Rediscovering History – Kanheri Caves

25th March 2016

7.20 am: I drowsily peeked at my phone, wondering why the alarm hadn’t rung yet. My eyes widened in horror, and I jumped out of the bed like a freaking ninja. Luckily I remembered packing all the important stuff the night before. Switching on the WiFi router, I scoured my wardrobe for suitable clothes. I saw a host of messages on my phone from the newly created WhatsApp group, the last one being from my buddy Adwait, telling me to stop lazing and rush to the meeting point – Borivali station.

Kanheri Caves had been one of the places on my wishlist for a while and I was looking for someone to go there with. After planning the visit to the caves a week in advance (and seeing the plans fall through) my friend Adwait decided that a last minute plan will be the best way to ensure its occurrence. Considering that most of the people back out in the last moment of the trip, we managed to achieve a record: roping in 4 others – my classmate Neeti, Adwait’s classmates Dhairyashil (or Dhairya, as we called him) and Aishwarya, Aishwarya’s flatmate Milky tagged along as well. The impromptu-planning-phase for the trip turned to be a lot more successful than we thought… A WhatsApp group and a couple of hours of trolling each other later, we decided to rent a bicycle each and cycle to the caves.

As almost everyone found travelling by trains pretty convenient, we decided to meet up at Borivali station at 7.45am and take rickshaws to the entrance of the park together. But as I was running late, I decided to join all of them at the main entrance of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). My dad was sweet enough to offer me a ride, and mom didn’t mind an early morning drive either. My sister was the awesomest of the lot – with completely dishevelled hair she was the first one out the door, in her pyjamas, a half-drunk mug of coffee in her hand. The weather was just perfect for trekking, or at least it appeared so in the beginning – partially cloudy and windy. Most importantly, it wasn’t too hot. Although we missed a turn and had to take a longer route, we reached just in time, at about 8am.

Well, Kanheri Caves lie in the interior of SGNP. One can either choose to cycle, or trek or take the bus which goes right up to the base of the caves. The route from the entrance of SGNP is about 5.5 kilometres long.

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En route to the Caves

“Kumbhkaran” Adwait smirked at me as we walked to the bicycle rack. We found that the bicycles enough for only half of us. Sighing, we decided to walk instead. The walk felt lengthy – even though we walked for about an hour, we barely made it halfway. Taking a short water break, we resumed our journey. On our journey we came across people selling chana chaat (boiled chickpeas with vegetables and spices), fruits and vegetables. Briefly stopping to grab a little bit of chaat and a few slices of kairi (raw mango), we resumed our journey. We talked about everything under the sun – CGPAs, placements, crazy experiences, ideas for future treks and what not. We came across a Jain temple on the way and decided to pay it a visit on our way back. We did see quite a few people ditching their bicycles for a short walk or for selfies.

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We did see a few cars and buses pass us as well. “We are definitely taking the bus on our way back,” Neeti muttered. It was kinda sunny now and had slowly become tiring for all of us. We however cheered up and started walking with renewed vigour as we saw the main entrance leading to the caves in the distance. After resting a while, we purchased tickets to the caves and went in.

Well, the caves are under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and they have done a decent job of maintaining them. The cool caves were definitely a sharp contrast to the sultry afternoon weather. Initially we just came across small caves which we guessed were the places where the monks resided – or Viharas as they are called. I hoped there was something really interesting ahead, and my prayers were surprisingly answered in the next quarter-hour that followed.

We saw a chaityagriha – a prayer house as well. It was beautiful, in all its ancientness. The stupa, the sculptures, and a sense of satisfaction (on being able to walk so far) gave us a goody-goody feeling of peace. The caves got us more and more intrigued about the life the monks led, and about our history in general. After spending a few moments sitting and chatting there, we moved on to the other caves. We came across a huge hall with two long rock benches – I guessed it must have been the place the monks had their meals. Well, I found out from the ASI website that it is called “Darbar Hall.” Close enough!

We rested at the Darbar Hall for about an hour, yapping about everything under the sun – the weather, our colleges – the upcoming exams, internships, graduation, getting posted in different cities, and the amazing journey that lies ahead of us. It was almost noon, but we didn’t want to go out – the cool cave and the good company (and the creeping laziness) was getting the better of us.

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We climbed to the top of the hillock and caught a 360 degree view of the place. It looked splendid – although the mid-day sun wasn’t exactly forgiving. Munching on snacks, clicking selfies and teasing each other, we had our share of fun. We left the caves as per our plan – 2pm. Being kinda lazy to walk back all the way, we decided to take the bus to SGNP main gate.

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Adwait, Dhairya, Neeti and I got off at the stop closest to the temple and spent about 15 minutes there. The temple was just beautiful – definitely worth a visit. We walked back to the main gate after that – where Aishwarya and Milky awaited us. We made lunch plans en route to Borivali railway station and decided to ultimately eat at this restaurant called Sai Veg a couple of stations away.

