Category Archives: Travel

Blogs about my travel

A journey that was the destination

After multiple attempts to write a detailed blog on our Himalayan journey, I published this post to share a small part of the experience using an office Sway page. Check this out to get a glimpse of our journey and the destination

https://sway.com/s/glQ1a9qsH1wCbdJB/embed

Also, a video song to capture the mood:

The route 

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Temple Tour of Tamil Nadu

 

 

 

Dindigul Melkote

–          Mahesh Hegde

View a slideshow of my photos from this trip on Flickr

I wanted to write this blog the very next day after I came back from this trip in 2007. However, since I didn’t have a blog site running at that time, I kept this for later. It was less than a year since I bought a new Tata Indica Turbo, and I had already done about 30,000 Kms on it by now. It was three of us who decided to go for a south Indian road trip to reach the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kanyakumari. Rameshwaram was the other place we wanted to cover. We did not have any other plan. We had three people, one car, two SLR cameras and the spirit to explore. Three of us included Lalith who was my roommate at that time alias “7 up boy” because he looks like Fido from the 7 up ad. The second person was Raghu my cousin and last myself. Raghu and I were the “Drivers” while Lalith enjoyed the chauffeur ride as he was legally not entitled to drive at that time as he didn’t have a license yet.

It was almost noon by the time we left Bangalore. We didn’t know the exact time required to go till Kanyakumari, we just knew we had to drive all the way south on NH7 which will take us to the tip of the subcontinent. As expected, as soon as we crossed the Karnataka border, we could see the drastic improvement in the road, which was much wider, smoother and straighter. NH7 is a part of the North – South corridor project and at that time the construction was half way through and there were many places we had to switch from left side of the road to the right. But considering the traffic was pretty low and we were enjoying the ride. The turbocharger in my car made driving on the highway a real pleasure. Our first stop was somewhere after Krishnagiri where we saw some interesting landscape and the highway wrapping around a small hill which we felt was a good location for some photos.

We continued our journey and as we approached Salem, we had a flat tire. It was my mistake to miss a pot hole. I had a similar problem in my trip to Kerala on this car. The problem was that I had changed to allow wheels and not upgraded the tire size to match the alloys. So, when I run over a pot hole at a high speed, nothing happens to the alloys, but the tires get cut. I got a new tire fixed at Salem where we had something to eat and continued south on NH7.

Our next stop was a place which we had not heard much about, Dindigul. This is a small town just about 40 kms from Madurai. We saw a relatively big rock mountain and a temple on top of it and were eager to find out what it was. After enquiring from the locals we reached the base of the mountain, parked our car and started climbing the steps which were carved out of the rock. The steps are similar to what you find in Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. On top of the rock was a fort and we found that lot of Muslims were also climbing the rock. We found it strange because there was a temple on top and Muslims climbing the rock! Later we discovered that the temple was abandoned and there was no worship going on there. The fort on top of the rock was built by Tipu Sultan. We were not aware that that Tipu’s kingdom extended till Dindigul. Dindigul has been a sensitive town where there have been instances of communal violence between Hindu’s and Muslims. The evening sun gave us excellent lighting to take some of the most memorable pictures of the trip. It was clear skies and a crisp sunlight.

Abandoned Temple on Dindigul Melkote
Abandoned Temple – Dindigul Fort
Line of fire – Dindigul
Photo session atop Dindigul Melkote

By nightfall we were in Madurai and it took us quite a lot of time to find a descent hotel to stay with descent food. The next day early in the morning we were out to see the world famous Meenakshi temple complex. As we entered the complex it was obvious to us that there was a time in Indian history, when the rulers showed off their power by building huge temples. Also, towns were growing around temples, i.e. temples were the fuel for growth of cities. The meenakshi temple is really huge and probably the biggest temple I had seen till date. There are 4 entrances and huge “Gopuras” at each entrance. In addition to the gopuras at the entrances, there are more gopuras inside the temple compounds for each smaller temples. The theertha or water tank inside the temple compound adds to the beauty. A 360 degree view of Madurai temple can be seen here http://www.view360.in/virtualtour/madurai/

We were done with the temple early in the day and left for the second stretch of our journey from Madurai to Kanyakumari. After about 50 kms from Madurai the landscape changed very drastically and so did the civilization. There were hardly any villages or towns in sight for very long stretches. There were probably stretches with 50 kms and no village. We realized that because we were looking for a tea shop by the side of the road and it took us very long to find one. The landscape was barren and only few palm trees scattered.

