Peek of a Peak: Kang Yatse 2

On our way from Thochungtse to Nimaling valley

After finalising on Kang Yatse 2, I had my travel arrangements in place and waited eagerly for Jul 12. I had stopped my cross fit training a couple of days before leaving to give my body the required rest before starting the expedition. Plus, I started experiencing lower back pain which would turn out to be a slipped disc case just after a month. Ignoring such rarest possibility emerging out of a lower back pain, I started visualising the summit day and my excitement to be on the top of the world. Having said that, I was also prepared for possibility of being barred from attempting the summit by the trek leader.

Clouds hovering over Kang Yatse
Unpredictable weather on the peak

On 22nd of July at around 12:15 AM, I could sense some bustle going on around the tent. I was unable to sleep due to anxiety over the summit chase we were attempting this night. Last afternoon, we could spot some trekkers coming down the glacier after their summit who looked so minuscule on this mighty creation of nature. I woke up Suresh and Siddharth and we packed our bags with crampons, ice axe, water and food. It was pitch dark and cold. Also, it was a lucky day for us as the weather was calm, both at the base camp and on the peak. Geared with a layer of breathable thermals, quick dry t-shirts and down jackets, we started climbing towards the glacier. I must say it was pretty steep. We couldn’t climb more than 15 steps at a time. The oxygen getting diminished gradually could be felt. After 3 hours of climb, we reached a point at around 5700m where actual glacier trek would begin. After adorning ourselves with harnesses, gaiters, crampons, helmets and ice axe, the guide called upon us to come one by one so that he could tie us by the rope. And then, we continued towards the silent dark.

All 8 of us were in-line secured by a rope. It was a good slope: some 45 degrees. We had to dig our crampon-ed feet in the snow to stay still. One step at a time without wasting much energy. Anyone barely spoke, except the guide. We just treaded through the way, in the dark. Dawn broke over the mountain at around 05:30. With slight light to guide our way, we could see the whitewashed arena. So sacred it felt! Not a single speck of dust, not a single change in colour: Just White! And what’s down there on right hand side? Vast emptiness. It was such a huge glacier! With this kind of slope, anyone would be afraid to slide down. After some 20 minutes of sluggish walking, I asked my friend to look right. He got equally horrified as I because what we were looking at was a whole mass of black cloud approaching us from a distance. I have never seen such a huge black vapour ball so close in my entire lifetime. ‘It must be normal‘, I convinced myself, as the guide was not bothered about it coming towards us like a storm.

Moving ahead, the light got stronger and the views got more astounding. Even though the atmosphere was harsh, the ultimate landscapes paid for it. The clouds disappeared for some time. It gave us a scope to greet other mountains surrounding Kang Yatse which were relatively smaller. The sole fact that no other mountain in my farthest sight was higher than the one I was standing on right then made me feel contended and proud. The patterns formed by the snow-topped Himalayas were breathtakingly fantastic. It seemed like the mountains had draped white rugs to beautify themselves. Some beautiful things come at a good cost and I am glad I paid that cost. (Don’t think in terms of money!)

Also READ: A nature trek at Bir, Himachal Pradesh

Time was an illusion there; so was space. When your mind and body both start playing games with you, you might not know how to react. That’s why rigorous physical and mental training is required. My body weight suddenly felt doubled to me. Each walking step was a mourning gut. Crampons can be blamed as equally as should be thanked. Without them, you are nowhere on a glacier. Wind gushed through us from all the directions. What we wore: The scientific layering of clothing, seemed useless suddenly. Never had I ever felt so dry from inside, constantly in a need of a sip of water which, given our task, was pretty much limited. Even to reach my water bottle strapped in my backpack, I couldn’t garner enough courage to remove the double-layered gloves. We were so exhausted that after every 4 steps, we would need a break. But no one is ever rich enough in terms of time when we do an expedition. There’s a turnaround time and there’s a protocol. Mountains should never be underestimated.

We were gaining height with every step. With every other climbing step, the air became thinner. To survive in this beautiful abode was a test of our ability and will. It’s also important in such conditions how supporting your partners are. Fortunately, I had great motivators in my gang. I remember when one of us at the end of the rope felt disgustingly frightened and was shouting at this height because one of our climbing guides, the only person behind him, took a short break to fix the rope, all of us energy-deprived guys motivated him till the guide returned. Anyone among us in his place would have got terrified. Loads of love for this group!

After some time, we encountered a steep slope to climb to save some time. It required strong use of ice axe. This half a kilogram tool could support more than five times my body weight if properly affixed by the pick. The quality of technical equipments and the expertise of guide matter a lot on the mountains. We encountered a minor crevasse on our way up the slope which we had to jump through by fixing our axe above the crevasse and bouncing our bodies with the push of our legs with full power to get to the other side. It was a daunting task at that altitude for us. Strength training came to help during this moment.

We kept climbing the mountain until we came to a small plain area. Well, it looked relatively plainer. Resting our backs on an elevated, tilted portion of a huge rock, we took out our food supplies. After 10 mins of breather, our guide called to continue. With huge spirits, we all got up on our metal feet. Our trembling legs just had some 200m left to climb for the summit. My breathing frequency had escalated to 5 times the normal. My limbs felt numb. My chest expanded and mouth wide open in search of oxygen. The two sides of the brain started debating with each other whether to continue or not. The side which suggested to continue won. But merely after 20m further, the other side reclaimed its victory. Yes, I stopped there. It seems like a difficult decision but believe me, at that altitude, in those conditions, it was so simple, so relieving! The others continued, apart from us two.

The trek was a much required experience. It officially started on 16th July after two initial days reserved for acclimatisation at Leh during which we strolled down the main roads and small streets of the city and had local cuisines serve our guts.

Chilling (3200m): some 55 km from Leh, served as our starting point as it does for some real good treks including Chadar trek. From Chilling, we had a small trek of around 3-4 hours towards Skiu (3400m). The terrain was monotonously barren on the first day. Skiu was relatively greener and had a river by the camp side. To our excitement, we spotted a double rainbow carving its way between the mountains and forming a canopy over the river. Day 2 showed us a long trek from Skiu to Markha (3700m). Markha valley is so beautiful that in the arid deserts of Ladakh, you cannot imagine such a green place. Thochungtse (4200m) was our next destination which again proved to be an exhausting trek of 7 hours. The locals we met on the way and the journey itself was so beautiful that all our exhaustion melted away. On day 4, we camped at Nimaling (4720m) which was a pretty exposed plain green area resting between Kongmaru-la on the left and Kang Yatse base camp towards the right. The last camping site would be the base camp at 5150m. From here, we could see our goal: KY2. The hide and seek between the clouds and the mountains didn’t allow us to get a clearer picture of Kang Yatse twin peaks till the next day. It looked beautiful and dreadful at the same time.

I would never say I would regret the decision to stop before the summit. The mountain will always be there and I can always come back provided I am alive, fit and fine. It is really important to know our limits and stop whenever required to. It is not about proving our mental fitness but it is about being wise in a calculated manner during such situations. You can map such situations to real life and see the results for yourselves.

This blog comes in relevance to one of my previous blogs on preparing for high altitude treks. Also, if you are planning to build up stamina and endurance, running is a great exercise. Visit my blog on running to know more.

Longwa: Best kept secret of Nagaland

Indigenous authenticity is lost nearly everywhere you travel in this world, be it the jungle safaris of Kaziranga, mountain trek at McLeodganj or the culinary tours at Delhi. To me, everything seemed staged until a short village tour to Longwa to understand Naga culture. This Konyak village truly proved to be an exception. This place hasn’t yet completely gone hand-in-hand with the rest of the world and this will be apparent  from their way of living. You may end up damaging your back on the rickety and dusty roads of Nagaland to reach this village on Indo-Myanmar border, but believe me, a visit to Longwa is worth this troublesome ride.

Longwa huts
Longwa huts

What is this place?

Longwa is a small village situated in Mon district of Nagaland. It is approximately 40 km from Mon town and is a bordering village to Myanmar (Burma). The last-living fiercest headhunters of all the times can be found here. The king, or Angh as they call, lives here and rules over 70 villages, some of the villages being in Burma. The residents here hold a dual citizenship of India and Burma. You can easily hop into Burma territory for a few meters without any visa hassles. The Konyak tribe of Nagaland resides here and without any doubt, they exhibit true warrior in their personalities.

