Friday, June 30, 2017

A heaven in western ghats

Look at the photo below. One need not go abroad to see beautiful places. Within few hours of drive from Bengaluru, we can reach such places!! On a long weekend, when half of Bengaluru throng to the nearby hill stations, Sankara and me were the only people in this place.

The village is in the heart of western ghats. Cows graze peacefully without any disturbance.

One of the interesting places in the village is a fort situated on a hill. The small rectangular complex is in ruins. Looking at the size, it does not seem to be built for living. It may have been served defense purposes. I should ask villagers about it next time!!

The weather was playing hide and seek. While it rained heavily for few minutes, it would suddenly clear for few seconds giving us an opportunity to view the scenery. 

When we looked back at the village from the hill, it looked beautiful and pristine.

Back in the village, the mist did not seem to go away. The same place looked different!!

We chitchatted with some villagers about various topics including the farm waiver which they were excited about. We heard them telling “City people get bored with their work on weekday and come to hills in weekend”. We silently nodded our heads.

We returned back from the village promising to come back again. Hope the charm still remains.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Finding Kannarama falls

With an old article in Prajavani newspaper, we had gone in search of a waterfall. No information was available in internet about this place. As we moved from highway to village road, we switched from GPS to LGPS (Local GPS)!! That always help. Locals told us that we were on wrong road and asked us to take another path. Blindly following google maps would have taken us “almost” to the village but with a mountain to cross in between!!

Kannarama falls

The road was bad and we moved slowly to ensure that the underbody of the car does not take a hit. We reached a place that looked like the end of motor able road. I showed the villagers the article with the photo of the falls and they nodded their head positively. Great!!

Like many malnad villagers, they were simple folks. They happily showed us the way to the falls. It was a short walk to the falls but the mud and slippery conditions made it difficult. Very soon we reached the stream forming that small waterfalls.

It was a small but a beautiful falls. We had to get down to the stream to have a view of it. It looked like a ultra (1/100th) small Jog falls with four branches. By then it was raining a lot and the clear water gave way to muddy color. 

Four branches!!
Climbing up from the stream was very difficult. All we needed to climb was two steps but we were continuously slipping down!! When we came up, we were in a messed up state with mud all over our body. 

Kannarama temple inside forest
A small detour from the route to the falls is the old temple. It is opened only once in a year. No one goes on other days. We were told about this when we asked about the direction to the falls. In respecting local sentiments, I stood outside the border and took a photo. An old, small and beautiful temple.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Travel back in time: A visit to “submerged bridge”

This was the bridge over a big river connecting two towns. It had a railway line too!! The construction of a reserviour over the river submerged the bridge along with many villages and forests. Now when the water level recedes, the bridge makes its appearance. The window of opportunity to visit this place is very small. It can be for few weeks in summer.
The submerged bridge
Eight years ago, I made an attempt to visit this place with my friends (Link here). The road to the bridge was still under water and we had to return back disappointed. Due to good rains in subsequent years I could not get an opportunity to visit this place. It gradually faded off from my memory. But a month ago, I saw a message from Subbu telling that the bridge has made its appearance. A quick check revealed that the water in the dam was about to reach dead storage. Knowing that the monsoon was just few days away, we quickly made a plan to visit the place.

The "road" to the bridge
The town near the place looked same like eight years back. With help from locals, we were able to find the way to the backwaters. In the meantime, we were holding our breath until we reached the backwaters due to our disappointment last time. A big relief went from all of us as we saw the water levels. It is strange to feel happy at seeing low levels of water!!

Remains of the forest
The remains of the road was very clear. The trees lined up on either side of the road had gone long back but their stumps gave a glimpse of the past. We had to park the car and walk as trenches were dug to block any vehicle movement.

First view of the bridge
It was a hot day with no shade but we enjoyed walking in the reservoir. I was feeling that we had moved back in history. The silence of the place was only broken by the chirping of the birds. It was so pristine. The landscape was barren with all trees cut.