Deserted landscape south of Madurai – NH7
Vertical Rises near Kanyakumari

This barren land was very much like a desert until we were about 50 kms from Kanyakumari  where things changed drastically. NH7 passes through a huge wind farm with hundreds or even thousands of windmills and at the horizon we could see the last few mountains of the subcontinent, behind the mountains we knew was God’s own country – Kerala. We took some time off from driving and took some good snaps here.

Wind farm near Kanyakumari

It was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Kanyakumari. However, we just had enough time to check in to a hotel with a view of the Vivekananda rock memorial and rush towards a place on the west coast where we could see a nice sunset. Kanyakumari is sandwiched between Arabian Sea and bay of Bengal. The Indian ocean lies to the south. This is the point where all three huge water bodies meet. We noticed that each sea had its own character to it. They have their own color, texture of waves and of course size. At the time we were there the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean were more violent than the Bay of Bengal. Probably it is different in seasons due to change in wind directions.

After dark the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar Statue are lit up with very nice lights and are a feast for the eyes and also beautiful subjects for a photographer. The lights are up till about 9 pm and make sure you have a tripod if you want to take some good snaps. That was the end of a very long day.

Kanyakumari – on a full moon night
Thiruvalluvar – Standing bright and high

It was about 5 a.m. when someone was knocking at our hotel door. It sounded like some fire and the hotel boys were trying to alert everyone in the room. In fact it was something really amazing. They were waking us up to see a spectacular sight which happens every morning in Kanyakumari before the sunrise. All the fishermen set out to sea in small boats and thousands of them. Each boat has a small lantern and the sight of thousands of boats setting off to sea is amazing and we could witness this from the balcony of our room. This is a sight one must see in Kanyakumari. We decided to spend an additional day in this place just to see the sight of boats the next morning for another time.

Sunrise and the fishing boats – Kanyakumari
Sunrise and the fishing boats – Kanyakumari
First sunrise at Kanyakumari

Later in the morning we went on the shuttle boats to check out the Rock memorial and the Statue which is the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent and the view from both these places is breathtaking. Looking back at the peninsula from these islands I realized what a great nation begins here. The afternoon, we set off towards Kerala and ended up in a strange place at a much unexplored beach which was really long, wide and very clean. Since, this was some place between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we asked a local guy there, who served us some good herbal tea, if the name of the place is Keral Nadu and to our surprise it was called Kerala Nadu!! We were the only tourists in this place which is less known to public.

After spending another night in Kanyakumari we set off to Rameshwaram. We thought the best possible route was via Tuticorn, but this turned out to be a very bad road. The best way is to go back to Madurai and take the national highway. Finally, we were on the Pamban Bridge which is the second largest sea link in India and also the first sea link to be built in India.

Walk over Pambam – One of India’s longest sea links

This connects mainland India with Rameshwaram Island. The 2.3 Km Bridge is so long that we cannot see the other end of the bridge. After an hour’s photo shoot here we went to Rameshwaram and checked into hotel Tamil Nadu. A cheap hotel operated by the government.

The Rameshwaram Temple is known for its huge 1000 pillar corridors which is big enough for elephant procession to pass. Also, there are couple of dozen of ponds or Theertha’s or holy waters where Hindus cleanse themselves of all sins. The pillar corridors and Dhanushkodi are two must see places in Rameshwaram.

Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Some well preserved parts of Rameshwaram temple

Dhanushkodi is a strange landscape carved by the Cyclone in 1964 that damaged the entire village. The only way to get to Dhanushkodi is by old rickety jeeps or tempos. You need to cross vast flat sand plains sandwiched by Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. You can appreciate the different character of the two water bodies here. The Indian ocean is very violent and deep and Bay of Bengal is shallow and calm.

Our Ride to Dhanushkodi – 4WD SUV!!
Enroute Dhanushkodi
Violent Indian Ocean – Dhanushkodi
Characters of the two Seas – Bay of Bengal & Indian Ocean
Trying to understand the strange landscape at Dhanushkodi
The Trio @ Dhanushkodi

After spending the day in Rameshwaram, we headed back towards Bangalore and visited a couple of places near Coimbatore the next day. One of them was called Thirumurthymalai, known for its Dattatreya temple in the valley between three hills and the other was Palani, known for its Subramanya / Shanmuga temple. The Palani temple is accessible by a rope way built on the hillside. The landscape from the hill is very scenic as you can see another hill with a temple on top. Anytime I am in Coimbatore I make sure I visit Annapoorna / Gourishankar restaurant which serves amazing south Indian food, especially Dosas. This hotel is locates opposite to Hoteal Tamil Nadu near the bus stand.