 

You will definitely not be welcomed with usual flashy tourist boards and hotels and food stalls. A little more than a couple of homestays suffices the tourism requirements of this place. Locals might be ignorant and aggressive towards you. They will not entertain you taking photos of them, neither will they allow you to peek into their businesses. Kids most probably will not want to cuddle along and elders will not be interested in talking about their lives here. This place apparently has an unwelcoming aura as it is untouched by the outside world. But believe me, it has its own beauty, and I loved it to the core.

People here don’t know Hindi or English except for a few. So if you are planning to visit Longwa, make sure you have a good guide who can walk you around and introduce you to the aboriginal culture of this place. One such person I found here owns a homestay named Longsha Homestay. As soon as you enter the village, you will find this magnificient  hut on the right side with Naga log drum outside the homestay and a well designed 300-year old sliding wooden main gate. But before you directly just appear here, you might want to contact the owner Longsha to check if the accommodation is available and someone is free to roam you around. We were served by his younger brother Anock, who has a proper knack of this village’s cultures and Naga traditions. He speaks exceptionally good English and Nagamese.

Contact:

Longsha Homestay
Mobile: +91 9436433504 / +91 8974390751
Email: longshawangnao@gmail.com

This homestay made my whole Nagaland trip fruitful. It really has got something in it which you need to experience yourself to understand. The whole family serves you in the best possible way. And the charges!? 800 per room when we went.

How to reach Longwa?

To reach Mon, you have two options:

  1. Fly from any other city to Guwahati. There is a rail route from Guwahati to Bhojo (12 hr). After reaching Bhojo, catch a shared Jeep or Auto to Sonari (1 hr), a village on Assam-Nagaland border. Finally catch a shared Jeep to Mon (3 hr).
  2. Fly till Dimapur and catch a direct bus to Mon which takes around 15 hours. A few buses run from Kohima as well which will pass Dimapur on the way. The roads at Nagaland are in pathetic condition and thus, it’s better to avoid this option.

 

To reach Longwa, you will have to book a Jeep from Mon town in advance. It is a 2 hours journey. The shared Jeeps go at 7 AM and 1 PM and costs somewhere around 170 bucks per person. While returning as well, you will have to do an advance booking for Jeeps at 7.30 AM and 10.30 AM. Post that, you can find your luck hitch-hiking. Advance bookings can be done for you by the homestay owner wherever you stay as was done for us by Longsha, on request.

What to see?

One of the interesting spots to visit at Longwa would be Chief Angh’s palace. The house is half in India and half in Burma. The king was apparently in his 30s, thanks to the absolute monarchy. He rules over 70 villages across India and Burma. And, he has 30 wives!

 

Another place where Anock took us was the Indo-Myanmar Border pillar. You can see the village landscapes of both India and Burma from the top. Peaceful destination. Nagaland is so green!

On the way to the border pillar, you will come across Vice Chief’s grand hut. Visit this welcoming person to get a glimpse on the current scenarios at Longwa. He had 7 wives and was quite an enthusiastic host for us.

The renowned tattooed headhunters:

The first glimpse of a headhunter. Oh, how can I forget that! He was sitting silently in the sunlight outside his friend’s home with kids around. He had large bone earpieces installed in his ears and real good tattoos all over his face. He still prefers to stick to the same attire as he might have done in his headhunting days. The artistic head cap and the tribal dress. And he was 85 years old. The wrinkles on his face soaking the fading tattoo were very prominent. Quite a photogenic person!

We entered in a shady hut with cow-dung flooring and minimal equipments. He had lost his wife but had his next generation taking care of him. Being face to face with an executioner, how does it feel? He surely had a glorious history attached with his tattoos. Head hunting carried glamour, respect and pride in those days. Headhunters used to cut off enemy’s head and proudly hung them outside the entrance of their homes. More the number of headhuntings, more the number of tattoos on the face until it goes down the neck.

We asked him if he still feels proud that he murdered 4 humans? And his honest reply turned towards remorse and guilt. And he thanked missionaries for a complete stop to this practice.

Food …!

With 11 districts and 17 different tribes, Naga cuisine is not limited to a handful of dishes but has actual assortment in itself. Nagamese pallate is quite questionable according to some. Their non-vegetarian diet includes not only porks and dogs but also rodents, insects, reptiles and birds. Non-veggies, come down to see what is called variety. You can try snails, frogs, grasshoppers, eels, field mice and many more.

Vegetarian options are pretty much limited. You will mostly end up eating rice, dal and dry potato curry with boiled yam and spinach. Do try some Naga chilli (Bhut Jalokia in Assam) if you are at Nagaland.

Happy state with Opium?

Originally, the British brought Opium seeds here to subside headhuntings done by the locals. But now, opium has become an addiction for young lads and old guys alike.

The smell of opium. It’s still fresh in my memory. Opium is illegal in India and whatever supply these guys get, comes from Burma. Nearly every other household smokes opium when it gets dark and they will be happy to share the same with you. A strip of 5×10 cm costed around Rs.100 which is sufficient for two persons with an average capacity. The procedure to prepare opium smoke is different but fairly simple. Locals smoke it with thick bong made out of Bamboo.

Bonus tip: Locals will like it if you bring drinks with you. We carried McDowell’s full rum with us and had it while having opium. The music, the opium and the rum. What an amalgam! Also, you can purchase drinks here in black so no need to carry it from the main town.

Nights are breezy, starry and definitely cold. Sun sets at 4.30 and you would be left with nothing to do in the dark in this village. This is when the above combination comes into life. You can now listen to the stories locals have to tell while getting high unconsciously and gradually submerge yourself in the history of this place.

Mixing up with the Nagas:

Most of the Nagamese people don’t know Hindi or English but they love Hindi songs. I was carrying my Ukulele and we started singing old Hindi songs in front of the fireplace. The locals were more than happy and accompanied us. Ye sham mastani madhosh kiye jaye! Such magical moments and bright faces all across. This is the kind of experience we don’t usually get.

 

And beware of the kids. They might throw a stone or two at you. If you want to play along with them, allure them with some tricks like show them the funny picture or boomerangs you clicked of them secretly. You can opt to carry candies and offer them while on the village walk.

Also, to help the locals economically, grab some goodies at a small market near Angh’s house. Or else, grab them from your homestay. Necklaces, earrings, chillums, masks, pots, etc.

Some words of caution:

  1. Never click anyone without their permission here. You might end up paying money.
  2. Shared taxi timings and availability are very much limited. Book your stay and commute in advance.
  3. The only ATM you can find will be in Mon town. So carry sufficient cash with you.
  4. Don’t expect luxury. Instead, experience the rustic atmosphere and live in it.
  5. There are no restaurants in the village. Carry your own stock of munchies with you, just in case.

Naga guys are exceptionally good. What they eat, how they behave, how they live is a part of their culture which is unique in itself and we should respect that.

This place has given me serious nostalgia. The bright faces and the authentic charm of the people here, the serenity and the harmony of this place will definitely call me back pretty soon.

Preparing for high altitude treks

Kang Yatse

And finally, after months of contemplation and efforts, I could manage to do my first high altitude trek. A lot of questions revolved around my mind when I planned to invest nearly all my vacation days in a solitary, outlying place in the depths of Himalayas. I thought of sharing some common concepts here about high altitude treks. Inbox me if you still have any questions.

Idea in mind

The whole idea of a trek erupted after I read a Facebook ad about Stok Kangri by an adventure group emphasizing the statement- ’Highest trekkable peak in India’. Such ads quite excite the target audience like me. I did a real good research on what this peak is, whose name I haven’t ever heard of. Web search dictates this peak as one of the highest trekkable destinations in India with a cloud touching altitude of 6153m. Six thousand meters! The highest I had ever done till that date was 4200m in Himachal and never thought that some normal naive trekker with limited climbing experience can summit a SIX THOUSAND meters peak. It really excited me to dig further about it.

Further reading and a few discussions with diverse adventure groups suggested that Stok Kangri has become a commonplace. People don’t even get proper place to erect their tents at the base camp. And indeed, it is very much crowded. You won’t be able to figure out  if your tent is on a poop. Even people who haven’t got trained enough for the trek attempt the summit. They face the consequences later. Neverthless, the word ‘CROWDED’ itself drained all my interest in this peak and I began my search for similar such peaks in India. As a matter of fact, the peaks in 6000m club are mostly at Ladakh. I found a couple of others, certified as ‘trekkable or require minor mountaineering skills’. These peaks were namely Kang Yatse 2 in Markha valley (6250m. Remember, Kang Yatse 1 at 6400m is very much technical.) and Mentok Kangri (6400m) in Tso Moriri region of Ladakh.