After a nice sumptuous lunch and a chocolate cake later at Monginis, we bade each other bye. Sometimes, all it takes to have crazy amount of fun is an impromptu plan and a crazier bunch of people.

PS: Photo Credits – Neeti 😉

Well, if you wish to visit Kanheri Caves in the near future, here are a few tips that would be helpful.

  • It would be helpful to have a look at the ASI website so as to appreciate it better.
  • Speaking of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the park timings are 7.30am to 6pm. There is quite a LOT to explore. Check out the website to check out what event or attraction interests you.
  • The entry to the park cost around ₹45 (Parking for vehicles extra). Additionally, the entry to the caves for Indian nationals costs about ₹5 and about ₹100 for foreign nationals.
  • There are a multitude of options to get there from the main gate. One can choose to walk the road, rent a bicycle, take a bus or even trek to the caves.
  • Bicycles can be rented at about ₹60 an hour. It is a pretty good way to explore the place, but if you are going as a group, it’s better to reach early as most of the bicycles will be booked otherwise.
  • In case you are carrying disposable plastic items (bottles, packaged snacks etc.) it will be necessary to pay a security deposit at the time of entry to the park. The security deposit is refundable.
  • Carry enough water in case you plan to trek or walk to the Caves. 1.5 litres per person should suffice. Carry a cap with you, keeping the weather in mind. Fresh fruits are also advisable to prevent dehydration and tiredness.
  • If you plan to walk to the caves, you can purchase fruits and chaat along the way. The raw mango sprinkled with chilli powder tastes pretty good, and so does the chana chaat.
  • Weekends are more-or-less crowded, so it’s best to plan a trip on a not-so-busy day of the week
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Besting Myself – The Vikatgad Trek

17th January 2016

Getting an extended weekend, chilling with a bestie, finally going for a long-desired trek and climbing 2000 feet after pushing myself to the limit were the highlights of the last week. Well, it all began about 4 days before the trek. Although I haven’t really been in the best shape, I had been planning a trek for a while. The last one I had been to was two-and-a-half years ago at Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Wanting to begin my year with a bang, I decided to join Born Adventurer – a start-up, on their trek to Peb/Vikatgad. A mutual friend introduced me to the team leader Kartik, and I was eager to trek. A classmate of mine – Apurvi seemed interested and I asked her to tag along. Kartik had asked us to reach the boarding point at 5am initially.

We had decided to sleep over at my place the night before leaving for the trek in the morning. Wrapping up an assignment due soon, we went to sleep at 1am, setting the alarm for 4am. We barely slept though, as we were really psyched about the action packed day ahead. We woke up at 4 and were all set to leave at 5am, when Kartik called me up saying that he would be slightly delayed due to a couple of members joining him at the starting point at Borivali. He also said that he would ask one of his friends to join us at the pick-up point, and that he expected to reach by 5.30am. My parents had offered to drop Apurvi and me at the pick-up point. However, neither of us had the least idea about what was going to happen next. We reached there at about 5.20am. It was dark and chilly, and the roads were almost clear sans a few bikers, taxis and buses. We waited for a while before confining ourselves to the warmth of the car. We tried contacting Kartik but unfortunately we couldn’t get through after numerous attempts (I must have called 20 times…Apurvi called 10 times!). She and I looked at every crossing bus and wondered if it was ours. Finally, we decided to check one last time at 6.15am and go back home if there wasn’t any success. We walked out of the car, and were relieved to meet Viplove, who informed us that Kartik’s cell phone had suddenly stopped working, and that the bus would be reaching in another ten minutes.

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En route to Peb

We sat in the bus a few long minutes later, and witnessed the eastern end starless black sky lighten up by a few shades. It had been a while since I had witnessed and enjoyed the whole event of sunrise, and not just seen the sun rising. “Murphy’s Law” Apurvi and I joked, thinking about whatever could have gone wrong in the first couple of hours. Little did we know what lay in store. Kartik explained the cascading effect of his phone dying – he couldn’t contact anybody, including the bus driver! It took him a while to locate his friends and the bus driver at the starting point, and ultimately delayed almost everything by a couple of hours. A quick introduction with the others and a song session helped set the mood. Most of the gang comprised of Kartik’s friends, and their friends. We were 12 of us – 6 girls and 6 guys. The other guys in the gang were Dhwanit, Rahul, Prathamesh and Jayesh. The girls were a cheerful bunch – Purvangi, Mitali, Snehal and Harsha. The first couple of hours were comfortable, albeit bumpy. We stopped near Neral Railway Station for a nice warm breakfast at Shri Samarth Prasanna Restaurant. A plate and a half of poha later, I was ready to go. Kartik informed us that there would be no lunch as we were delayed by almost 2 hours (He had initially planned to start the ascent at 8.30am, but by the time we reached the base of the hill it was well past ten). We got chatting with Dhwanit over food – he gave us a pretty interesting piece of advice: avoid lagging behind, as the people walking in the end are usually the first to give up.