Effect of receding waters
Within 30 minutes of walking, we saw the glimpse of the bridge. It looked near but the way was blocked by water body. We had to take a long detour to reach the bridge. At some places, we had to be careful about quick sands. 

Remains of a well and milestone
It is a old bridge and submerged for last 60 years. But it still looks strong which shows the quality of engineers and their construction in those days. The railway track is barely visible and can be easily missed. A trench has been dug to restrict any movement of vehicles. 

The ramp to the bridge
I was wondering whether there is an approach to this bridge from other side. But between the bridge and the town on the other side is a National forest that cannot be crossed.

On top of the bridge
We spent a long time at the bridge appreciating the beauty. 

Remains of the railway line
Though the place is not well known, it is famous among locals. The place becomes a heaven for drunkards. The outcome of their acts are visible in the form of broken glass bottles which has become a benchmark for Indian tourist places. One need to be careful if coming with family as the place is very remote. The drunkards become active post noon and hence it is a good idea to visit this place in the morning!! 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What was the cost of our New Zealand trip?

Lot of people have posed this question to me. Everyone knew that the trip to New Zealand is expensive and they were curious to know about the actual cost. But when I told them about the expense, most of them were surprised. I thought it would be a good idea to put some details into the expenses we had during our trip. Rarely I share the details about the cost of a trip. But there are exceptions.

Edmund Hillary in New Zealand currency
The conversion rate I considered 1 NZD = 48 INR. Cost shown below is per person.

Particulars Cost (INR)
Return flight from Bengaluru to Christchurch 74,182
Visa 5,000
Taxi in Bengaluru 500
Car rental 14,400
Rides - Gondola, helicopter, boat etc 22,440
Fuel 4,968
Food and groceries 3,888
Stay 37,500
Mobile and Internet 420
Total 1,63,298

The expense was lower than my budget (I had estimated 2 lakhs per person). Some reasons were:
  • Booking flights early. 
  • Going with local rental car instead of International companies
  • Self cooked food. This was the game changer. A decent food in restaurant easily costs more than 60 NZD and if you multiply it with 15 days, you can imagine the savings.
  • Rupee appreciation. Rupee had gained about 10% from the time I planned the trip to the actual travel dates.
  • 4 people. Most efficient to distribute costs. Whether it was rental car or stay, the cost was divided.
  • April was shoulder (Autumn) season. The crowd in general was less and prices were lower when compared to summer months (November to March).

How could I have reduced it even further with the same plan?
  • Do not opt for car insurance. It was quite some money but I decided to be safe.
  • Remove GPS from my car. But I felt that in unknown lands, it is better to have offline maps.
  • Do not buy SIM card. Though hotels provided free Wi-Fi, it was necessary to have some internet outside.
  • Take a camper van and camp. I thought about it but my family would not be comfortable with it. But it is a great option as New Zealand is very camper van friendly and there are many beautiful camping grounds.
  • Stay in low end hotels. But I was with family and no compromises were made with respect to quality of stay. New Zealand has wide variety of places to stay - from hostels to motels to high end hotels. The places I stayed were definitely not high end but were decent for family.
  • Not go that Mexican restaurant. Ah!! I can’t be so strict!!
  • Do not eat ice creams. But I can’t!!!
  • Start trip from Auckland. Auckland has better flight connectivity than Christchurch. But my focus was South Island. But if one covers North Island, starting and ending trip at Auckland makes sense.
  • Travel via Australia. Australia has few budget flights. And then we would take a flight to New Zealand. But requires Australia Visa (even for transit). Good option if someone has Australian visa and can spare some additional time.

The way I travel is by first deciding on destination and then planning for the same. I try to book early or try to find time when the flight rates are low. Or plan my finances to meet the budget. For New Zealand I did all of them!!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

New Zealand day 14: Rakaia gorge

We had skipped this place earlier due to rains. Now that the weather was clear, we decided to make a visit to the gorge.

View before Rakaia gorge
It was a short drive from Christchurch. The Rakaia river, rising from Southern alps enters into the Canterbury plains though a narrow canyon. A bridge is built on the gorge.