Kang Yatse 2 or any such high altitude peak for that matter, I later learned, is not that straight forward and requires you to build quite a good amount of endurance, strength and stamina. If you are going there without getting trained, you might end up quitting even before you reach the base camp. In many circumstances, one might face AMS as well. So beware to do your homework starting a couple of months before the start of your trek. I did a lot of crossfit sessions and running sessions before I considered myself fit for it.

READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Reason to train

Okay. I got your question. Why do we need training?

In the Himalayas, it’s not just about going down the trail. After a certain altitude (say 2500m), human body faces the effects of altitude. This is because of the decrease in environmental air pressure as the altitude increases, which results in decrease in the amount of oxygen. If your body doesn’t get the required amount of oxygen, it will not work efficiently. The brain itself, even though it weighs just 5% of the total body weight, uses around 15% of the oxygen the body gets.

Building physical endurance

Now how does training help?

  1. Proper cardio exercises like running, swimming or even cycling can help build the cardiopulmonary systems stronger and also build the required endurance. If your lungs have more capacity to hold oxygen, it will be beneficial where the oxygen is less.
  2. Breathing exercises will help you gain control over your heart beats.
  3. Some high intensity trainings like crossfit and boxing will make your body adapt to less amount of oxygen.
  4. A little strength training can add icing to the cake as you need to carry your own body weight plus the backpack up on the hills while ferrying from one camp to the other.
  5. Apart from this, it’s better if you follow a proper diet (not for reducing weight!!). Increase the intake of protein, iron, antioxidants and vital vitamins in your food. This will help build immunity and increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your body.
  6. Plus, a complete no-no to cigarettes and alcohol before a couple of months and during the trek.

Also READ: How to start running

Building mental endurance

Physical training is absolutely necessary but what most of the crowd miss out is a proper mental endurance. Due to high popularity and glamour such kind of expeditions carry, most of the people don’t understand the importance of mental preparation which is required. This is mainly because majority of the crowd is first timer for high altitude treks and have not been exposed to such unforgiving conditions before.

Following are some of the ways to build the same:

  1. Build confidence in yourself that you can do it. Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and the resulting effects on your body and mind.
  2. Visualize the game before starting it. Look for the complete picture, read the blogs by people who have already did the trek, converse with your trek leaders about diverse terrains to be encountered.
  3. Build your passion towards travel and motivate yourself and the team. As your brain might not function normally at higher altitudes leading to depression and negative vibes, it’s your will power and the control over your mind which will define your achievement in the end.
  4. Understand your limits and build tendency to accept failures. Even if you are not able to do it today, you can always come back with better preparation tomorrow. Mountain will always be there. At least, you will get to know your limits and the areas to work on.

Things to carry

For the summit day, you will require crampons/snow boots, gaiters, ice axe and a helmet which are normally provided by the adventure group you would be associated with. You are required to get your own basic trekking and winter gear. For me, the most difficult part was to decide on what to wear during the trek and how much to pack in the bag. It’s a common rule that your backpack should be light.

You should read about a real good explanation on the concept of layering of clothes here.

I carried the things mentioned below for the trek which I have shared on my Insta as well. I got nearly everything from Decathlon.

Backpack stuff
Things to carry for a high altitude trek
  1. 60L backpack
  2. Rain cover for the backpack (40-60L)
  3. 20-35L backpack (useful for the summit day)
  4. 10L daypack (useful in your initial acclimatization days)
  5. Couple of quick dry breathable t-shirts
  6. Couple of pairs of quick dry breathable socks for trek, woolen socks and one pair of woolen gloves (just in case), muffler
  7. Waterproof trekking shoes (>=5000mm. Make sure the midsole of the shoe is not very soft. For me, Forclaz 500 did the job. It costed me around 5000 bucks.)
  8. Flip-flops or sneakers (useful while on the camps)
  9. Biodegradable garbage bags (can be used as laundry dry bags as well)
  10. Toilet kit (sunscreen with >=40 SPF is most important)
  11. Notepad and pen, energy bars, reusable water bottles(2), napkins, head cap
  12. Tiffin box, cup, spoon
  13. Quick dry towel
  14. Down jacket (or a fleece jacket, for the cold)
  15. Waterproof and thus, windproof shell jacket (RET 12. This will not keep you warm. It will just protect you from wind and water.)
  16. UV protective polarized sun glasses (most important), night glasses (optional)
  17. Breathable inners or thermals
  18. Light weight hiking pants (couple of them will do)
  19. Baliclavas
  20. Identity documents (for permit to climb mountain)
  21. Headtorch (you will need it for the summit day and while on the camp), lighter, compass, camphors, insect repellant, playing cards, carabiners, scissors, clips, fevi sticks
  22. Medical kit

It was a mixed feeling of gamble, mystery, excitement and fear.

At an altitude of 6200m, this summit chase was my first ever high altitude trek. Proper training is required to conquer such a height, as already mentioned by me, and Cultfit helped me in my quest.

A lot of time, energy and money was spent for this trip and it is worth all the resources.

A day out in and around Lepakshi​

Open area outside Lepakshi main temple

I had just one day off last weekend. Although Bangalore is quite self-sufficient when it comes to visiting local attractions, going for a shopping or hanging out for a quick beer, it still lags behind the other metropolis across the country if a day outing is being looked for. With such a small list of places to plan a day travel, there are a few gems which actually need to get a push in the tourism sector. One such place is Lepakshi, which I believe many of us haven’t heard of. Just for a brief introduction, Lepakshi is a small temple town in Ananthpur district of Andhra Pradesh known for its 16th-century architectural marvel in the form of Veerabhadra temple.

This place got my attention when I looked for places near Bangalore, rich in history and architecture, after my trip to Hampi. I found Badami and Lepakshi worth visiting. You can easily drive your way to this religious place called Lepakshi as it is well connected to National Highways. Just follow the NH-44 till Kodikonda where you need to take a sharp left towards Lepakshi road. It takes around 2-3 hours to cover this 130 km stretch and submit yourself to the marvelous art and get lost within the temple premises. Other options are buses, cabs and trains. Hindupur is the nearest railway station located around 15 km from Lepakshi.

Entry gate of Lepakshi temple
Entry gate of Lepakshi temple

As soon as you enter the town, you are welcomed by a huge monolithic Nandi, a 4.5m high sculpture of a bull. The Nandi directly faces the Shiva-Linga which is inside the main temple.

Beautiful carvings on the entry gate of Veerabhadra temple
Beautiful carvings on the entry gate of Veerabhadra temple

The wonderful carvings on the stones starting right from the entry gate to every other pillar, each having its own story, is a jackpot for art-lovers. Not only the pillars but the colorfully painted ceilings tell many tales. You just have to look up. It is said that the 24 by 14 ft. fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling before the main sanctum sanctorum is the largest in India of any single figure. There is a Shiva-Linga, a Hanuman-Linga, a Rama-Linga and a Padmavati statue inside the main temple.

The array of magical musical pillars
The array of magical musical pillars

The quaint miraculous structures like the hanging pillar and the musical pillars are heart-throbs. Many people who visit this temple aren’t aware of the hanging pillar. When I was there, I saw a person resting with its support without any knowledge of what he is resting on. I asked this person to move a little off the pillar. Then I took out a piece of paper from my bag to slide it beneath the hanging structure. People opened up their eyes in awe and started clicking pictures.  When you get outside the main temple, you will see that the temple is surrounded by 70 pillars. By looking at its drum-like, grooved structure, I reckoned they must be similar to the musical pillars at Vishnu temple at Hampi. I tried to play this stone with my fingers, and yes, it produced an enchanting sound. Every other pillar has its own pitch. I really wonder what these 16th-century people might have done in unison with these musical pillars.

Intricate carvings on the temple walls
Intricate carvings on the temple walls

Also at the temple’s outer enclosure, you will see a mammoth Ganesha statue hewn in stone and leaning against a rock. Perpendicular to it is a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. There is this Kalyana Mandapam, which was never completely built. It’s quite photogenic and people, as usual, had their selfies and group clicks shot. There’s also this huge foot engraved on the ground, which is supposed to be Hanuman’s foot. It was nearly 10 times as bigger as mine. This puts a question to my inquisitive mind- “Are we shrinking?”