Apurvi and I decided to put all the necessities into my bag and take it – we ended up taking 3 litres of water, about 5 energy bars and hand towels. Dhwanit had warned us at the restaurant itself that it was a medium level trek and would prove to be slightly difficult for the first timers, and that it was a real test of our endurance. I was up for the challenge, as I knew more or less what to expect. We had to walk from the railway station to the base of the trek, near a small village. One of the guys there told us that the trek would take us about a couple of hours (and a maximum of 3) one way. The guys were all adrenaline junkies, ready for another adventure. However we girls were mostly newbies and I estimated that we would need some extra time. The guys instructed us to not drink too much water or sit down to rest frequently, as it would wear us out sooner. So on an average, we all had about a sip of water every half an hour or so. The trek turned out to be slightly hard for Apurvi in the beginning – she had almost given up in the first couple of hours. I don’t know what happened after that…all of a sudden she just started walking and barely took breaks. Dhwanit kept motivating us throughout.

The funniest part of the trek was the time we reached the seasonal waterfall – we saw a trail leading somewhere, and embarked on it. Out of nowhere a localite appeared to tell us that the trail wasn’t safe and that he knew another way to the top. “Nobody who has gone there has made it back alive” he sneered. This startled a few of us, who started doubting the path chosen. The guys figured that he was just trying to mess with our minds (and trying to get hired as a guide) and continued on the path. Just to lighten up the moment, they joked that there would be cannibals at the other end waiting to either kill us, or roast us alive and feast on us. Laughing it off, we walked for a while traversing large steep stones and narrow paths only to realize that it was a dead end (I guess I understand the reference to the word “dead” now – he might have been referring to the trail and not the trekkers!). After spending about an hour and finally retracing our steps back to the waterfall, we decided to take another route…yeah…the waterfall itself! I didn’t really expect that to happen – the stones were almost as steep as the wrong trail before, and were huge in some places. We did require quite a bit of effort to push ourselves up – the ascent was taxing.

After finishing three quarters of the climb we girls were drained. I was amazed by Mitali’s effort, as she wouldn’t give up even after being completely exhausted. Although she was lagging a little behind us, she put one foot in front of the other and braved on. We figured it would take her a little long to reach us. Dhwanit went to explore the little stretch that remained, and shouted back once he reached the peak. The short amount of time he took (barely 8 mins) motivated us to somehow try to reach the top. I felt all the more motivated to push myself harder once I could see him. It wasn’t so difficult after all – it just appeared so. And honestly speaking, the view from the top was completely worth the effort and the pain. It was almost 3.45pm and we were to begin our descent after resting a while. We began our descent at about 4pm – well, most of us (that is, excluding Prathamesh and Dhwanit). This part of our journey was perhaps the most challenging one, as we had very limited amount of water left for about 2000 feet of journey. For the relatively inexperienced members of the group it proved to be tougher as our legs began to shiver and we began to experience a slight headache. The fun part was tackling the steep slippery rocks. I remember slipping and falling on my back once. I prayed for strength to put one foot ahead of the other so that we could reach the base before dark. We took a nice two hours to reach though. Surprisingly it took Prathamesh and Dhwanit only half the time we took – it took them barely an hour to catch up!

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The Temple at the top

The sweetest part of the day was reaching the village. We were completely drained and requested the villagers for water, sugar and a little salt. They were more than kind and fulfilled our every need with a smile. Apurvi, being in no position to walk to the bus, requested a family for a ride till there. They were more than happy to help out! The best of human nature is brought out in times like these – everything about the villagers felt divine. The journey back was pretty pleasant – cool breeze, my favourite songs and vada-pav with Maaza. We all chatted about almost everything under the sun and bade bye to each other as we neared the drop-off point.

 

The trek was an experience in itself, as it made me push myself and redefine the limits I thought I had. I certainly am looking forward to a lot more adventures and treks in the near future. Special thanks to Born Adventurer for making the experience memorable.

 

 

For those who plan a trip to Peb/Vikatgad, here are a few pointers that might help –

  • Breakfast was pretty decent at the Shree Samarth Prasanna restaurant near Neral Railway Station
  • Preferably start the trek latest by 8.30am – the later you start, the more you get drained because of the harsh sun
  • Preferably have a light to moderate breakfast, or start the trek a couple of hours after a heavy breakfast
  • Once you reach the waterfall, choose to climb the waterfall as it is a challenge in itself
  • Carry enough water – 2 litres per person is a must in order to avoid dehydration
  • Carry biscuits, citrus fruits or energy bars so as to replenish energy instantly
  • Make sure your shoes have are well-fitting and have a good grip. Preferably trim your toe nails – I was slightly uncomfortable as my toes hurt.
  • General tips for first timers – walk slowly if you must, but avoid stopping as you get tired faster. Avoid being the last in line as the ones in the end are the first ones to give up.
  • Although the trek is labelled moderate, for first-timers it slightly edges towards the difficult side.
  • Tip for first timers: Be prepared for a couple of days of soreness 😛

 

Photo Credits: My fellow trekkers 😀

Bengaluru Diaries: Guhantara (Part 1 of 2)

I feel really blessed to have spent my summer in Bengaluru, and even more so being able to spend time with my relatives. The presence of my cousins is like the icing on the cake, as there isn’t a single dull moment when I am around them. My cousin Nikhil had flown in from Ithaca a couple of weeks ago after graduating from Cornell, and decided to host an outing/party for the entire extended family in Bengaluru. Another reason to celebrate was his younger brother Nitin’s stellar performance in IITJEE-2015.