The route back from Coimbatore was via Sathyamangalam. The forests once ruled by the famous brigand Veerappan. We took this route as we wanted to stay in Mysore for a day before heading back to the grind in Bangalore.

Dimbham Ghat – Sathy – Mysore

Tanjavoor / Tanjore temple was not covered in this trip of ours, but I made a promise to myself that I will visit the Tanjore temple and the Golden temple at Vellore sometime. Without these, the temple tour of Tamil Nadu is incomplete. In 2011 I visited the Tanjore temple and was amazed by the size of the temple structure which was build thousands of years ago by the Chola King Raja Raja. The “Big” temple in Tanjore is surely the best maintained temple in Tamil Nadu; it is well preserved and also maintained well. Tanjore temple emphasizes on how important the temples were in that time and how they were the centre of the economy and the towns. Entire towns were designed around a temple at that time. Just like the way in which towns are designed around IT parks today.

Click here to see a gallery of photos from Tanjore

To summarize the story, we had a memorable time and also some memorable photographs, which I will cherish throughout my life.

Chevy Beat – Futuristic n Feature Rich

–          Mahesh Hegde

White Chevrolet Beat

Let me give you an introduction to my driving history before I start off the Chevy Beat ownership review. My first car like many people in India was a Maruti 800 followed by a Peugeot 309, Opel Corsa 1.3, Tata Indica Turbo and now a Chevy beat. I have driven each of these cars over 50, 000 kms and the Indica I have done a 100,000 +. So my overall driving experience is close to 300,000 kms. Considering the earth’s perimeter is around 40,000 kms. That is I could have driven over 7 times around the world or I could have driven around the world at least once in each car that I owned. Other than the cars that I had I have also driven other cars which include Ambassador, Fiat Primier Padmini, Fiat Elegant, Premier 118NE, Toyota Qualis, Mahindra Scorpio, Tata Sump, Force / Tempo Trax, Maruti Omni, Suzuki Swift, Tata Safari, Tata Indigo Dicor / CS / LS, Tata Indica Vista, Fiat Linea, Fiat Punto 70PS / 90 PS / 1.2 /1.4, Hyundai i10, Hyundai Gets, Ford Fiesta, Figo, ikon, Toyota Matrix, Corolla, Innova,  Chrysler PT Cruizer, Seebring, Chevrolet Impala, …… the list goes on. By now I am sure you will agree that I have a pretty good driving experience to write a full review for a car.

I had done 100,000 on my Indica Turbo and was looking to change my car. These were the options I considered and the reason I rejected them

1.       Ford Figo – This is a miniature Ford Fusion, Fusion has better ground clearance, Figo is expensive dull looking and does not have powe windows on rear even in the fully loaded model.

2.       VW Polo – Underpowered, Noisy, dealer in Bangalore failed to get me a test drive even after repeated calls from my side. The reason they gave was that their demo car met with an accident!!

3.       Nissan Micra – The dealer called me back after I bought the Beat to give me a test drive I had repeatedly requested two months back.

4.       Hyundai I10 Kappa – There are too many i10 on road and looks are 4 years old

5.       Alto K10 – The gearbox is very rough and engine noisy. Looks have not been upgraded for almost a decade.

6.       Indica Vista – After I had very high maintenance on my Tata Indica Turbo never again will I buy a TATA.

7.       Fiat Punto – A great car but only the 90PS version is actually good. Which is highly expensive (almost INR 900,000 !!!)

So I bought a Chevrolet Beat and these were some key aspects that convinced me to buy a beat

1.       The looks are mind blowing and looks like a car from the future

2.       The engine is extremely silent and refined

3.       Excellent interiors and ergonomics

4.       Rich features – Auto AC (Climate control), great built in sound system with a radio that can catch a Bangalore FM channel even in Mysore (thanks to the long antenna) These are some of them.

5.       GM service has been really good and also the Spark which I have and driven for 30,000 kms is doing really well and very low maintenance

Some known limitations in Beat. (I was well aware of these before buying):

1.       Back seats are comfortable for even six footers, however, back seat is designed for two people. Three people on back seat is a bit of a struggle.