The incomplete Kalyana Mantapa
The incomplete Kalyana Mantapa

The thing I liked about this temple is not only its features but also the kind of peace and tranquillity we look for in a religious place. This place is hot all year-round and thus, morning time is the best time to explore this place.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

Wonderful structures at the back of the temple
Wonderful structures at the back of the temple

Nearby places of interest:

If you happen to visit Lepakshi, you can also visit Dharmavaram (around 90 km) for its famous silk sarees and Veerapuram (around 40 km) for the painted storks all around the village (Dec till June). If you have spare time and would like to visit a model village, don’t miss this beautiful Proto Village near Tekalodu, which is on the way to Bangalore. The exact location of this village is: Proto Village location

TripHobo: A review

Planning trips has never been easy, especially when you are not accustomed to this activity before. TripHobo is one of the many online travel itinerary planners which is gradually setting its foot harder in the market and gaining popularity amongst the ‘wanna travel’ crowd.

TripHobo is a one-stop shop for everything a traveler needs. It contains more than 7 lac readymade itineraries for around 140k+ destinations across the globe. These itineraries are happily handcrafted by its customers who have visited these places. In case you want to cook it in your own style, imagine yourself, being one of its customers, having a whole platform with all the elements you need to create a perfect-for-yourself itinerary. And this itinerary may serve thousands of nomads and groups. Collaboration has always worked in the favor of humanity. Creating itineraries includes everything from flight bookings to hotel bookings, local attractions to visit and popular places to eat at. It has got a really optimized visual algorithmic trip planner.

Apart from this, TripHobo has got a diverse collection of travel blogs from various in-house and guest travel bloggers across the world. This section contains not only the conventional ‘Things to Do’ write-ups but also some of the hidden attractions most of the travel industry isn’t aware of. In addition, it has got the finest pro tips for your travel.

And in case, you don’t need to read or create the itinerary for your trip and want to rely totally on the tour operators, you have got this nice option as well here. And it’s perfectly fine as tour operators are the ones who have ruled the travel industry for decades before the internet revolution began. TripHobo does this job easy through ‘Tours’ section. With optimal pricing, instant confirmation, live guide, pick-up service and easy cancellation and refunds, this feature is like an icing on the cake.

We all are aware that the concept of ‘Do It Yourself’ trips or DIY trips as they call, is gaining ground as people don’t want to stick to a fixed menu. Sudden plans are becoming more and more visible nowadays. And in this age, when we cannot always afford to spend the time to plan trips due to our busy schedules, TripHobo can be a savior. Also, irrespective of the age group, a person sitting in front of computer or mobile should be able to plan things easily. Simplicity always wins and there is always a scope for TripHobo to go simpler in its design.

Some other key points I observed being a reviewer:

  1. TripHobo has a really nice website along with a mobile app. Their mobile app seems to be a bit clumsy and they need to fix some real issues.
  2. A major part of the application is user-driven. Itinerary creation helps thousands of people. Triphobo should consider giving rewards to such users who would then like to revisit the website/app more frequently and do their future travel bookings through them. A win-win situation for both TripHobo and its customers.
  3. Solo travel’ is gaining popularity these days and for such travelers on a shoe-string budget, there needs to be an integration of hotel search with hostel search.
  4. Apart from just the tourist destinations, they should try including small and ‘till-now-unpopular’ destinations which have a great scope for tourism.

TripHobo was officially launched in 2013. In such a short time, this company has got a huge repository and user attention compared to the other competitors like Inspirock, Mygola, etc.

Way to go, TripHobo! 😊

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

9 reasons to travel Goa during Monsoons

9 reasons to travel Goa during monsoons

Goa has been such a craze among Indian youngsters and expat hippies alike. No wonder, it has got a lot of vibrant and clean beaches, appealing crowd, and easy-on-pocket drinks making it one of the best places to visit in India. And then, there exists this cliché that every one of us hears more often – “Visiting Goa in monsoons is a waste”. And I am not sure how many people have actually visited Goa in monsoons before saying this. I believe it’s a word of mouth.

I recently solo backpacked to Goa during monsoons and I couldn’t stop myself from sharing some of the reasons to visit this beautiful place at this time.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

It may not be the best time to visit Goa but here are a few reasons why you should try it:

1. Good bye to the suntanned skin and stay energetic!

We all know that the usually sultry weather and the tanning heat drain most of our energy when we travel in Goa during daytime. Why not try monsoons instead to get rid of most of this part? It will be differently pleasant.

2. Experience bliss by driving through the lush green windy ghats.

Most of us don’t know that Goa has got a really good mountain side rather than only beaches. Like any other ghats you would love to drive along, Goa too has to offer many wonderful places along the beautiful and majestic Western Ghats ranges, which are at their best in monsoons. Anmod, Chorla, and Amboli ghats are a few to list out.

anmod ghat goa
Perfect driveway on the windy roads of Goa.

3. Chapora. Like never before.

Experience Chapora fort distinctly. Sit on the bordering walls of the Chapora fort facing the majestic Arabian sea and pray for the rains to happen. Your eyes will struggle to remain open by the splash of sweet water on your face and you will be drenched every inch. The beautiful sight will make you feel like all the seas are merging together till the horizon and you are a part of it. It’s different.

view from chapora fort goa
Enthralling view of the Arabian sea from Chapora fort

4. Mountain trek, beach trek, jungle trek. Name it!

Monsoon is the best time to trek along the many scenic destinations at Goa. Mountain Trek from Dudhsagar falls, Beach Trek from Keri to Arambol or any other Jungle Trek in wildlife sanctuaries can make your day. And the good news is, unlike any other wildlife sanctuaries in India which are closed during monsoons, the ones at Goa are open throughout the year. Cheers!

jungle trek goa
Jungle Trek at Goa

5. Stay lavishly in less than half the costs. Travel cheaper!

Believe me, this is true. When I came here in monsoons, even some of the 5-star resorts were already offering up to 80% discount on stay. Who would like to miss this golden opportunity to stay at lavish resorts at this cheap price? Not only the resorts but most of the standard hotels, backpackers’ hostels and lodges have their prices cut during this season and you cannot ask for any cheaper rates. If you are solo backpacking, check out Pappi Chulo near Vagator beach.

Not only this. The flight tickets during this period will be the best deal you can get!

beach resort at Goa
A beach resort at Goa
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Pappi Chulo hostel near Vagator beach

6. Learn about local spices and herbs at spice plantations in Goa

India is popular for producing a variety of spices and Goa is no different. The colorful and fragrant spices, however attractive they might look at the shops, will be amazing to see in their natural habitats and monsoons enhance the beauty of this place. Vanilla (Yes, you read it right! Our favorite flavor!), cardamom, saffron, and nutmeg are some of the amazing spices you will get to learn about. Most of the spice plantations are located near Ponda village. So get ready to enter the pollution-free zone and admire the nature. Also, ditch the beer and try local cashew Feni and toddy palm Feni.

7. Indulge in the history of this place

Goa has got a rich history. You can plan a visit to other forts apart from Chapora. Cabo De Rama, Aguada and Corjuem Reis Mogos are a few to enlist. Apart from forts, Goa houses a number of beautiful churches like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine and Se Cathedral. Delve deeper into the immaculate Portuguese architecture at these places.

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Remains of the mighty Cabo de Rama fort in South Goa

8. Want to try a different water sport? Row your own kayak

No water sports? Okay, no worries. If you happen to be at Palolem beach in South Goa, while walking towards the sunset point, you will observe a stretch of still water where you can do Kayaking. Grab a kayak on rent from a local shop nearby and row your way to the middle of the sea. And if it rains, it will be an adventure. Just ask the locals there about any risks, make sure you wear safety gear and don’t go too far. (Beginners, please be a spectator. Don’t try it!)

Kayaking at Goa
Kayaking is an exciting adventure sport

9. Discover yourself, party hard and stay green

Lastly, I must say, in monsoons, when there is lesser crowd, you can spend some time with yourself. The beaches will be all yours and their beauty will be all different. Parties will still be on at popular places like Curlies, Shiva’s and Tito’s and may be with happy hours extended. Drinks will still be tax-free and seafood will be fresh and at its best. Our clean and green Goa will be cleaner and greener.

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View from Rajbag beach in South Goa

Also, if you want to try an alternative to Goa, you can check out my blog on Gokarna. It’s a peaceful place with splendid beaches and an admirable scope for trekking and camping.

Why to travel solo?