My Sunday began with stuffing my small backpack hurriedly until there wasn’t even an inch of space left. Anil Uncle and Chinna Aunty were on their way to pick me up, and the last thing I wanted to do was delay them. The three of us picked my cousin sister Nitya, and embarked on an hour long journey to Guhantara Resort. The last time all of us met was for my cousin Vinayak’s wedding, and the thought of meeting them again and have a fun-filled Sunday instantly planted a huge smile on my face. The journey was fun as we joked about a lot of things. Nikhil had requested everyone to be there as early as possible as breakfast buffet ended at 10.30am. We teased Anil Uncle saying that he would have to treat us to breakfast if we missed the buffet. Fortunately for him, we reached the resort 45 minutes before the buffet ended.

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True to its name, the place seemed like a cave (Guha) at first. “Second Left” said the receptionist, after checking the details and guiding us to the Amphitheatre, where breakfast was being served. The route to the amphitheatre was rocky and dark – the cave did look pretty authentic. The amphitheatre itself looked great – there was a nice waterfall-pool and a bamboo bridge connecting opposite ends of the pool. There also was a raised platform for live music. The thing that really stood out was the web-like structure in the centre of the ceiling. It really left us wondering for a bit, until it struck us that it was for the Rain-Dance. We spotted Nikhil in a grey Cornell hoodie and started chatting with him while sipping on the welcome drink. Nikhil was expecting about 30 of us, and more than half of the group was there by the time the 4 of us reached. Nikhil himself had reached a couple of hours earlier to make sure that everything planned went on smoothly.

I was thrilled to see Nitin after quite a while. He has really shot up in height – the last time I saw him, he was a little bit taller than I was. He is now a LOT taller than I am! In a matter of a few minutes we were joined by my cousin Samarth’s family. After chatting for a while, Nitin distributed the coupons to the breakfast buffet. The buffet was pretty well planned. The South Indian cuisine was perfect for breakfast as it was filling, and at the same time not too heavy on the stomach. Chinna Aunty, Nitya and I had a quick tour of the surroundings and found that Guhantara had three pools in total – a big pool, a small pool and the third on adjoining the amphitheatre. We joined the rest of the group on their way to the activity area, and passed by the Fish Pedicure on our way there. “If the fish actually eat up all the dead skin and leave us with glowing fairer skin, a fish facial makes more sense than the pedicure…Coz you see, people notice our face before our feet!” my cousin brothers joked.

Nitya, Rahul, Samarth and I first went to the indoor games area. Foosball caught our eye, as everything else was already being used. Rahul and I played against Samarth and Nitya. We used a Table-Tennis ball, as we couldn’t find anything else. After a couple of games, we moved on to Table-Tennis, and started a game of doubles. I wouldn’t say we were great at it, but being with cousins was certainly a lot of fun. Nikhil and Nitin joined us soon, and we played a couple of games with them. We kept playing TT waiting for our turn at Foosball, and waited for a bit. Finally, we asked the family at the Foosball table if they wanted to swap games. It turned out that exactly like our case, they wanted to play TT but were politely waiting for us to vacate! The Foosball match was another level of fun. Nikhil was clearly the Foosball Rockstar, as his team initially lead 5-1 in a 10 point match. As he got called for something, Nitin filled in for him. The match had a nailbiting finish, in which Nikhil’s team won by a really close margin of 10-8. With a feeling of satisfaction, we walked to the outdoor activity area.

The first activity that had my attention in the outdoor activity area was the Zorb. I had always wanted to try that one out, but never had the opportunity owing to too much crowd. Fortunately, our group was the first one there. Chinna Aunty had inaugurated the Zorb and told us that it was worth a shot. Nikhil got coupons for Nitya and me. The Zorb was an experience of a kind. We strapped in – ankle straps first, followed by the strap for the torso and then securing it with the strap for the waist. One could only hold on tight and enjoy the ride, as the Zorb would be controlled by the guy pushing it.

Nitya and I had a memorably insane experience. While first part of the experience was okay, as I had a feeling of falling forwards. Just before the guy controlling the direction of the Zorb reversed it, the strap securing Nitya’s torso came off. We noticed that the only things supporting her were the waist and ankle straps. We both screamed trying to get the attention of the guy controlling the Zorb, who incidentally stopped the Zorb only when Nitya was at the highest point! He helped her out after by securing the strap. Thankfully, the remainder of the ride didn’t have any more surprises, except for the scary feeling of falling backwards. The minute-long experience was one way to kick-start our adventure. As we both squeezed out of the tiny cavity, Samarth joked that our screams could be heard from a 100 metres away! Rahul and Samarth went soon after us, and fortunately, their experience was much more comfortable.

