Touching Seoul

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Kannur, happy vacation in surprise package !

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Creating Memories at Munnar !

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Wonderful Wayanad!

When you spend 8 hours in office, 3 hours in traffic, 2 hours in gym, 5 hours for studying; day after day , week after week the only one word floats in your mind “BREAK”. And marriage anniversary g…

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WoW Yercaud!

This year Bangalore observed very high temperatures during summer and we are almost roasted! We desperately needed a hill vacation but my hectic weekend schedules and other commitments were showsto…

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In the land of spirit and spirituality !

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Mystic Madikeri

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Fun ,Frolics , Fenny and Four Wheels !

Fun ,Frolics , Fenny and Four Wheels !.

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Thrilling journey for an exciting destination!

Prologue

=======

It has been while since we had a long vacation. For last few years long holidays mean going back to hometown and that’s too once a year. Though we made number of weekend trips but fun of long and relaxing vacation was missing.

This was a special occasion of 10th marriage anniversary and we wanted to celebrate in a most special and romantic way (well to the extent we could when a 5+ years old kid is around).There was one and only one place popped up in our mind “GOA”. Yes it got to be Goa the same place we had gone for our honeymoon!

Bangalore to Goa is not a tough mission; there are regular night bus services and low cost carriers shuttling between these two places. But I decided this has to be a road trip. A long drive to Goa was a long pending from bucket list. I don’t care about the distance, I don’t care about the stress of long hours of driving, I have an old hatchback but I don’t care; this trip has to be a road trip.

We planned to go there in last week of January but started booking hotels from early November. January is peak season in Goa and if you do not book in well advance getting accommodation of your choice can be a problem.

Just one week before the journey I changed the headlamps of my car from stock to XD and installed fog lamps because majority of the onward travel was planned during night and early morning. A thorough servicing was done with all regular checkups to make sure we do not come across unwanted surprises.

We packed a whole lot of foods and downloaded in huge number of MP3s so that we are always loaded on highway.

Day 1 ( 24th Jan) Get set go!

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Our initial plan was to start on 23th evening and drive all night (may halt for some hours in between if we feel tired) and reach Goa by 24th morning. But on 24th we had Saraswati Puja at our apartment, which we did not want to miss. So we had a delayed start at 4 PM.

Considering the late start my plan was to take NH4 and drive as far as possible before we call it a day. Hubli was my target for night halt but I was determined to reach at least Devangere so that next day we have enough time for a leisurely drive through beautiful Western Ghats.

Based on the reviews in team-bhp and other resources from Internet I planned the onward route as

Home (Whitefield)=> Tumkur => Chitradurga => Devangere => Hubli => Belgaum => Chorla Ghat => Panjim.

The usual route to reach Tumkur from our home has too many signals and observes terrible city traffic all through the day. I took alternate route via Budigere => Devanahalli => Doddaballapur =>Tumkur.

Tmkur map

This route was 15 Km longer than original one but helped me to bypass the entire traffic and reach Tumkur tollgate before evening. Between Devanahalli and Tumkur there was heavy traffic, which reduced later.

Tumkur road copy

NH4 was wide and appealing, with beautiful aura of twilight. The mood of long drive was pumping my adrenaline and I soon touched 100 Kmph. The road was fantastic, though there were lot of cars going for long weekend but I never had to slow down. Soon it was dark but I was able to maintain speed between 80-100 and in some occasions touched 125Kmph(my highest with Alto). Though NH4 was pretty much straight; I enabled my GPS and docked it in front of me to have an idea what is 1-2 KM ahead. It helped a lot to identify the curves well ahead in dark.

In between we only stopped for bio breaks and tolls. Our stock of snacks, juices helped us to save time in this stretch. I was literally cruising on the road but even at 120, saw many cars to overtake me!

Outside was pitch dark, and I have never driven on such a dark road. Miles after miles there was not a single sign of lights apart from taillights of other cars on road. But yet it was easy to maintain high speed because of well-marked awesome tarmac of NH4.