Mountains near the gorge
We parked our car near the gorge and went down to the river. The water was supposed to be blue but due to recent rains it had turned muddy. 

Rakaia gorge bridge
A walkway of about 10km takes through some of the beautiful view points overlooking the gorge. Unlike the walkways we saw in New Zealand this was “raw” with little maintenance. But it gives a different feeling.

View from walkway
The walkway went along the river providing some nice views of the gorge, river and the mountains nearby. Our plan was to walk as much as possible and return back. I knew with family it will not be possible to go through the entire walkway. 

A mushroom on the pth
Mt. Hutt and Lake Coleridge are located nearby but it requires a 4 wheel vehicle. Mt. Hutt is also a famous Ski area in winter.

View of Rakaia river from walkway

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

New Zealand day 13: Hanmer springs

It was raining heavily when we got up in the morning. The wind speed was considerably high. The cyclone (or whatever remained after passing thousands of kilometers) was passing through bringing in the last spell of rain. The weather predicted to improve dramatically in the noon. Believing that prediction, I asked everyone to be ready to move by 10AM. Looking at the rains, my family was not fully convinced about the weather!! But predictions were on the dot.

Thermal pools of Hanmer springs
Hanmer springs is built around the hot springs. Unlike in Himalayas, you can’y find them in natural places as they are channeled into thermal pools and spa. 

Hanmer Springs town
The journey was uneventful as we passed though some of the beautiful landscapes and small passes. 

Scenery on the way
Hanmer Springs was another small beautiful town. Access to thermal pools was restricted. A ticket need to be brought to enter into the pools. For 2$ you can chose just to roam around the pool without getting into waters. 

Mountains on the way to Hanmer springs
This was the only place in New Zealand where we felt it was “crowded”. But it was a large area with several pools. 

Hanmer springs
After the pools, we spent a long time in roaming around the town. We hired a family pedal cycle just for the sake of experience!!

Hanmer springs town
Hanmer Springs is definitely a great place to visit. It would be a good idea to put it at the end of the trip to relax in those hot water pools!!

Pedal cycle!!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

New Zealand day 11 and 12: Rainy days!!

Though I changed my itinerary to escape from rains, it could not be avoided completely. Almost all places of New Zealand were forecasted to get rain for those two days. We could still have gone to some places but then it was not fun to visit during rains. And some places like Kaikoura were cut off due to landslides and flooding. “Why not we take it light?”, we thought. Until then we had mainly covered the country side of New Zealand. Why not cover some parts of the city? My family also wanted to do some shopping and the rains gave a good opportunity!!

A park in Christchurch
On one of the days when it rained heavily we visited  International Antarctic centre near Christchurch airport. Since the chances of us visiting Antarctica was very low, it looked like a perfect fit!!

Tanu experiencing polar storm!!
It was a nice experience at the centre where lot of information about Antarctica was provided. Haggling ride, 4D theatre and polar storm experience were the highlights of the place. My family was extremely happy about the place.

Small blue penguins
Until then we had only eaten self cooked food. There was some “pressure” on me to take them to a restaurant. And so we went to a Mexican restaurant. While Chaya and I cherished the food, my mom and Tanu hated it. We had to pack their food and later I and Chaya consumed it for dinner!! That was the only time we had food at the restaurant in New Zealand. 

Tanu looking small!!
Next day, we went for Christchurch city tour. There was tram ride that took tourists to various places of interest. Since it was expensive and tram ride was not new to us, we decided to walk along the tram route!! That was quite pleasant.

Christchurch tram

Bridge of remembrance, a war memorial dedicated to those who died in World War 1.

Bridge of remembrance
Christchurch was devastated by 2013 earthquake. The glimpse of that could be seen at the Cathedral which is not yet restored.

Christchurch cathedral
A good amount of time was also spent on shopping. Nothing much was purchased but we roamed around the shopping complex.

Tram route in Christchurch
As the weather conditions were expected to improve we made plan for the last two days of our stay in New Zealand.