After everyone was done with the Zorb, we moved on to the outdoor games for the next half-hour. I learnt that Cricket not only influences people, but also unites them. And this time it was really a lot more special because it was not just the youngsters playing – in fact, the elders were the core of the game. Anand Uncle (Nikhil’s dad) and Anil Uncle enjoyed every moment on the field. I could truly see the glow in their eyes as their bats connected with the ball and flicked it away. Personally, I felt that this part was the most magical of all – we got to see our elders enjoy their childhood again.

The energy and enthusiasm of my uncles and cousin brothers was infectious – it kicked up everybody’s energy levels by a few notches. Chinna Aunty suggested renting badminton racquets and shuttles, and soon enough everything was ready. Nitya and I joined them for a while. It was the first time in so many years I saw all of my aunts play and thoroughly enjoy themselves – even though a few of them were in sarees, it didn’t seem to slow them down. We played until it became too sunny and then decided to explore the other activities that Guhantara had to offer.

Here is the link to the next part of the post –

https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/bengaluru-diaries-guhantara-part-2-of-2/

For the video capturing our best moments, here is the link –

https://nixieslife.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/family-outing-at-guhantara-resort/

Experiences…Enjoyment…Memories – TechFest 2015!!!

I guess this post is coming a little late, considering that the annual TechFest at IIT Bombay was over a month ago.

I missed out on Mood Indigo (the annual cultural fest at IIT-B), which was conducted in the last week of December 2014, as most of my friends weren’t around (and I was in absolutely no mood to go alone). This was one of the reasons I didn’t want to miss out on the TechFest, which was to be organised there on the first weekend of January 2015. The other (and the more prominent) reason for attending the TechFest was my sister’s over-inclination to attend it. In stark contrast to my sister’s attitude, I wanted to spend the last Sunday before my college began sleeping. Destiny had another plans though.

We decided to attend the Fest on the last day – 4th January, and spent a couple of hours the night before chalking out our plan for the visit. I was fortunate enough to have one of my friends volunteering to accompany us as well. Never did I expect in my wildest dreams my friend and my sister to bond so quickly and gang up against me. Being the shortest among the three, I had the privilege of being constantly picked on. Honestly I didn’t mind, as I had never imagined enjoying the day so much.

The highlight of the day (and the reason that really tempted me to attend) was the speech by former President of India – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, at 4.30pm. Planning accordingly, we decided to be there by 2.

One of the most hilarious parts of the day was finding a bus. Although a number of buses go to IIT, we had a hard time finding one. After 20 minutes of waiting (and looking like complete fools at the bus stop) we found an A/C bus. Even then, I felt as if a joke had been played on us – the air conditioning was so faulty that it was hotter inside the bus than outside. It didn’t bother us much though, as my friend and I had enough to catch up about.

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After registering and finally entering the campus, we walked around a little and then proceeded to the auditorium where Dr. Kalam was to speak. I hadn’t imagined the length of the queue to be that crazy long (apparently, people had outsmarted my idea of waiting there 2 hours prior to the speech). After waiting a decent half-hour in the queue we calculated and concluded that we wouldn’t get a chance to get in, much to our dismay (I guess we caught a glimpse of him towards the end…but it all happened so fast that it seems like a blur).

Although disappointed, we decided to make the most of what we had. And I am glad we did. There was so much to explore – the campus, the activities, the exhibitions…It was a complete delight. There were exhibits by the Indian Army and Digital Art among others, which were pretty impressive. However, the part I enjoyed the most was walking in the shade of the lush greenery, past the hostels and the lecture halls. The three of us walked till we could walk no more, and walked again after resting briefly.

After about three hours of such incessant walking, we proceeded to the cafeteria. It was a rather refreshing to have a Chokolade B at the Café Chokolade counter. The warm afternoon weather made the the cold chocolate icecream-shake rather irresistible. And the highlight of the afternoon was the pani puri. It was definitely worth a try.

 

“Be Spontaneous!” screamed my sister as she dragged me to the Zorb Football Arena. I gave in, although really reluctant at first. Divided in two teams of three each, our goal was to tackle the person opposite to us to the ground, while wearing body zorbs (Here’s the link… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVo8FzATac8). Thanks to the mismatched momentum, I ended up at the bottom of a 4-people pile up, while my friend laughed hysterically (and so did I, a couple of moments later). Needless to say, the 2 minutes of impulsive spontaneity were one of the greatest and the most refreshing moments that I ever had. Towards the end of our adventure, the three of us sat down and caught up on each other’s lives. I never expected catching up with an old friend to be so much fun – we are so different from our school-days selves, yet so similar.