We reached Devangere at 9 PM, well within the schedule. For dinner we stopped at the Apoorva Resort. This place came as an oasis of light in the vast darkness. Many fellow travellers in team-bhp recommended Apoorva resort and I must say it was a right choice. The place was huge and well maintained; toilet was clean, which is a must for long drive stopovers specially if you have ladies and kids onboard. During long drives I prefer hot and spicy food; it stimulates nerves and helps to reduce tiredness for next stretch of journey. We really had an awesome dinner and break at Apoorva.

Our preferred night halt was at Hubli, which is 160+ KM from this place, and with the kind of drive I had so far I was confident to cover this distance within two and half hours. I called Kamat Yatrinivas and requested them to reserve a twin sharing room for us. We started at 9.30 and my plan was to reach Kamat by midnight. Everything was going fine and we were all charged up , soon I touched 100+ again and maneuvering well between the trucks to overtake. We stopped the car audio and started singing Tagore’s songs our heart out; it was so damn relaxing even after having a long day. I reached Hubli just before midnight, bingo! But where is our hotel? Then I realized Kamat is actually quite far from NH4, its actually on Hubli-Darwad State highway! We had to travel across the city to reach the hotel. It was mid night and there was no traffic but during daytime I bet it would have been heck of a drive.

Finally we reached Kamat at 12.30 AM but to our surprise staffs were awake and the check-in was unexpectedly smooth. We reached our room, changed and dropped like dead meats on the bed. The room was nice and cozy but there were noises of some construction work going outside, anyway we were too damn tired to notice that and had a very relaxing sleep.

Day-2 ( Chorla Calling )

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Flower

At 6.30 precisely the alarm rings and we jumped from the bed. Hot water was available so I had a quick shower and then we rushed down stairs for the complementary breakfast. They served nice South Indian dishes along with fresh watermelon juices and hot tea/coffee.

Kamat BF

The breakfast was tasty and wholesome. We paid the bills and checked out from hotel at 8 o’clock.

The day started in a very relaxed manner and I started driving calmly as there was not much traffic on the road. Soon we crossed Darward and hit NH4 again. Last day most of my drive was during night and I could not see the real beauty of this road. This time I was really flabbergasted by NH4! It is so wide, well maintained and scenic! It was a real pleasure to be behind the steering!

Belgaum NH4

We reached Belgaum in no time and continued towards Chorla. Once you cross Mahaveer Nagar after a kilometer or so the road bifurcates. There is a signboard asking to take left to reach Panaji, AVOID that road; this goes through Khanapur-Ramnagar which is in bad shape as mentioned by many travel reviews; plus you miss the fun of driving through the Chorla Ghats.

I took right and continued towards Jamboti. Just after few kilometers of drive the sceneries started with lots of greeneries and hillocks on both sides of the roads. We stopped for tea in a small dhaba near Kinaye and again continued our journey after taking some snaps.

Soon the hillocks became hills and we started climbing the ghats. This was my first drive through the Western Ghats and I was very excited. Chorla Road mostly ascends in Karnataka part and descends in Goa side. Later part is more beautiful and yes more challenging to drive.

Chorla 1

The quality of road is fabulous with smooth pitch, I do not remember of coming across a single pot hole in the entire stretch (those start right after you pay entry tax in Goa; quite an irony isn’t it ?) . But too many curves and sharp bends (and of all possible sorts; from hairpins to S to Z) and too many stupid tucks and passenger busses make it tough to drive. At times they just try to push you out from the road; and yes they do overtake each other in sharp bends leaving no room for vehicles coming from other direction. My GPS came really handy again and I was able to guess what kind of bend is coming ahead and control the car accordingly. I usually rely on engine breaking while descending from hills and save manual breaking for emergency situations (frequent breaking can overheat the break fluid and cause beak failures) but this time I had to use it many times to control the speed.

Despite of all such challenges driving through Chorla Ghat was experience of lifetime. There were stretches of dense vegetation, and wide views of the range; we stopped many times to feel the nature and take beautiful picture. If you are driving on this road please do not miss the opportunity to stop at the viewpoint to capture a breathtaking view of Lake Anjunem.