2.       The boot space is limited.

3.       Ground clearance could have been better. (however, it is much better than Ford Figo)

First 1000 Kms:

Driving the beat was like slicing butter. It’s so smooth and refined you don’t want to speed in this car, you just feel like cruising slowly which gives a feeling that you are floating on the road. Thanks to the excellent noise insulation, most of the noise outside the car is cut off. I was extra careful while crossing road humps because the clearance is very low. However, till now I have not come across any road hump that really touches the chassis. Yes, sometimes the mud flaps and the silencer scrape the humps. So in spite of the low clearance the design has taken care of the bad Indian road terrain. I completed 1000 Kms within two weeks and had the checkup done. Free checkup cost INR 0.

Chevy Beat - No number yet

Next review at 5000 Kms:

I went to my native place Nisarani, a village in Sorab Taluk, Shimoga District for Ganesha festival and due to rains the road was totally messed up. This road is the worst road I will ever take my car into. My uncles have different cars who also came there in Fiesta, Linea which both got stuck in the sludge. Surprisingly The Chevy Spark (my Dad’s) and my Beat cleared the stretch quite easily!! I was really sad that my new car became so dirty, so for the next 2 days I washed the car and kept it untouched until I left for Bangalore after the festival. The whole journey from Bangalore to Mysore to Nisarani and back is about 1000 kms and I enjoyed the ride without any issues. I was really happy that in spite of the long drives I didn’t get any body pains. If I had done the same in my Indica I required at least a day’s rest to recover from the pain and stress.

I didn’t speed beyond 100 kms per hour on any occasion till I completed the 5000 Kms service. Also I didn’t feel like speeding as the beat was so cool and silent to cruise. I felt the lack of the torque through out the drives and I assumed that they had limited the ECU to check the torque till I get the first service done at 5K. This may be a hangover of my Indica Turbo’s torque filled engine.

After the First Service at 5K:

I got the first service done within two months and the bill was Rs 480, that too only because I had asked for wheel alignment and balancing. I thought the first oil change was at 5K however, was surprised to hear that the oil change is only at 15K intervals. That’s great and lower the maintenance cost even further.

The vehicle pickup and torque drastically increased after the first service and I wanted to check out how the engine revs at higher speeds. On the weekly ride to Bangalore from Mysore I left late in the night at about 9 p.m. to rip the car and test the maneuverability of the car. The engine has a super cool wrooom sound when it revs beyond 3.5K rpm. The sound is similar to the 1.4 L petrol Fiat Punto. The actual torque band of the Beat is between 3500 and 4500 rpm it’s a bit high but the engine is very happy to rev so gives u a sporty car king of a feeling to drive.  I have hit speeds up to 140 kmph with five people on board an a/c running. The car has small tires but is very stable, you get the feeling of driving a sedan. Thanks to the quality interiors and a large 3 spoke steering wheel which has a grip to park your thumb. The tilt adjustment is another handy feature to improve on the ergonomics of the driver’s seat. Other reviewers say that you need to change to wider tires to get a good drive on the beat, however, I disagree with that.

Back seat space is something Beat fails to beat the competition at. But if you want to buy a Beat please buy it as a car for 4 people and you will not regret.

The sparkling fog lamps are something I really want to talk about. The laps have a nice chrome ring and large reflector which make the fog lamps stand out.

I was not able to find photos of a white color Chevrolet Beat on the net. So I want to post a photo here.

Chevy Beat in White

Next review at 10000 Kms:

In just about six months I completed 10,000 kms and it is going great. Just before the 10k service I went on a weekend round trip of total 1200 kms from Bangalore – Salem – Trichy – Tanjavur – Karaikal (Pondycherry) and back. I got am amazing mileage of 16.7 in the overall trip with 4 people and ac on all the time. When, I had a Tata Indica Turbo, after a 400 kms one way drive on sunday, it was impossible for me to go to office on monday. In the Beat, after driving for 1200 kms on the weekend I was in Office at 10 am on Monday morning. Thanks to the great ergonomics.

After the trip to Pondycherry I came to Mysore and got the 10K service done. Only major cost was the pollen and dust filter replacement. Other things were wheel rotation, alignment and balancing. Oil did not require top up. Service bill, 1500 Rs. I spent another 800 Rs extra to get a 3M polish done. The car really looks new and all the micro – scratches were gone after the 3M polish.

