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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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
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
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.
North Point – My first experience with underwater world
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
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.
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.
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
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.