Anjunem

We paid Rs 250 at the Goa border toll gate and continued our journey towards Panaji ; the capital of Goa and our first holiday stop. The interior roads in Goa are mostly narrow and well congested but it was not a problem for someone who learnt driving in Calcutta. We took NH4 bypass from Karamali Station road, which helped to bypass the entire city traffic. And we reached Hotel Menino Residency just after 2 o’clock.

Menino is an old yet well-maintained budget hotel just at the heart of the Panaji city. It is just a walk able distance from the strand, Mandavi River Cruise jetty and newly famous attraction of Goa ; the Casinos. It was a value for money stay with AC , running hot water, a mini fridge and large LCD TV. Staffs were also courteous and helping and food was great. The only two draw backs of Menino were lack of covered parking space and blunt complementary breakfast. Otherwise I would like to go back there again.

Panaji does not have a beach but it has its own sets of attractions. Leisurely walk though the narrow lanes of old Portuguese settlements, sunset on Mandavi River, visit to the old churches can make your day.

                                  Panaji 1

Church

We planned for the sunset rivers cruise and asked few policemen about the direction of the jetty. They informed being holiday the tickets from the jetty counter must either have been sold out or we will have to wait for more than hour in the queue to get one. One of them took us to a nearest travel agent and ticket was arranged within minutes without any extra cost. Goa police is helpful indeed.

There was huge rush to board the cruise and we had to wait for our turns. They arranged chairs on the top deck; local musicians and dancers performed traditional Konkani and Bollywood numbers. Even tourists were encouraged to join them. We had a good time there specially the little one enjoyed a lot.

dance

Our hotel was little more than 2 Km from the jetty and we walked back casually by the Mandavi Strand. In recent years lots of Casinos have started operating in Panaji and the best ones are in this stretch. Any way we had kid so it was not possible to explore one of those places plus I had been to Vegas and must say I am not so lucky with gambling either. So we came back to hotel had dinner and went to bed. Tomorrow we will get to see the sea for the first time in this trip; yes we were excited!

 

To be continued……

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Missed encounter with the big cat, at Masinagudi

Missed encounter with the big cat, at Masinagudi Last month one of our colleague from US came to Bangalore. It was his first visit to India and he wanted to see some wild life. When it comes to jungle trips; we have plenty of options around Bangalore. There are so many national parks within more or less 250 to 350 KMs of drive radius. While planning for the trip my first choice was Bandipur, because it has some decent staying options and during our last visit we spotted many animals during the safari. Overall, the trip to Bandipur was awesome so I wanted to take our friend to a place, which has already been tested. After initial planning we were all set to book MC Resort, Bandipur. But one of our colleague Ramesh said we should consider going to Masinagudi, He knows one place which is deep inside the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and offers real thrill of jungle. Masiangudi is just 30 KM further drive from Bandipur and would hardly take an extra hour to reach and if we start a bit early we can easily reach there within stipulated time. So there was no second thought and we decided on this place. We called the owner of The Whistling Woods and transferred some initial booking amount to book accommodation for 6 persons. I already checked their reviews in Trip Advisor and was pretty sure we cannot drive up to the resort by our own. Plus none of us own SUV to carry six passengers, thus we booked an Innova. So everything was confirmed and we were all set to escape from busy city life for two days.