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The dreamlike experience came to an end as we walked out the IIT main gate, abruptly reminded of the traffic, the hour long journey that lay in front of us, and finally, the new semester at college that was to begin in less than 15 hours.

 

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Safari World Bangkok

Day 8: 1st June, Bangkok

Part 1

This was the last planned day of the tour. The only place to be visited in the itinerary was the Safari World. After the usual breakfast we headed to the venue in our van. The journey was more than half an hour long.

The place is interesting. There are two main parts – the safari and the animal shows. The main safari area surrounds other exhibits and the area where different animal shows are conducted. Unlike the Night Safari in Singapore we were allowed our own vehicles inside. The experience lasted 45 minutes and we got a chance to see many animals in their almost-natural habitat from up close. The giraffes rested in the shade while the hippos had a mud bath and the zebras played around. I enjoyed seeing a rhinoceros again after Singapore. There were quite a few varieties of deer – Sambar, Eld’s Deer, Fallow Deer, Black-buck and so on. The safari is the home to a number of birds like pelicans, peacocks and storks.

The best part of the safari was seeing the enclosure of the lions and tigers. This part was undoubtedly the best experience, as a family of lions came and sat within 3 metres of our vehicle. It was an absolutely amazing experience as I had never seen an entire family of lions from that close. They were practically posing for photos! The same enclosure also housed the tigers. We didn’t see much of them in action as they preferred to nap. We were not so fortunate to make it to the feeding program due to time constraints. The next enclosure was that of the Black Bears. I have to admit, they actually looked like a jumbo sized version of the Teddy Bears.

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We moved on to the next part of the experience – the animal enclosures and shows. The first show on the list was the Orang-utan Show. On the way there we caught sight of a couple more attractions – the ponies and the crocodiles. The crocodiles stood so still that I actually doubted if they were even alive.

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Again, we couldn’t manage to get the best seats in the house as we reached just in time for the show. The set for the Orang-utan Show was very interesting. The actual show was even more so, as I had least expected orang-utans to play music the drums and cello, leave alone 2 rounds of Boxing! The funniest part was to see an orang-utan imitating and slapping the host! The sound effects were really cool and the comic timing was spot on.

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We took a detour to the enclosure housing a pair of white tigers before we proceeded to the Sea Lion show. The tigers were undoubtedly the most beautiful and majestic animals I had seen in the day.

We somehow managed to get decent seats even though we reached just before the show began. I knew that the show was going to be almost the same as the Fur Seals we saw in Singapore. Although most of the tricks were the same, the show in Bangkok was a tad better than that in Sentosa Island Singapore. The comic element in the Bangkok show was better. The seals imitated the caretakers, played fetch with rings and balanced balls on their snouts. They even raced each other and perfectly aimed balls inside nets. I was pleasantly amazed as I had never even thought of sea lions getting a massage or standing and shaking hands. Another act that really caught my eye was of the sea lion balancing on its nose a ball on a stick. It climbed steps balancing it perfectly. It was mindboggling.

This show was definitely a lot grander than what we saw in Singapore. It involved a greater number of seals and a lot more tricks. We then proceeded to the next item on our checklist – the Western Cowboy Stunt Show and passed by the enclosure of the striped deer en route.

 

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The Western Cowboy Stunt Show was perhaps the only show where I managed to get the second row seats despite reaching just before it started (I didn’t notice the warning in the front saying that the people in the first couple of rows will get completely soaked). One of the actors came outside to welcome us. He acted so well that I actually thought he was completely drunk although he was pretty much sober. Although the show was pretty lengthy it had its moments. The fact I really appreciated about the actors was that although it was raining they didn’t let it get to them at all. Their stamina and determination really was commendable. Of course I emerged soaking wet after the show, but it didn’t seem to bother me much.

We proceeded to have lunch after this. The lunch was arranged at the venue by our tour operators and a large table had been booked especially for the 11 of us. The lunch was decent and was followed by the last attraction of the day – the Dolphin Show.

 

The Dolphin Show was really enjoyable. I again managed to get myself a decent seat (without getting soaked this time). The main tricks were more or less similar to the show we saw in Sentosa but overall, this show was a lot better than what we saw there. The number of dolphins were greater here and they were very much bigger than the pink dolphins.

The dolphins looked really charming as they swam a couple of laps with their neon “goggles” on. Other tricks included standing up and saluting, really high jumps, jumping through hoops, balancing big exercise balls on their snouts, playing with hoops and synchronised swimming with the trainers. The cutest part about the whole thing was seeing the dolphins sing. It was really a wonderful experience. For the grand finale, six dolphins charmed us as they jumped high together and bade goodbye.