Why to travel solo

A lot of people have been asking me this one simple question which has a lot of answers. Why go Solo? It always adheres to one notion – “Security and boredom of being alone have to be compromised”. But believe me, it’s not true and even if it is, you will get over it. Here are a few reasons why you should try it.

1. Meet new people

meet new people

People say they are social and extrovert. Are you gregarious enough to meet new and varied people every other day? And are you willing to listen to the different stories of people from different corners of the world? Stories about their lives, stories about their adventures. Also, in turn, are you interested in telling them stories about your life, your adventures? I say, go solo! 

2. Earn respect

Earn respect

Traveling alone also gains a lot of attention and respect from other fellow travelers or the locals you encounter. You will always find help wherever you step your foot at. You will not just find an easy assistance, but may be a company along whom you can tag up with and save costs and efforts during your travel. You will make friends with the locals which might help you on your next trip there. And then you start respecting yourself more.

3. Gain benefits

gain benefits

Land up at a decent hotel or a restaurant. Tell them you are traveling solo. And may be you will get a discount on the services, better facilities or a complimentary drink! Plus, as locals who know the place better than anyone, they will definitely guide you for your next day travel in the best possible way. If you drop by at a hostel and the dorms are getting filled up fast, you as a solo traveler will get priority. Effortless logistics! Being a single person, you can be accommodated anywhere, whether it’s a hostel or a shared cab service.

4. Do what you want to do and do nothing of what you don’t want to do

Be yourself

Do you want the independence of choice of your stay, your cuisines, your itinerary and your way of travel without compromising? You may want to taste the local cuisines every day, drink the local wines every night. Or let’s just say, do you want to make the things abrupt, surprising as they come? Do you want not to stick to a plan or not make any? You may also not want to visit crowded tourist places and just want to sit under the canopies along a beach or read books staying in your homestay all day. Group travels seldom entertain such fancies.

5. Be a smarter person

Be a smarter person

Do you want to actually learn some of the life skills which include time and resources management and communication skills? Most of the life hacks were not developed by a group, but by a single person. These skills will not only help you while you travel but also at various other stages of your life. Stay in a hut wearing rugs with minimal equipment and you will get to know the reality of life.

6. Know yourself

Know yourself

Finally, at some or the other stage of your life, you will want to explore yourself within. You want to know your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You want to know your aspirations and your true nature. Even if that time hasn’t come, why not try going solo to get awareness on such precious things? Ignorance is not always a bliss!

7. Don’t delay

Don't delay

How many times has it happened to you that you plan a travel with your friends and one of them is not able to manage leaves at that time or may be two sides are formed with different opinions about places to travel, places to stay, etc.? Ahh! Annoying, I know. That’s all.

Also READ: Hampi: A voyage into the past

Amritsar: A backpacker’s outlook

amritsar

If you had ever wanted to experience a blend of spirituality and urbanization, culture and trend, painful history and yet, delightful souls, I bet Amritsar is the place to be. Even the most demanding gourmets can settle right here, satiated to the next level. Indian revolutionaries or freedom fighters once had a hold of the political situation at this place. Patriots also find their pleasure here as Punjab is a border state and Wagah border is not so far from Amritsar.

I went backpacking to this Golden city with one of my friends, Shivam, at the end of October 2016. Planning for a travel in any city was never in my set of interests as I am a man who likes to keep away from the hustles and bustles of city life. But then I had to see it for myself and today, I consider it as one of my best travels.

Amritsar is around 450 km from Delhi and around 230 km from Chandigarh. Regular flight services are available from major Indian cities. If you happen to start from Delhi, Chandigarh, Dharamsala, Shimla or Jammu, there are several state as well as private run buses. Additionally, there are a few trains from Delhi, which takes just 6-7 hours to reach Amritsar. Also, if you happen to visit Amritsar, do so between the months of October and February, as it is the best season. As a general tip, avoid traveling during summers as the temperatures can rise well above 45 deg Celsius.

Daal Makhani and Roti at Amritsar

I met Shivam at Chandigarh from where we caught a local bus to Amritsar at around 10 PM. There is a huge frequency of buses to Amritsar. The bus was more than full till Jalandhar. We had a good amount of luggage with us so we purchased 2 extra seats just to keep our bags. It felt bad to see people standing while our bags were resting on cushion seats. But then, we had no option. The bus came to a halt at a small Dhaba on the way. I need not mention how awesome the Dhabas are in Punjab, which is supposedly the mother of all Dhabas. After we were done stuffing the unbelievably excellent Dal Makhani with Rotis, the bus started again. We reached Amritsar at around 3 AM.

Also READ: Hampi: A voyage into the past

Just a couple of hours before boarding this bus, I found this really cool backpackers’ hostel at Amritsar on the Internet called Jugaadus’ Eco Hostel. It is situated at Ajit Nagar and hardly takes around 15 mins from main bus stand. As soon as we reached the premises, we could see a neatly trimmed, electric-blue turbaned, handsome man waiting for us. His name was Prabhat. He greeted us and asked us to follow him up towards his small den. It’s a 2-storeyed building. I still remember the narrow red-lit stairway leading us to their first floor. Initially, it seemed like, ‘Did we make a mistake by booking this hostel?’. And it was obvious on our part. They haven’t done any publicity of this place unlike Zostel or any other chain of hostels across India. The only basis on which we could trust was- ‘Go and check for yourself!’. So, we entered this common area after removing the shoes outside. Even at this dark and quiet hours, it felt lively. It was an inventory of arts with a pile of graffitis and loads of innovation. Prabhat guided us to our dorms where we fell down immediately and slept.

Mornings are never early for us. It was 10 AM when we woke up. Now, Jugaadus have a neat day planner board hanging right in the common area. This is the best concept I loved about this place. You can see it in the image above. So basically, they have 7 different types of activities which you can opt for during your stay at Jugaadus. It includes Heritage walk, Golden temple tour, Border tour, Village tour, Food walk, Morning cycling and Cooking classes. You can sign in a day before for any activities you want to do. If they find they have at least 3 members for any activity mentioned above, they will arrange that activity in their specified time frame. We opted for Golden temple tour, Border tour and Food walk for our next couple of days stay. There were many solo travelers from outside India who joined us on our tours.

Aloo kulcha Chhole
Aloo kulcha and Chhole

After getting ready, we had a nice breakfast of Chhola Kulchha nearby. You will love the Kulchas anywhere you end up at Amritsar, I bet. Today, we have planned to take up the border tour. The Wagah border is around 28 km from Amritsar. There you can see Indian and Pakistani troops engaged in artful and aggressive rivalries showcasing their respective talents, hatred and yet respect for their opponents. The Wagah Border security restricts any entry after 2:30 PM, so make sure you reach the place well before 1:30 PM as the queue is quite huge, especially on weekends and holidays.

The place was filled up with patriotism, for different countries on different sides of the gate. I really feel perturbed by the thought that all these people were a part of one country before Independence, and everyone was called ‘Indian’. That glory is lost after the historical partition of 1947. Looking at the people sitting on another side of the gate, it seems like they are like us, in every aspect. I believe people sitting on another side of the gate feel the same. I and Shivam were sitting among the bunch of foreigner friends we made back at Jugaadus. It felt really great looking at the pride and respect Indians hold for their motherland.

India Pakistan Border
India Pakistan Border so near!

It would be around 5:30 PM when you will finally leave the place, taking another hour to reach the city, depending on the traffic. Back to the hostel at 6:30, we took some rest and got ready for the Golden temple tour. We had an instructor named Diljeet who told us incredible stories and facts about this marvelous wonder.

The Golden Temple during night hours
The Golden Temple during night hours

The Golden temple, as also called Sri Harmandir Sahib, is the most important shrine of Sikh religion. The temple has entrances from all the four directions. It stands in all its glory in the middle of a holy tank called the Amrit Sarovar, which is a man made tank. Pilgrims usually take a dip in the holy water which is believed to bear special healing powers. The main hall of the Golden temple houses the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikh religion. This place also holds the largest Langar every day, where around 100,000 people a day are fed for free by temple volunteers and the number doubles during special occasions! Around 12,000 kg of flour, 1,800 kg of rice, 13,000 kg of lentils and up to 2,000 kg of vegetables are consumed every day. Most importantly, the langar caters to people of all castes and creeds. Such a kind fact.