We bought a Nissan Xtrail and I was driving it before I got my Beat back from the service, when I switched back to Beat I could really feel the high level of refinement, noise reduction and precise handling. Going great so far.

Karaikal Port in the background - Pondicherry

Review after 15 K:

Couple of weeks ago I finished 15k on my Beat and the car is going as good as new. The car is giving me the same mileage, in fact on one of the long drives to my native Sagar from Bangalore I got a mileage of 18.3 kmpl. You must consider the fact that I left early in the morning and the temperature was very cool ~ 20 deg C and very less traffic on the highway. I got a few scratches on the front bonnet, but they are not visible as they are on the bottom side. These scratches are from my little off-roading I did to get my car into a ferry that takes the car over the backwaters of Linganmakki. This saved me almost 40 kms while going from Sagar to Kodachadri.

On way to Kodachadri

The bill on the 15k service (major service as there is an oil and filter change) was a very descent 2000 Rs. I was expecting something around 4 – 5 k. Also, I got a free 3M polish done as I had complained that the previous polish had worn out pretty soon. Since the rains have kicked in Bangalore earlier than June I bought a new pair of mats at Reliance Auto world and also a mat for the boot at Trident. I am very happy with the service I have got at Trident in Mysore and I complemented the service guy for the free polish.

Review after 20 K:

This time when I left the car for service I asked the technician not to change the pollen and dust filter as I did not find the necessity. The service bill was about Rs. 1600 and only part I changed was few screws for the mud flap and the wiper blade. Since I drive a lot in rainy weather I usually have the wiper blade changed once every year. The car is going on as smooth as ever. It has been a year since I bought the car and I could not have asked for any better performance from the car or service from the dealers.

After about 23k, the tires are giving way a little bit when I braked hard at high speed, which I feel is quite normal for a non – ABS version. I still do not see the necessity of ABS or bigger tires. In fact my cousin bought the newly launched diesel version of the car which I also test drove. The diesel version has many improvements and some drawbacks. The major improvement is the ground clearance and suspension. The drawback is the somewhat noisy 3 cylinder engine, a hypersensitive steering with almost zero feedback and the pricing. The diesel Beat is not as competitively priced as the petrol variant. The fully loaded diesel (LT) costs about 6.3 L on road in Bangalore. I had paid about 4.75 for my petrol Beat LT. In spite of the high petrol rate You may still want to go for the petrol variant. Here is why –

I have driven my cat about 25000 kms in a year. altough i get a mileage of 16+, let us take the worst case mileage as 15.

25000 / 15 = 1666.67 literes of petrol

Average rate of petrol per litre is 70

1666 * 70 = Rs. 1,16,000 approx

If it were diesel let us say average rate of diesel was Rs 45 per litre

1666 * 45 = Rs. 75,000 approx

1.16 – 0.75 = Rs 41,000

to recover the difference money paid for the Diesel variant about Rs. 1.55 L, I will have to drive the car for at least 3.8 years and 25,000 kms each year. Most of the city users do not drive more than 10,000 kms per year and for them it will be more than 8 years before they recover the extra money paid for diesel. I have made a few assumptions here that the diesel car will also give 15 kmpl mileage. however, the Beat diesel gives more. But, to compensate for that, you can consider the interest you pay for the extra Rs. 1.5 L. Although the new diesels they say are low on maintenance, I do not believe it, simply because of the higher vibration in diesels cars, there has to be more wear and tear in diesel if you go by the laws of physics. Hence, I do not see a significant difference between petrol and diesel in the long term cost of ownership costs. If the government decides to remove subsidy for diesel, which they are considering, then, you will have to think many times before buying a diesel. Also, I am sure most of you will agree that the level of comfort and performance in a petrol is any time better than that of diesel.

Before I close the 20k review, I must mention that I normally do not rive the car without AC. However, this time I travelled to my native for Ganesh chaturti, I just wanted to check the mileage of my car without the AC and to my surprise I got 19.7 kmpl !! the best mileage I have got in any car I owned till now. I suppose, there is a significant difference in mileage without AC.

Come back to check out my next review at 30k

Conclusions with my experience with beat till now:

Ride Quality:

Suspension is very sturdy on bumpy roads, little bumpy, rolling is significant for rear passengers.