Day 1

Our goal was to reach Masinagudi as realistically early possible and to leave Bangalore city limit before 5. The car came first to my place at Whitifield at 3.30 and picked up our guests and other guys from their hotel at Marathalli at 4. Next we picked up another fellow from Electronic City and took NICE road. The route was pretty much simple. We decided to take Mysore Road (SH17) to reach Mysore and take NH212 (Mysore – Khozikode Road) from there till we reach Gundlpet. From Gundlpet SH67 will take us to Masinagudi via Bandipur. There was another option to take Kanakpura road from NICE road and reach Gundlpet bypassing Mysore. This is much more scenic and fun to drive, but does not have any decent place to eat. As we started very early, definitely needed some places to have good breakfast. So we decided to take route number 1. There was not much traffic in Mysore road; only some buses till Bidadi carrying workers to Industrial Area. Our first pit stop was at Basavanapura for having some hot chai and sutta. It was first experience of our guest to have tea from Indian roadside stall in earthen cup, and he did enjoy it. When we resumed our journey it was still dark but dawn broke slowly as we cruised through empty highway. After sunrise we got some fog but it was not causing any problem for driving. Rather the fog and mist brought fresh beginning of the day. IMG_6534We reached Mysore before 8 and stopped at Kamat for breakfast. We spent some time here and ordered lot of foods as all of us were very hungry. Our foreigner friend also enjoyed his Dosa and South special coffee. Started the journey again at 8.30 and continued on the route we planned before. We took couple of bio breaks and had tender coconuts before going inside the Bandipur Forest because stopping inside the national park is strictly prohibited. IMG_6568 Masinagudi is situated inside Mudumalai Tiger Reserve forest (Tamilnadu), which is part of Nilgiri Biosphere region like Bandipur National Park (Karnataka), Nagahole National Park (Karnataka) and Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala). While crossing the state border our car was stopped by Tamilnadu officials and each and every corner of the car and our luggage were searched thoroughly for liquors. It is illegal to import alcohol in Tamilnadu from other states. We reached Masinagudi town before 11 and called Arun; the owner of Whistling Woods for further direction. He asked us to take a right diversion and drive for another 5 KMs up to Singarapost. Arun told us to park the car there and he will arrange a pickup van to take us to the resort. As per him the road is not “do-able” by our car. I was surprised indeed; I mean we were driving Innova! The car was parked near Singra hydle power station and we boarded the pick up van. Soon I realized why Arun advised us not to drive! Initially the van was going through the coffee estates but after some point there was practically no road. The vehicle was shaking like anything and the ride was totally bumpy, there were frequent sounds of rocks knocking and scratching at bottom of the car . Our driver also came with us to see how the road is ; he was not very comfortable in keeping our vehicle at Singara post . But after seeing the condition he said “no way”! IMG_6624After humpty dumpty ride of 10 minutes reached the resort. It was quite a place, right below the hill range and inside forest. We booked a two-room cottage for 6 people. Inside the property they have a main office building where some accommodations are available. Plus they have some more cottages scattered here and there. Our one was the furthest from the main building and was closest to the woods. Thick jungle starts just after 30 meters. We found lots of deer’s and wild boars entering the ground even during the daytime. From the staffs we came to know elephants, bisons and bears are regular visitors and not very friendly ones to say the least. IMG_6650IMG_6639IMG_6648IMG_6663

We reached the resort by 11.30 and had to wait for 1 more hour since the rooms were not ready. They served the lunch a bit late but that was not unexpected. Being inside a remote jungle and managed by minimum people the delay is inevitable. The lunch was plain and simple ( Rice, Sambar, Rasam, Chicken , Papad and Curd) but in abundant quantity and very tasty . The resort also arranges for private jungle safari by semi open Jeeps and we booked the evening safari for Rs.2500. The jeep came in right time and we started after having cup of hot tea. I must say I have never ever done anything like that in life! My earlier safari experience was in Bandipur but it was a Govt safari and they follow a designated route. But here there was practically no route. The jeep was moving through all kinds of un-drivable conditions, thick forests, high grassland, slushy and muddy patches, and rocky pitch. At some points the car literally tilted 60 degrees and for a moment I felt we would topple. But kudos to Mahindra 4×4, it was able to sustain all kind of turf without any problem. IMG_6677   IMG_6742