At 10 PM, we observed the departure of Palki Sahib from Harmandir Sahib, carrying Sri Guru Granth Sahib to The Akal Takhat Sahib. It is an interesting ceremony that happens every night. We sat for a while around the lake, observing the golden beauty getting reflected brilliantly in the waters of Amrit Sarovar. I experienced tranquility. The positive atmosphere here will never let you want to leave this place.

Next day, we went for a food walk around Amritsar. And believe me, every single place listed here is a must try and anyone visiting this city should never miss these food joints.

paneer bhurji
The special Paneer Bhurji full of delicious Butter

It was mostly a try and taste tour. We needed to keep some space in our tummies for the next landing place. We started off with Tara Chand Special Paneer Bhurji wala. The delicious Paneer Bhurji completely soaked and fried in heaps of butter! I already started feeling heavy after eating this! Then we moved ahead towards Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchha wale. We all had nearly half a Kulchha with the tasty Chholas.

Next one on the list was Kesar da Dhaba. Now, this place is quite old with no branches. It was established in 1916 and still retains its old ambiance and delectable recipes of its forefathers. You crush and squash its Kulchha in your hand and by the time you leave it, it would have regained its original shape without falling to bits. And the Paneer Butter Masala- it never tasted this awesome till date. We tried Lassi and Ferni as well. This place is so economical that you can feed 10 people in just around 800 bucks, with desserts!

Next was Gian di Lassi. Believe me, this is the freshest lassi you can get in the whole of Amritsar. They had various flavors of it. This place was, fortunately, the last one because this Lassi will try its best to fill your stomach well above its normal size. So satisfying the meal, so exciting the tour. We had a great time with our host named Sanjay for this food walk who is apparently the founding director of Jugaadus.

Jallianwala Bagh
The historic Jallianwala Bagh

After this walk, I and my friend went to Jallianwala Bagh where hundreds of innocent lives were lost due to the cruelty of a British officer named Colonel Reginald Dyer. We paid our respects to the mighty souls who had a generous and non-violent intention to get India independent.

 

Finally, I and my friend went to The Golden Temple again to glimpse it in broad day light. During day time, it has a different flavor and showcased its true colors. I loved this place to the core.

Amritsar is a place where your heart connects! With its typical Punjabi demonstration, this city has won my heart in all the parameters. I will surely opt to offer services in the kitchen of The Golden Temple the next time I visit.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

Hampi: A voyage into the past

Sunset at Hampi

How often do we connect with history? A straight vibrant echo of our forefather’s voices engulfs us as we embark on our quest to visit historical places. And Hampi is no exception.

This time, I decided to visit this ancient “Kishkinda” of the Ramayana times. Hampi is a temple town in Hospet taluk of Bellary district in the Karnataka state of India, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara. Given a quite sociable and outgoing nature of this place, many Indian and foreign travelers are attracted here and it is one of the biggest backpackers’ havens in India.

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I started off solo this time at the end of January. The weather, though hot, is the optimum season for visitors. All the shacks and cafes are full of business. Hampi is off-season from March till September. My travel started from Bangalore city which is roughly at a distance of 500 km from Hampi. Hospet is connected from Bangalore via trains and buses. I went for the latter option as it provided me the time flexibility. Starting off at 11 PM, I reached Hospet at 6 in the morning. It was a good road with minimal bumps. Hampi is around 12 km from Hospet. You can find buses for Hampi in the posh KSRTC bus stand plying every 15-20 mins from Platform no. 12. The journey takes around half an hour and charged me just 16 bucks. Don’t expect an easy seat as buses are generally crowded. Autos are also readily available outside bus stand to Hampi which may charge you some 200-300 bucks.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?

On the way, you will notice a beautiful vast Kamlapur lake on the right. After some time, the much-awaited ruins appear, which is spread till the horizon. As you reach Hampi, the first thing you will notice is a huge artistic Virupaksha temple. I decided not to enter the temple premises before taking a bath. So, had some decent clicks and moved ahead.

 

Hampi town is divided into two parts by the mighty Tungabhadra river. The temple side contains all the ruins including the much-hyped Vitthala temple. By the way, I am on this side till now. The other side is popularly known as Hippie island and contains a relatively lesser number of historical monuments and more number of shacks to stay. So, backpacker’s paradise would be the other side. I had done my initial research on this place. You have to cross this river by boat. They charge you Rs.50 before 10 AM and after 6 PM when it gets dark. Otherwise, you have to pay a nominal fee of Rs.10 for the ride. I saw many people carrying their bikes and bicycles on the boat to the other side. I was reluctant to pay Rs.50 for this not-even-a-minute ride. Fortunately, the water levels were low this month and you have a path to the other side by jumping over the rocks plus a minute of walking down the river.

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Boats carrying people from one side of the river to the other

As I reached there, I saw many local shops selling hats, scarfs, shawls, chunnis, sunglasses, etc. After 5 mins of window shopping, I asked for a way to Goan Corner, the place where I would stay for next couple of days. After nearly 200 meters of walk, I was already seeing the cool shacks and cafes. People were everywhere, in different colors, of different nationalities. On the way, there were lush green paddy fields on both the sides with mostly the majestic light brown boulders of Hampi in the background. I followed a sign board mentioning-‘That is THE GOAN CORNER–> ‘.

 

As soon as I reached this place, I could feel a different aura, a different vibe. It seemed like some party is going on with all the travelers either eating or drinking or chilling around. A good number of people were just waiting to get a confirmation on a bed at this little place to sleep. Now, I got worried. Can I manage a bed here for this night? I asked the owner lady at reception to provide me a single bed wherever it is, just to sleep. I need no room, no private toilet. She put me on the waiting list. Till then, I had a good breakfast of bread butter, Israeli salad, and a coffee at its in-house cafe. Finally, after an hour of chit chats with the fellow travelers, I got a confirmation. I went to see my bed which was on a rooftop. They have many mattresses properly lined up on the terrace with a mosquito net over every single mattress. I pulled up the neatly tucked net from one corner and entered my mattress. I rearranged my stuff and went for a shower.

It was just 11 o’clock. A long day to go and Hampi is no small. I found one guy from Bangalore who was traveling solo. We decided to explore the hippie side of Hampi for today. It’s always better to get a bicycle or a moped on rent at Hampi. You can find them on rent at any shack or even in the markets. But remember one thing: Mopeds taken on rent on hippie side of the river cannot be driven on the other side. It can attract you a good fine. We took bicycles on rent for Rs.100 a day. If you are opting for a moped, then you will have to shell out some 250-400 bucks depending on the model.

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We decided to visit Anjaneya temple popularly known as Monkey temple or Anjanadri. Before that, we had a satisfied Indian lunch at a local restaurant. After spending some time resting on their beds while looking at the lake and boulders, we decided to move ahead. Anjanadri is a sunset point and it seemed better to go there as late as possible. So we went ahead of Anjanadri for a km and found this place called Pampa Sarovara at Anegondi. It is a square water tank with a flight of steps along its borders. It holds the credit of one of the five sacred lakes in India.  There are quite a few temples here. In Hindu mythology, Pampa Sarovar is regarded as the place where Pampa, a form of Shiva’s consort Parvati, performed deep meditation with the sole intention of getting married to Lord Shiva. Footprints of  Lord Rama are also said to be inscribed on a rock here. Apart from that, we found a deep cave near the Rama temple which leads us directly to the Virupaksha temple on the other side of the river, as told to us. Amazing it is, right?

 

After spending some 60-70 mins here, it was already 4. Now, we could comfortably visit the Anjanadri temple. We parked the cycle at a sweet little shop and requested the humble old man to keep a look on it. 570 steps to be climbed! And it was worth it. The awesome scenic beauty at the hill top made our day. It is believed that it is in this area, the kingdom of monkeys existed and Vali, Sugriva, and Hanuman lived. A Ram Setu Shila, i.e. a floating rock is also kept in the temple premises. We went to the other side of the hill to have a moment of peace and thereafter, spot the sunset. There were ruins, boulders, paddy fields, coconut trees everywhere down the hill. So serene it felt. We could hear just the sound of the winds. Everyone was desperately waiting for the sunset, but unfortunately, the day was cloudy enough to cover up the orange ball. We couldn’t watch the sunset, but we had a good moment here, with ourselves. We made a couple of friends afterward who were coincidentally staying at Goan corner itself. They also had their bicycles parked down the hill and thus, we left together.