Power:

Little underpowered when new. Really good power for a 1.2 L after the first service at 5000kms. The power and torque really opens up between 3500 – 4500 rpm.

Mileage:

14.5 with AC in the city. 16 with AC on the highway.

Brakes: Too good. It’s a bit dangerous as the car behind you may hit you if you brake hard.

Finish:

Excellent finish, minimal and consistent panel gaps.

Refinement:

Highly refined engine, refinement is extended to the whole car and not just the engine.

Space:

Front seats are very spacious in fact the legroom is better than the Ford Fiesta sedan. Back space although looks small is comfortable for tall people. However, not very comfortable for 3 people at the back. The back seat is rounded off at the corner and could have provided better thigh support if the seat cushion was bigger. Same problem in Spark as well.

Handling:

Others say you need to upgrade tyres, I do not agree with that. The existing tyres itself gives a good handling up to speeds of 100 – 110 kms per hour. So you may want to upgrade tyres if you drive faster than that. There are not too many roads in India designed for higher speeds.

Interiors:

Overall:

If you have a thirst for refinement, futuristic design and believe in the Chevrolet service like I do, go for this car.

Links:

Ownership Review on Team BHP

Team BHP official review

Some more photos

On the way back from Mullayyanagiri, Chickmagalur
Rainbow, Hill, Windmills, Beat - Perfect photo op
Chevy beat - Front Close up

Complete Gallery:

Andaman Islands – A paradise every Indian must see

–          Mahesh Hegde

View a slideshow of my photos from this trip on Flickr

My Job in L-3 India took me to various places around the world including Canada, South Korea, Khandala / Lonavala …. The most interesting of the places my job has taken me is to Andaman Islands. I was in Port Blair Andaman for giving a training to Indian Navy personnel for a week followed by a vacation for about 5 days.

It all started when the requirement for giving training in Andaman came up in office and lot of people wanted to take up this task including me. There was not much discussion in office for this assignment as Madhukar and I were pretty senior we were the chosen ones (actually there were not too many choices as people do not like to give trainings).

Since this kind of an opportunity does not come very often I decided to take my wife Prashanti along so that I can have a great time during my vacation in Andaman. So what happened to start as a teaching assignment, ended up as a training assignment + an extended vacation with my wife.

We had to take two flights to reach Port Blair and this is how Madhukar was after our first flight from Bangalore to Chennai.

Sleeping Madhukar @ Chennai Airport

Thanks to the scarce seats at Chennai airport. The sad part about it is that if you have to transfer from one domestic flight to other you need to go out of the airport and come back in! Luckily you do not have to check in again. Chennai to Port Blair flight was longer than what I expected. It is a hard to believe fact that Andaman is closer to Burma than India. Please don’t be surprised if people ask you weather you need a passport / Visa to go to Andaman. Many people have asked me that assuming that Andaman is a separate country!

This was my first glimpse of the Andaman Islands from the plane. I just said WOOW!! Photography is banned in the Port Blair Airport so the air hostess asked me to switch off my phone as soon as I took this.

First view of Andaman

Landing in the Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair, named after the freedom fighter who had once escaped from the jail in Andaman, the weather was pretty hot and humid, but not as bad as Chennai. We picked up bags and met our driver who was holding a placard outside the airport. I had no idea about the common cabs in Port Blair; I was expecting at least a Tata Indica. To my disappointment our cab happened to be a rickety old Ambassador which we had to bear with for the rest of the week. We got into the Amby and then came our next surprise as the car started to take us towards our “VIP” accommodation!! We were driving on the airport runway!!!! I couldn’t believe this; I have seen the airport vehicles run on a runway sometimes, and also some defense vehicles allowed on the runway like in Pune airport. This was the first time I came across a civilian car being allowed to go on the runway. Here is a picture I took, you can observe a black dot far on the runway is a chopper trying to take off while we enjoy the “Runway Crossing”

Runway Crossing

It was a very hot Day and we were first taken to a Navy Commander’s residence who arranged accommodation for us in Andaman. I really envy this Commander’s sea facing house, although the house was an old Government building, the view of the sea from the living room was awesome. It reminded me of one of the hotels in Ulsan, South Korea where I used to stay which has a cool view of the ocean. We were shown our accommodation at the officer’s mess which was kind of descent but the air conditioning was not sufficient to fight the heat. So on day two we decided to move to a hotel SeaShells a highly recommended place to stay.