 

Safari World was one of the best experiences I had in Bangkok. Here are a few tips if you intend to visit the Safari World

  • Check out the feeding times of the lions and tigers in the safari and plan your trip accordingly. It is supposed to be a unique experience. Unfortunately we missed out on it due to time constraints
  • Enquire about the timings of different shows and plan your day accordingly. We missed out on the Elephant Show.
  • Regarding the attire, wear clothes that dry quickly. The weather is humid and it can rain anytime. It rained twice during our visit. (Also, if you are sitting in the front seats for the Cowboy Stunt Show, there is a high chance you will emerge soaking wet!)
  • Our buffet lunch had been arranged through our tour operators DS Travels. There was a hall dedicated to vegetarian Indian food only. Jain variants were also available.
  • Lastly, a comparison between Safari World Bangkok and the Dolphin Lagoon in Sentosa, Singapore. The Dolphin Show and the Sea Lion Show in Bangkok is a lot grander than the Dolphin Lagoon in Sentosa.

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Bangkok City Tour

Day 7: 31st May, Bangkok

The schedule was almost the same – waking up early in the morning. I didn’t even need the alarm now. My brain was programmed to wake up on time. Every passing day made me sadder, as the end of our journey came closer.  However that did not stop me from enjoying every minute I had left.

After an amazing continental buffet for breakfast, we checked out of Centara Pattaya. The journey to Bangkok was uneventful as we decided to replenish our energy by sleeping. Almost two hours later we checked in Atrium Bangkok and were delighted to have our rooms assigned within minutes, thanks to the efficiency of the staff. The rooms were very good and comfortable.

The itinerary for the day was just the Bangkok City Tour. Our guide for the day, Nikki, picked us up from our hotel. We were to visit two famous Buddha temples: the first one was the Temple of Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit). Our guide began the journey to the temple by throwing a little more light on Thailand. The old name of Thailand was Siam. Thailand is a monarchy head by King Rama IX. With a population of over 65 million, Thailand is 20th largest country in the world by area. About 95% of the population follows Buddhism.

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Wat Traimit – Temple of the Golden Buddha

 

Nikki told us that the Buddha image was titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon and was made completely of gold. Although the exact origin of the image was unknown, the image is from the Sukhothai Dynasty and is about 700 years old. It is made of pure gold and weighs about 5.5 tons, and it is the largest gold image of Buddha in the world. She also mentioned that the image was covered in plaster entirely to conceal it from the invaders and was the principal Buddha image in the Choti-naram temple. The image was moved to Traimit Witthayaram Temple. It was discovered by accident that the image was made of pure gold.

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Buddha Image at Wat Traimit

The beauty of the temple made it stand out. The hot sun only made the temple look grander. The cool and calmness of the temple contrasted sharply with the hot weather outside. Everything inside was really serene. After enjoying a few moments in the calmness we left for the next place on the agenda – Wat Pho.

 

Wat Pho is the Temple of Reclining Buddha, with the official name Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan. It is one of the largest temples in Bangkok with an area of about 80,000 square metres. The main image of Buddha is gold plated and is about 43 metres in length and 15 metres in height. The feet of the Buddha have the 108 auspicious symbols. There are 108 bronze bowls, in which the pilgrims drop coins to bring good fortune, and to help in maintaining the Temple. I really liked the Temple premises – it was really beautifully done and well maintained. The Temple complex is the home to about a thousand Buddha images. We split up and explored the beauty of the premises, only to meet after a quarter of an hour for heading to the next place on the checklist.

 

The next place due was the Gems Gallery in Bangkok as they had a tie up with our tour operator> Nikki reaffirmed the fact several times that she could only take us there and not force us to buy anything. The part I liked the most about this trip there was that we could actually see the gems being cut and polished. The hard work that goes into cutting and polishing individual stones was being displayed in front of our eyes. There was also a display which compared the stones before and after cutting and polishing treatment. On looking at the finished product, it appeared as if life had been breathed into the pieces. Too bad, photography wasn’t allowed in the area (or anywhere else in the building complex for that matter).

We moved on to the actual shopping area after a refreshing glass of Coca Cola. The place was similar to the Pattaya one and had almost the same kind of jewellery. Unfortunately for me, when I finally decided about what to look for, I noticed that they had everything except for what I had wanted. After all of us had selected and paid for what we had liked we proceeded to the hotel room for the remainder of the day.

 

Although a couple of decent vegetarian restaurants were there within a hundred metres I am glad we tried the food at the hotel. Among the two pizzas and the vegetarian Thai curry and rice we ordered, the Thai curry stood out. Although a simple dish, it was refreshingly different. I regret not having ordered the dish during our stay at Centara Pattaya as well.

 

Here are a couple of tips for those planning for the city tour:

  • Do not miss out on Wat Traimit and Wat Pho. Those are the two of the calmest and most serene places I have been to in Thailand.
  • Regarding the Temple visit, it is advisable to wear full length pants and tops which cover your shoulders.
  • I advise spending a decent amount of time in the Temple premises, especially Wat Pho, as there is a lot to be seen.
  • The Gems Gallery has a lot to offer, in terms of varieties and price range. Do make sure you visit it.