 Also READ: A day out in and around Lepakshi

After returning the bicycles, we walked our way to the Goan corner. On the way, I spotted Gali’s music shop, which I had seen in the morning as well. People were jamming inside. It caught my interest and I asked my friends to move ahead and I shall be back after looking out for some instruments in this shop. I found out a Spanish guy playing guitar, an English woman playing Ditscheridu and a Finnish woman playing Djembe. I joined these guys on Conga drums in this free community jamming session. Music with unknown and diverse guys is always special. We feel connected even if we aren’t. This music shop is run by its owner Gali who is a great guy and plays nearly 30 instruments. If music interests you, you cannot afford to miss meeting this guy. His kid is equally talented. Just at 13 years of age, he can play nearly all the percussion instruments.

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Gali’s music shop

We put an end to the jamming session with Hotel California and went for dinner at this great place called ‘The Taste of Hampi’. In this dark, candle-lit ambiance, most of the crowd was non-Indian. People were sharing their travel stories with each other. Music was on, seating was on the ground. I ordered Al-fungi which was delicious. There were people playing Melodica, Djembes and other sorts of drums for entertainment. Gali asked me to play Melodica. I took the stage for some time. The crowd got crazy at Naagin. Wonderful evening it was!

I met this really cool guy from Hyderabad who accompanied me back to Goan corner as his car was parked there. He had a Spanish scotch with him and offered me the same. I called up the guys I met during the day to join us. Everyone started their stories. Scotch was going down the throats slowly and slowly while the moon shone more and more bright as the night grew.

If you come to Hampi and you don’t smoke the maal, then what did you do! As we didn’t have any sort of stuff with us, we tried to get hold of some from the foreigners, as they always have their pockets loaded. Our best bet was to offer them a drink and in return, collect stuff from them. Fortunately, we found a Russian guy who apparently turned out to be an expert in this matter. He had his own equipment like crusher, vaporizer, chillum and of course, loads of different kinds of stuff. This guy was literally an Einstein. He explained us the types of stuff he had, starting from Rs.100 a tola (10 gms) to Rs.8000 a tola. I never liked smoking but then, he convinced me that the best stuff he had is 92% pure, unlike the other common stuff Indians get which is only 10-12% pure. Contrasting difference! The high which you will get with this purest stuff is so balanced, so heavenly and so healthy. I actually got a kick, but in a good way. And I am not kidding. I didn’t just bash over at someone or puked for that matter. Everything seemed happy thereafter. The sleep I got that night was one of the best sleep in my whole lifetime. Ahh!!!

Day 1 turned out to be a heck of an experience. Hampi trip was already successful for me. The following couple of days would be busy as there are a lot of places to be explored.

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Hampi travel guide

As soon as I woke up at 9, I took a shower and had a breakfast at the same cafe downstairs. I loved the coffee here. Today, I had to travel to the other side of the river, to explore the ruins. I crossed the river in a boat and went straight towards the Virupaksha temple. The first thing you should do to explore Hampi is to purchase a nice guide book. You will get many guides on Hampi, but you can trust this book by Dr.C.S.Vasudevan which will cost you Rs.200. It apparently is certified by the Archaeological Survey of India. This book lists around 67 monuments and 16 other places of interests around Hampi along with their descriptions. Much to digest for a person with no history background! You will also find a detailed map on the last page for navigation.

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Map

I split my plan into two:
Day 2 – South East of Virupaksha temple (26 onwards on the map)
Day 3 – East of Virupaksha temple (1-25)

I wasn’t able to get a bicycle today as I was late. Bicycles are lent out by 8 o’clock in the morning. So, plan accordingly.

 

I started off with Virupaksha (Shiva) Temple (4). It’s such a majestic artwork of the 7th century and is considered the most sacred sanctuary over the centuries. Such a thoughtful and systematic architecture. Don’t forget to take blessings from the temple elephant, Lakshmi.

I continued to Hemakuta group of temples (3) which is quite spread out and took around an hour. There are around 30 beautiful temples on this hillock. The view of Virupaksha temple from this hillock takes another dimension.

 

After covering two Ganesh temples (1 &2), I decided to take a small meal in the nearby mess named Geetha Restaurant, as I knew after this point I won’t be getting any food. After lunch, I went ahead to Krishna temple (23). It is one of the most majestic temples built by Krishnadevaraya in 1513 AD. There’s this Krishna bazaar in front of this temple which is again quite huge. I continued further to other points of interest. The way is a simple-straight road! And you will find all the monuments or at least some people going to those monuments. You don’t need any guide if you have a guide book. The most amazing and beautiful monuments according to me in this part were Elephants stable, Queens bath, Lotus Mahal and the whole Royal Enclosure which includes Stepped Tank.

 

It was around 6 PM and I had mostly covered this part. Took an auto as Hampi town was around 4 km from the last point and I was barely left with any stamina to walk.

Back in the town, it was already dark. Boats weren’t operating. I found a group of people crossing the river and tagged alongside them. Don’t forget to carry your torch (preferably head torch) for such situations.

The other side of the town is as lively as it gets. Music is on everywhere and roads are rushed till 10. I went to Gali’s music shop to find out it was closed. So, I called up my guys and got to know they had reached Goan corner already. So I headed for it. I had a dinner at Goan corner and it was good. Made new friends from Norway there who turned out to be contemporary dancers. I always have good and thorough conversation with artists. Here as well, I made talks for around a couple of hours with them regarding their art after which I had a silent walk with one of them in the quiet long paddy fields. Hampi grows really silent as it grows dark. The sky lit up with more and more number of stars as the time passed. We came back to our haven and I went straight to my bed, watching the sky again. This time, through the mosquito net.

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Sunrise from Matanga hilltop

I woke up at 5 AM just because I wanted to see the sunrise from Matanga Hill (6). I took a bath and got ready in 30 mins, walked the still-dark paddy fields towards the river to get to the other side. It took me another 15 mins to reach the other side. The eastern part of Virupaksha temple is mostly a trip around the hilly part alongside the river Tungabhadra, where you can’t drive. So, I caught an auto in a hurry as there was barely any time left for sunrise. I climbed and reached Matunga hilltop in dot 15 mins and noticed a lot of people already waiting there for sunrise. I reserved a location there and patiently waited for the sunrise to happen. After 10 mins when the sunrise was yet to happen, I met a couple of Marathi guys from Pune. I had a good chat with them for 5 mins may be. As the skies were already lit, we concluded that the sunrise had happened and due to clouds we couldn’t spot it. But we were wrong in our assumption. Sunrise happened but after 10 more minutes. It was a pleasant and divine experience. I am not a morning person so I can claim this sunrise to be the best in my life!

 

Someone suggested me to cover the east part of Virupaksha temple before afternoon as it will be less hot plus less crowded. I went down the hill and continued my pending journey of the eastern side, which supposedly is more beautiful.

 

The first monument I hit was Achyutaraya temple (7) which is at the foothill of the Matunga hillock. There is this Achyutaraya bazaar (8) in front of it which measures around 361 meters in length and 40 meters in width. Afterwards, according to the map, I followed the directions and covered all the places of interest. Vitthala temple (15) is inarguably one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen. It marks the highest workmanship indicating the mature Vijayanagara phase of architecture. It has this popular Stone Chariot at the center of its premises, which is a prototype of wooden Ratha. I loved this place to the core and spent around an hour discovering its in-depth art. Met another solo backpacker from Mumbai here. He accompanied me for the next couple of monuments post which we parted.

 

I went straight to the town and had a lunch at Mango tree, a popular restaurant at Hampi. No alcohol and non-veg served here. Shared the table with a couple of Chinese women who were curious to know the Indian dishes. I helped them in their mission. After lunch, I headed back to the Goan corner at around 3 PM to chill out. Met some of the friends there and took some rest in their cafe. The dancer girl was still there and asked me to join her for the sunset from the boulders. The sunset was awesome and this time, not cloudy. People played their guitars on the hill and sang to the tunes of nature. I wish I could have joined them but had to leave as I had to catch the bus back to Bangalore. So, descended the hilltop and left for Hospet bus stand at 8.

The journey was great and the people I met were fabulous. Stories I heard were exceptional and the places I visited were marvelous. I loved the way Hampi is. People from all over the world travel here just to see some part of the great history associated with India. They enjoy the culture at this place and I am proud to be a part of it.

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Majestic view of Hampi from the top on a boulder

Seeking peace at Gokarna!