Cellular Jail – Kaala Paani

Sound & Light Show @ Cellular Jail / Kaala Paani

Our first tourist spot we saw was the cellular jail in Port Blair which has a distressing history behind it. You can walk through the empty corridors of the jail which once was filled with the determination and sorrow of the freedom fighters who were deported from the main land to this jail nick names Kaala Paani. This website gives a lot more info on this jail which is a National Monument today. The sound and light show which is conducted every evening at the Jail tell about the story of the jail in the sight of a tree which stands in the jail’s gardens. A very touching story makes u realize the cost of freedom. This is a must see if you are in Andaman.

During the entire week we spend the days on board Indian Navy Ship INS Kesari which is one of the Shardul class ships in service as a Landing Ship Tank (Large). This type of ships are exceptionally valuable in rescue missions during Tsunami and other natural mishaps as they have the capability to beach in shallow waters, where other ships cannot enter. These ships also have a huge storage space where you can play a casual game of cricket or soccer J this space is used to store tanks and trucks in battle or to transport people and supplies during emergencies. I had worked on the project to design and deploy an Integrated Machinery Control System (IMCS). Madhukar and I spent most of the week giving training to the Navy personnel on board the ship on the IMCS. We spent the evening checking out places within Port Blair like, the Marina / Water Sports Complex and Ross Island.

Ross Island – The Strange contrast

View of Ross Island from Cellular Jail

We chose Ross Island over Mount Harriet National park (Highest peak in Andaman) and in the end I feel we took a good decision. If you have seen the Cellular Jail you must also visit Ross Island as the history of these two places are linked. Exactly across the jail is this Island called Ross Island which was the administrative headquarters of Andaman now managed by the Indian Navy as INS Jarawa named after the tribal group of Andaman. When the freedom fighters were struggling in the Jail the British enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle in Ross Island where they had club houses, ball room, cricket and tennis grounds, spotted deer, peacocks and a lovely white sand beach with crystal clear ocean waters. It is said that the British used the local tribes and the inmates to build their paradise in Ross Island. Ross Island takes u back in time and boosts the respect you have for our Nation’s freedom fighters.

Tsunami hit beach @ Ross Island

North Point – My first experience with underwater world

Corals of Andaman

On the last day on board the ship we had the privilege to meet the Captain of the ship we were giving training on. After we were presented with some mementos Captain asked us what plans we had for the next day, we told him that we were planning snorkeling in North Point. The Captain instructed one of his Commanders and an expert diver who free dives for more than 50 feet to guide us the next day. The next day we started early from our hotel and were surprised to see that at about 5.30 am college and school students were ready to catch their bus to the school. This seems normal in Andaman as the sun rises early there compared to the mainland India. We left the jetty at about 6 am in a small inflatable motor boat. It took us about half an hour to get to North Point. I also had brought my wife along and it was her first experience on a boat like this. It was our first experience at snorkeling for all three of us (Madhukar, my wife and me). The ride to North Point was little bumpy as we had some small waves in the sea due to cool breeze from the east. Once we reached North Point we got some lessons on how to use the snorkeling gear from the Navy Commander Madhukar was the first who wanted to jump into the sea which he tried for about 10 minutes and gave up (for the time being). So it was me who jumped into the sea first. The water was warm and comfortable and the early morning sun was not very harsh. I put on the snorkeling gear and then Commander gave me a quick tour of the corals at North Point. Woooow!!! I never expected the underwater world to be so beautiful, rich and breathtaking, colorful corals, variety of shapes, strange creatures and fish – lots of them. This moment is the most memorable one of my trip to Andaman. After Madhukar saw me in the water, he got more confidence and he also jumped in. Then, my wife joined me in the water and I took her for a tour holding her in one hand and swimming using my other hand. Although, my wife does not know how to swim, we had some floats to help her stay on the surface of the water. All of us enjoyed the spectacular views of the corals lit by the slant rays of the early morning sun in the crystal clear waters. Some of the corals here were really huge, probably as huge as an elephant. I really missed an underwater HD camera to capture the moments. The absence of any tourists as it was early in the morning made the place even better.

We were snorkeling for almost over an hour. Once we were done, I took my wife for a quick tour of the Naval ship and then we were dropped back to the jetty from where we went to our hotel in the Amby by about 9 a.m.

Some facts about North Point:

–          North Point appears on the back of the Indian 20 rupee note

–          This is the first point of reference for navigation on Indian Territory for incoming vessels from the east; there is a light house here on top of a small hill to guide the boats.