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Nong Nooch Village

Day 6: 30th May, Coral Island, Pattaya

Part 2

After the parasailing and snorkelling experience we proceeded to the actual island experience. Our itinerary included a ride in the glass bottomed boat. We decided to split in 2 groups as the motor boat would be faster option than the glass bottomed boat. The sea was rough and the organisers asked if we wanted to continue with the experience even if we wouldn’t be able to see anything underwater. We chose to go with it anyway.

We met up at the island a few minutes later. All I wanted was to just sit down for a while and relax a little before lunch as I was completely exhausted. We sat down on a recliner under one of the umbrellas and observed the rest of the world take banana rides and jet-skis. The beach was one of the most picture-perfect ones I have ever seen – bright blue water and pristine white sand.

We had to wait a little longer for lunch than expected as there had been a raid in the morning and it would take some time to set things back to normal. Our lunch was arranged well in advance by the local travel planners – DS Travels at the nearby Seven Star Restaurant. There wasn’t anything Seven Star about it, except perhaps the name. Although the food was more or less similar to the dinner we had the previous night, I was impressed because they managed so much even though water was not naturally available and had to be brought from outside the island.

We proceeded back to our hotel room after lunch. The motor-boat ride was surprisingly fast and we reached the shore in about 20 minutes. I was thrilled to be back in the room but my joy didn’t last that long. After a quick bath and a change of clothes we left for the next place in our itinerary – Nong Nooch Village. Our guide for the day was Simmi.

 

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I don’t remember much of the journey to the village as the adventure activities earlier in the day drained me of all my energy. I woke up as we neared the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden. It was a really cool place, even in the afternoon. The garden was really lovely – a lot of artwork made of earthen pots. I was surprised to find a variety of animals and birds there. They had a pair of tigers (enjoying their afternoon nap), a cockatoo and a bunch of macaws which stood so still that I doubted if they were statues. Our stay there was very brief – we barely spent 15 minutes.

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We had a refreshing walk and proceeded to the Nong Nooch Tropical Garden. I really loved the landscaping on the way to the garden – it was really well maintained. There were 2 attractions we wanted to cover – the Thai Cultural and Dance Show, and the Elephant Show. We were just in time for the first show (and hence couldn’t manage to find the best seats in the house). However we were lucky enough to get decent seats.

With the help of the show we broadened a little more about Thai culture. The dance show was slow and soothing. I really enjoyed the Muay Thai fight on the stage. The drum show was really interesting. It didn’t appear much at first, but the effect of various kinds of drums was visible in the end as the whole place seemed to come to life.

The grandest part about the show was the enactment of war. It couldn’t get more realistic as sparks flew when the swords clashed. For the grand finale, the elephants were brought to the show. It was a interesting and spectacular display of Thai culture.

 

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The next item on the agenda was the Elephant Show. This experience left me completely dazzled, amazed, and finally shocked. Most of us were fortunate enough to get the first row seats. The only thing that irritated us was the hot sun. A group of children sold bananas to the audience to feed the elephants. The opening act was really impressive – the elephants entered age-wise, starting from the youngest. Trunk-to-tail, they walked in. The acts that followed kept on getting more and more interesting. Most of them were never-seen-before acts, such as the elephants playing darts, hoops and basketball. I was all the more astonished when I saw the elephants paint! I couldn’t help but smile when the elephants swayed and (almost) danced to the tunes while playing with hoops. It was unbelievable. After the show ended, the elephants played with the audience, lifting them with their trunks and waiting for bananas.

Although Nong Nooch Village was the last part of our itinerary, we decided to take a detour to the Gems Gallery. We reached barely a few moments before closing time. I was amazed by the sheer size of the store and the variety of jewellery they had to offer. They had something interesting in every price range. After some shopping there we retired to our rooms completely exhausted.

In retrospect, the only thing I wish we had done differently would have been visiting the Nong Nooch Village first. We could have enjoyed the evening and the sunset at the Coral Island.

 

Here are a few tips for the people who plan to visit Coral Island in the near future:

  • For elderly and people who have trouble walking, skipping the island trip altogether is a good option as it is really draining. Boarding and alighting a motorboat is a nightmare.
  • Wear clothes that dry quickly. It is advisable to carry a spare set of clothes and waterproof shoes. Avoid sneakers altogether.
  • Do not get your hopes up about seeing the coral reef from the glass bottomed boat as the sea could be rough. I haven’t met anybody who has achieved this.
  • Visit Coral Island early in the morning or in the evening. I felt that visiting the place in the afternoon wasn’t an excellent idea as our activities became very limited.
  • I found Coral Island not-so-interesting as there wasn’t much to do apart from Jet-skiing and banana boat riding. Carry  something like a volley-ball or a flying disc to make things interesting.

 

Here are a few tips for those who intend to visit Nong Nooch Village in the near future:

  • Check about the show timings in advance
  • Visit Nong Nooch Village before you visit the Alcazar Show. Alcazar is purely entertainment, whereas Nong Nooch show focuses more on the Thai Culture.
  • The weather in Nong Nooch is hot and humid. Dress accordingly.