Gokarna

I am always enthused about beaches. My long list of travel in this division includes Digha, Mandarmani, and Pondicherry on the west coast of India, Mumbai, numerous popular as well as hidden beaches in Goa and so on. This time, the long awaited, mostly unexplored, silent beach town of Gokarna robbed my heart. This place never caught my attention due to a lesser-acclaimed, self-absorbed nature of this place. But after visiting it, I wonder why people want to compare it to Goa. It has its own essence, its own rhythm. And I loved the way it is and want it to be what it is now, forever!

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A short depiction of the outlines of Gokarna

We were 5 this time. 3 girls, 2 guys. An unanticipated weekend plan it was during the month of December when most of the vacationers get on the beaches. We all were traveling from Bengaluru and booked an AC-sleeper bus from Race course road at 8 PM. The journey takes somewhere around 8-10 hours from Bengaluru, a mere 500 km. After a couple of hours of games and chats, the journey paused with a dinner break at a Dhaba near Tumakuru. Thanks to the short duration of halt, we had to hurry up eating the junk, all-prepared food. Thankfully, we had enough bites before boarding the bus at Bangalore. Being full and well fed, everyone went back to sleep as soon as the bus kicked off.

Early mornings while traveling are always special. You get to see the difference between this new place and ours. Different types of farms on the roadsides, different culture of the locals, different landscapes! Being a coastal area, Gokarna seemed full of coconut and Banana trees. The sun was rising up amongst these tall, sturdy, natural structures. The conventional art of a school kid on paper went real! Such a  beautiful morning it was!

The bus reached at sharp 6:30 AM. As soon as we alighted, we saw deserted roads besides some autos standing in the corners. Unlike other places where auto-wallahs rush up at the bus gates to catch customers, this place was quite at peace. We had to reach out to an auto to take us to our destination – Zostel. We were getting a knack of this less-commercialized place. Leaving aside some shacks and resort, the most economical and backpacker-friendly stay we could find was Zostel. It seemed like auto-wallahs had formed a union to quote 100 bucks for any customer, wherever you go in this small town of 11 sq km. We settled them down at 80 and got hold of two autos.

Zostel is around 3 km from the local bus stop. It is located at the hill top near Gokarna beach. As soon as we reached there, we could spot some wooden shacks on the left which were private rooms and a dormitory building in the front. The dorms were relatively clean and well equipped at Zostel, a backpacker’s haven. We reached out to the reception to find out that rooms shall be available only by 12 noon as it is an official check-in/check-out time. We were given this common area until that time which was pretty cool. We had our luggage kept there. After getting fresh, we had some guitar time on the wonderful terrace they have, which has a splendid view of the surrounding beaches and town. It felt so awesome this morning. The only sound of the strings amongst fresh breeze and treat-to-the-eyes-view. So silent it was that it felt like we were hearing what we played, so properly, for the first time.

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The rooftop cafe at Zostel facing Gokarna beach

There’s this rooftop cafe at Zostel where you can enjoy your meals and drinks while watching the mighty, blue Arabian Sea. We took our sumptuous breakfast of veg cheese sandwich with a much-needed cup of hot coffee. On the suggestion of the Zostel manager, we decided to trek from Gokarna to Kudle beach. The trek is on the sidelines of the sea among the jungles. The magnificent views of the sea this trek provided us are incomparable. Most of the times in our trek, there were rocky parts all the way down where the white waters gushed with a burst. The sound of the waves flooding the black mountains was audible even on the top where we were trekking. The trek was fairly easy. After numerous halts to watch the awe-inspiring views and of course, for photography, we managed to reach Kudle in a couple of hours. There, we found a nice shack called Ganga Cafe offering chilled beer and great food. By the beach we sat, holding the beer in hand, singing songs of love, and thinking of all the precious things God had just shown us.

Also READ: 9 reasons to travel Goa during Monsoons

When you have a DSLR in your group, photography never ends. It continued for one more hour. We had a walk on this clear white sand beach with slippers in hand. The sand was so fine grained, so soft, so tender. This feeling of soft touch below the feet with slight waters oscillating seemed to have a direct connection to your mind and memories. It makes you think. It helps you meditate. It makes you love isolation.

 

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A perfect place to Meditate – Silent Beaches!

 

“Anna, 300 per person to cover all the beaches in a boat”, said a voice from behind. Now Gokarna has overall 5 beaches which can be covered up via trek or a boat. It was late afternoon and Kudle beach has the best sunset view as it faces the west side. So, we went for the latter option after bargaining till 200 per person. On our way, we were able to spot some lovely dolphins slowly swimming their way. It took us an hour to get back to Kudle beach where we happily settled down in front of a resort and watched the orange ball submerge gradually into the waters. It was fabulous.

We decided to gulp one more beer. We had our guitar. We played the strings and sang the songs. Songs of friendship, songs of youth. It was getting duskier with every passing moment allowing the stars to glitter and the tides to rise. It was time to decide a dinner place.

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Trek from Kudle to Om beach

And Cafe 1987 it was. It was dark out there with a full HD, somewhere around 55″ TV with Avatar movie playing on it for some customers. Luckily, candles were another source of light at this popular place at this time. At first, it seemed like we made a wrong choice. But after having all Italian food, our opinion altered. Also, you must try the yummy pancakes here. With heavy tummies, we went back to Zostel by walk. It was hardly a kilometer from Kudle beach to Zostel if you opt for tar roads. Some notice board mentioned, “Beware of robbers!” And from that moment on, our eyes and ears became open 360 deg till we reached our destination.

Back to Zostel by 11 PM, we went to bed as we had decided to start early trek (at around 6!) from Gokarna beach to Paradise beach facing south with Kudle beach, Om beach, Half Moon beach on the way (Refer the map above). This could easily consume more than half a day. The shacks provided us a really comfortable sleep.

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Graffitis all over at Zostel Gokarna

Mornings are always lazy for me. Our plan got delayed by a couple of hours, making us trek in scorching heat in the end. We had light breakfasts before leaving to garner some energy. We decided to trek from Kudle beach this time and so, had a road walk till Kudle beach. Our trek started effectively at around 9! A slight ascend for some 15-20 minutes followed by a completely straight path, on the edge of the mountain, with just the blue sea below us. Our right side was a full panoramic view. Sitting on the historic mighty walls of Chapora fort at Goa also gives us a similar view. It seemed like we were the only ones on the trek. And it was good in a way. Just the jungles, sea and us. After an hour, we reached Om beach. It got its name as it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ symbol. It is also the center for several water sports activities such as surfing, water-skiing, parasailing, and banana boat rides. 

As soon as we reached there, we encountered this very famous cafe in nearly all the travel blogs – Namaste Cafe! Awesome ambiance, awesome food. Awesome sandwiches actually! Though we didn’t find the service good. Post that, we had some good time on the white sands of the beach. Fortunately, the weather was on our side that day. We sat on the edge of one of the many huge rocks Om beach has, feeling the moist winds on the face, witnessing the astounding beauty of the place. We tried capturing boomerang videos with our names written on the sand being whitewashed by the sea. Amazing time!

Time to move on to another beach – Half Moon. The crowd was even lesser here. Separated by a cliff from Om Beach, this beach is a perfect spot for unwinding and relaxation. With umpteen hammocks set amidst trees, you have splendid reading spots here. If camping is in your mind, just jump right in. We had a good time swimming here as the water is shallow for quite a considerable distance from the shore. And I realized, my swimming movement was so jammed for years! It was already past noon and we were famished. So we decided to have a good lunch in a nearby shack with beers to fight the increasing temperature. This shady shack was home to a couple of nice kittens whom we fed. The beach was so attractive that we went for another round of swimming! All done, we were set to leave for Paradise.

This is the fourth and final beach along the coast of Gokarna town. The hike was a bit tricky but took not more than 25 minutes for us to reach there. This beach is very small, just 150 meters in length. It used to be a Hippie’s paradise a few years ago. It is also ideal for camping at night. It is a perfect place if someone wants to get disconnected! Pure solace. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to stay here as it was already late and we had to rush back to Zostel and catch the bus back to Bangalore. We reached Gokarna beach in about 15 minutes in a boat we hired. Back to our rooms, we packed the luggage and booked a couple of autos for a drop to check post.

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The final beach of the trek – Paradise beach

A journey of a couple of days but it was a feeling where I felt complete satisfaction. A satisfaction of a travel. A satisfaction of isolation from the world. A satisfaction to be at peace. And ultimately, what a person demands from a vacation is satisfaction. So, here I sign off happily from Gokarna! I will visit it again really soon.

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