Havelock Island – Thick tropical forests, mangroves, one of Asia’s best beaches

Makkruzz Catamaran @ Havelock Jetty

This island is about 2-3 hours by sea from Port Blair and a must visit if you want to see some really great beaches and thick tropical forest. There are two boats that operate between Port Blair and Havelock. The best option is the private “Cruize” This is a very efficient boat and since it’s a catamaran hull it is also fast and takes about an hour and a half. This is very similar to the ferries from Busan to Okpo in South Korea.  Beware as the private boat may be cancelled if the weather is bad. On our return trip the private boat was cancelled and so we had to take the only other option i.e. the Government operated boat. The government operated ferry stinks, makes u puke and also takes almost double the time. I somehow managed to stay stable after the 3 hour journey, but most people did not!

We arrived in Havelock at about noon, the resort where we were booked (SeaShells Havelock) has a small private beach lined with mangrove trees. The resort is setup in a coconut plantation and has several independent wooden cottages which are maintained well. You really do not feel like going out of this place. The resort arranges vehicles and boats to visit the different parts of the island.

Seashells Resort Havelock

The first location we checked out was Elephant Beach. To go to Elephant beach we took a scary motor boat from the Havelock jetty. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Elephant beach. A rare feature about the beaches of Havelock is that the beaches have a rich tropical forest backdrop lined up with really huge trees. A “glass bottom” motor boat at this beach was very useful to take some pictures of the colorful and shallow coral reefs. The corals here are really colorful and there are lots of varieties. However I felt that the corals at North Point are bigger. Snorkeling in Havelock was banned when we visited as a crocodile had lately killed a foreign tourist.

Back in the resort in the night I spent some time taking pictures of the resort at night. The next day we had planned to visit one of Asia’s best beaches.

After a heavy breakfast, we started for Radhanagar Beach which is about 15 Kms from our resort. Once we reached Radhanagar we were disappointed as the sky was overcast and the waves were too high for swimming. We were probably the only tourists on the beautiful beach. Setup against a thick tropical forest lined up with huge trees. The clouds started to clear, as the sun started shining we could see the different shades of blue in the water due to the varying depth of the ocean bed. The colors were incredible. A photo op and this is the result.

Radhanagar Beach Havelock

More tourists started coming in and I enjoyed swimming in the beach, hitting against the waves & jumping on them. Just as I started coming out of the water the clouds were coming in from the sea and the sun still shining on the beach. It was a perfect moment and a perfect photo reflecting the spirit and the weather of Andaman.

As we packed off from the beach for lunch, I took a final look at the beach and the sea and thought this is the best beach I have ever seen.

Key attractions at Havelock:

–          Radhanagar beach

–          Boat ride through the mangrove trees

–          Corals at Elephant beach

–          Neil Island – Beaches and Corals – this is a smaller island beside Havelock

Waiting for the boat at Havelock Jetty

Havelock was the last place we visited. We took the Govt. ferry to get back to Port Blair and took the next day early morning flight back to Bangalore via Chennai. The next time I go to Andaman I would like to take the Great Andaman Trunk road all the way to the top most Islands in Andaman and check out the sand bars connecting two islands there. I have heard a lot about this place. We could not do it on this trip due to time constrains and uncertainty about the road. Sometimes this road is closed to preserve the tribal people who live along the road.

Travelling without a plan keeps you healthy

–          Mahesh Hegde

Most of the times when I or we a group of friends plan for a trip, IT FAILS, it fails miserably. Probably it never takes off. So my policy about a travel is – Never plan. I would like to quote an incident when we were in 3rd year of engineering and we all friends Planned a trip to Goa. The idea was first brought up by a friend who was the first to pull out of the plan then the rest of them followed. I am sure most friends who planned for this trip and reading this will know who I’m talking about.

When you do not plan a trip you are like having an open mind to go anywhere and do anything. So there is an element of surprise when you do not plan. In addition to it, there is also the excitement of what is going to happen next. This excitement keeps your tempo up and the blood pressure slightly higher than normal so when there is blood circulation in the body is good, which in turn keeps you healthy.

So if you want to be healthy travel without a plan. This, I feel is an extension of the famous statement “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” by Lao Tzu

I modify the above quote and say “A good and healthy traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

! Caution: This blog is not meant for BP patients. 🙂  You guys better plan.