Soon it became very dark and the visibility was near zero; not just due to darkness but also due to thick forest. After some futile efforts of spotting animals the guide ( cum driver) took us to some open grass land. I guess animals regularly visit this place and two more cars also stopped there to try their luck. Guides told everyone to keep quite but some travellers from other cars took pictures using flash, smoked, and made noise like anything. Anyway we are humans, we have right to spoil and disturb nature. The place was so magical; pitch dark in every corner and sky dazzling with thousands of stars! It was surreal! The guide told me not to get carried away and stay close to the jeep, he said “ you can not see them in dark but they can definitely see you”! IMG_6698 After some time he signed us to get into the car as he heard something, which our urban ears missed obviously. He suddenly started the engine, beamed the searchlights towards the direction of the sound and there we saw a huge bison feasting on the grass. It started running and our car went right after it. It was quite a chase, through thick high grasslands. But soon we lost him. We saw some deers and thought that, that’s all our luck has to offer today, but the surprise was still waiting. On our way back to resort we spotted a big pack of bisons  and a poor cheetah attempting to hunt them. The cheetah was certainly not liking our presence and left without having his dinner. We were so amazed that decided almost instantly to go for the early morning safari next day again. After we came back from the safari the resort people set up bonfire next to our cottage. It was pretty much dark except the lights of the cottages and the fire they lit. We sat next to the fire and enjoyed our drinks . IMG_6708Soon some fellow travelers staying in another cottages joined us. These guys seemed pretty much regular to this place and quite knowledgeable about Masinagudi. In fact they come to Whistling Woods for five to six times a year and they are doing it for last 8 years. Man, why would someone come to same place again and again, year after year? I know the answer now. The resort guys brought the dinner by car and kept in our cottages. The food was again good. This time they served Chicken biryani, chicken curry , raita and chapatti. After having dinner we spent some time in chitchat and went to bed as we had to wakeup very early for the safari. Before going to bed we took all the leftover food items inside our room, because bears often come here in search of foods and they can smell it from quite a distance.

Day 2

It was still dark and very cold when we woke up next morning. There was heavy downpour in the night and weather was still moist. But our sheer excitement helped us to wake up and get ready even after the booze we had last evening. This time our journey started with more shakes and jerks because the pitch became too slushy and muddy due to heavy rain. After one and half kilometers the jeep suddenly stopped and at that point we were not at all aware what else is waiting for us. It seemed the car got stuck in mud but we were not at all concerned after seeing super performance of Mahindra 4×4 last evening. But soon our confidence started fading as the car was unable to pull out itself. We all got down and started all possible trick to free the car but all in vein. IMG_6732The driver put the engine in full throttle and it was smoking like anything, we could also smell the burning smell of rubber but nothing actually helped. Another safari car came and joined our efforts but that too did not do any good. They left as their passengers were waiting for safari. Before leaving they mentioned of spotting some fresh pugmarks nearby! We asked the guide to call for rescue but there was no cell phone coverage. So this was the situation. Our car broke down in thick forest, we got stuck for more than two hours, there was no mobile signal to call for help, our driver and his helper pretty much gave it up, one of us had a flight to catch to attend visa interview and we were running short of time and lastly there was sign of tiger being nearby! As there was no progress we decided to go back to resort by walk and take the risk. As planned we trekked through the jungle. The walk was difficult though the dense forest and on our way we found several foot marks of elephants and fresh pug marks. IMG_6745 We were worried yet excited at the same time!  Anyway soon we reached the resort. Hot water was available so we took shower had our breakfast (again it was very tasty specially the pongal ) and checked out. This time we wanted to take a different route. The other group of travelers I mentioned early had come through Bachahalli and they saw a large herd or elephants en-route. They suggested we could also go via this route and take our chances. We all agreed on this and briefed the driver accordingly. There is a diversion just before Bandipur forest camp if you are coming from Tamilnadu, take right there. You have to cross resorts like Country Club , Tusker Trails etc and continue on same Mangala Village Road. The road starts deteriorating as you go more and more towards Bachahalli and at some points there was practically no road. I checked in Google Navigation and yes there was no mark of road. Our ride was totally rough and for direction we had to depend on stray villagers. The view of Bandipur Range was very good but nothing extraordinary. IMG_6793 There was no sign of elephant or any other animal. Actually we miscalculated our timing; it was already late and chance of spotting animals is least during this time. I would not recommend this route to anyone. This detour wasted our  2 hours and we decided not to stop anywhere before we reach Bangalore as we had limited time. En-route we picked up lunch from KFC drive-in at Mudugere and continued on Mysore-Bangalore highway. We reached Bangalore by 6 PM and then headed to our home. Now I know after coming back from the trip why that group of fellow travelers keeps visiting Masinagudi again and again, because I can hear the call! IMG_6668 IMG_6773 IMG_6748

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