strong and sturdy. It takes lot of effort and money to raise the buffaloes for the sport. Had Kambala not been there, they would have been sent to slaughter house long back. 

The rules of the game are simple. Two buffalo pairs controlled by a person run on a muddy track. Whoever comes first gets into the next level. Most likely, it is run on knockout fashion. The winner gets the money.

Photographing Kambala is quite an activity. Most of my shots were taken from the front and at ground level. This is also the difficult place to take photographs. The buffaloes are let free at the end of the race and they charge the people who are standing in the line!! So, it is important to run aside when the buffaloes finish the race. Though volunteers  are there to control the buffaloes, one need to be alert if he is standing at the ending point. 

How fast is the race? It is comparable to 100 meter race in athletics. It gets over in less than 15 seconds. That is quote commendable as the buffaloes and the person have to run on muddy water. Both buffaloes and the person look very strong!!

Will the person always be able to match the speed of the buffaloes? Not always. Sometimes he loses control!!

A zoom lens is required to get close up shots. The zoom of my lens was not good enough and I had to wait to buffaloes to come near me to get the shot!! So, I had to be agile and jump to the side before the buffaloes come. It does not look bad as it sounds!! But my wife was not very happy when I told about it. “You are getting crazy”, she told.

Very close!!
To get water droplets, the shots were taken above the shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. A good zoom lens (around 200mm) helps to take close up shots.

We underestimated the energy in Kambala race. We went there only for photography and had allocated few hours. But at the time progressed, we found ourselves fully engrossed in the game. It would have been an amazing experience if we there for the complete race.

The Kambala schedule for 2017-18 is pasted below. Might be useful if you are planning.

Last point
Kambala got embroiled into controversy when Peta claimed that the animals were tortured. My observation in Kambala was otherwise. Animals were very well treated by the owners. It is not a fight but a race. No violence at all.

Friday, December 01, 2017

My thoughts on car navigation

When you rent a car, it usually comes with bare essentials and you need to buy additional stuff. (Ex: Car navigator, baby seats, Insurance etc.) This post is mainly interned to look at whether renting the navigational equipment is worth or not. My experience from renting car comes only from foreign locations as I have not yet rented any vehicles in India.

Whenever I rented cars, I preferred to have navigational equipment from the rental company itself. There were few reasons for doing so.
  • They work in offline conditions. There are times when network is not available. Alternate sources like Google maps worked only on online mode earlier. And other maps were paid or I need to get a hacked version which I was not sure of its reliability.
  • Considered more reliable.  This is just based on my experience. The chances of the inbuilt GPS guiding towards dead end or into the fields were much less.
  • As a backup, if mobile conks off.

But my recent experiences have made me to re-think about it. 

  • When renting the car in New Zealand, I was provided with GPS equipment. When I started it in the car, it was having troubles to catch satellites. I had to go back to the rental agency and get a new one. Luckily I tested it at the airport. Else, it would have been more painful to get it changed later. 
  • In Mauritius, the GPS was completely non usable. The user interface was very user unfriendly and I could not search the destination I wanted to drive. Since the rental agency had already warned about its use, I had no option to return it back. It remained useless throughout the journey and I relied on Google Maps.
  • During my recent trip to Boston, I rented through Hertz. Until now, they were providing an inbuilt navigation equipment in car which functioned well. But this time, they provided a phone tuned for navigation with charger. When I gave the address that was about 30 miles from Airport, it asked me to drive to a state that was 600 miles away!! I rechecked the address and it was correct. Since I had an important Office meeting to attend, I did not bother about it and switched to Google Maps. While returning back to airport, I used it again as I felt that “Return to Hertz” would be more reliable than Google Maps (which could take me to Hertz but not the return area). It seemed that it worked as it correctly guided me towards the return area but it did not!! It could not differentiate between the first and the ground floor and ended up taking me to different place!! Google Maps again saved me that day.

These experiences and with the advancement of mobile technology, it does not make sense to buy GPS equipment along with rental cars.
  • Google Maps work in offline mode. Before traveling, I just select the area that I need to go and save it locally on phone. It works without issue in offline mode. Of course, you cannot get traffic information in offline mode.
  • Data connection is not a problem these days. Prepaid SIM with decent data and free calls is available at most airports for a very nominal rates. It works out much cheaper than renting GPS.
  • Google Maps comes with traffic input that is very useful. 
  • Usability options in Google Maps is much better than inbuilt GPS. While most inbuilt GPS requires proper address to be entered, no such hassles in Google Maps.
  • Near real time updates about road closures and blockades in Google Maps.

I have not used other map providers so I do not have data to compare against them. I have had many experiences where Google Maps led me to a dead end, fields and wrong address; those experiences itself warrants for a separate post, I consider them as part of travel experience!!

Let me know your views.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A short visit to Boston downtown

I had few hours to spare in Boston before taking the flight. After making quick visit to Middlesex fells, I decided to spend some time in Boston downtown. The weather was gloomy but it did not dampen by spirits!!

The central part of Boston has many narrow, one way roads making it difficult to drive. The traffic would not be intense as it was weekend but parking places are hard to find and very expensive. Hence I decided to park my car next to Sullivan square subway station on the outskirts of Boston and take subway to downtown!! In that way I could peacefully spend some time without worrying about driving.

A cold day!!
Boston subway (called as “T”) was very efficient though the trains and stations had decrepit looks. There were many options for tickets and I chose “return ticket”. The machine did not like my credit card as it did not show any response and I had to put in cash to get the tickets!! 

"India Street" in Boston!!
Unlike Europe or many other parts of the world, USA does not have much to show about its history. Boston fares bit better in this aspect as there are many events during the independence movement in 18th century. One such place was Boston Massacre site which is near to old state house.

Old state house
Nearby Faneuil hall was a nice place to sit and watch. It is mainly a shopping place with lot of open space outside. It is also interesting to see lot of street performers showing their skills in this area. I spent a lot of time just enjoying it.

Faneuil hall

A "head down" performance

Street performer at Faneuil Hall

I continued walking and reached Boston public garden. Here the Ice skating rink attracted me. Though I thought about giving a try, it did not look fun to do it alone.

Ice skating
The park had some nice ponds with some good landscapes. But a group of people were holding demonstrations for freedom (from ?). The police outnumbered demonstrators and it looked like the area was under siege. With helicopters on the sky, it looked like Boston police had a busy day. Inadvertently I stepped into the demonstration area and then police were not letting me outside!! I had to take a long detour to get out of that area. 

Boston public garden
The street performers were everywhere. Even a bucket was good enough for them to perform. They were very impressive.

Street performers
I walked along the waterfront area. One of the prominent places was “Boston tea party museum”. That was one of the historical incidents I remembered from my history textbooks and hence it felt good to be in the area where it happened.

Boston tea part museum
Boston aquarium looked really impressive but I did not had much time to spend. So it walked around the area and watched seals that were put in the public area. It was time to head back to subway station, pick my car and head to airport.

Seals at aquarium
Overall, it was a good visit though I could not cover many places.  Aquarium looked promising. Skywalk observatory would be good for some nice views of Boston skyline. Boston has many museums and would be worth visiting if you are interested in history. Nearby Harvard university and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) would be definitely interesting!!