Half a Week in the Hills… Ooty!

My parents and I had a layover of about a couple of hours before our connecting flight to Coimbatore. Sitting at Chennai airport at 8am flooded back the memories of the last year. This was certainly one of the most exciting moments ever – being my last family trip as a student, I was had been looking forward to it. I had spent the Indigo flight from Mumbai working on one of my class assignments, and was glad that it was on the verge of completion.

Waiting for the boarding announcement we pondered about the course of action for the day. We planned to get to Udagamandalam (or should I say Ooty) from Coimbatore, and were brainstorming about how to get there. I was an advocate of renting a car – it would give us a good deal of flexibility while travelling, and would feel like the road trips we used to take when my sister and I were kids. My parents were more interested in hiring the services of a driver, as it would give my dad an opportunity to sit back and relax. After a brief discussion, we agreed on renting a Hyundai i20 from Zoomcars for the next 3 days and made the payment en route to the aero-bridge.

Having finished the remainder of my assignment during the connecting Indigo flight, I was relieved. It was heartening to see the coconut plantations from the airplane window as we began our descent at Coimbatore. A little while later we were greeted by the tropical South-Indian weather as we made our way to the baggage claim. Since the Zoomcars request processing time is approximately three hours (we had booked the vehicle at 9am), we found ourselves with a little less than two hours to kill. My sister joined us in the meantime, and we had a short breakfast comprising of ready-to-eat noodles and ice-creams from the general store outside the airport. Little did we know about the adventures that lay ahead of us!

After getting picked up by the Zoomcars representative, we headed to their nearest depot. Having completed all the formalities, we found ourselves driving to the Adiyogi Statue twenty minutes later. We had been looking forward to visiting since we saw the unveiling ceremony on TV, and our trip to Ooty was the best opportunity we could possibly think of. Google Maps had become our best friend, as the hour-long journey to the statue was really eventful – we found ourselves passing by fields of coconut trees, and small patches of land blooming with yellow and orange marigolds. A couple of bridges and a few narrow roads later, we found ourselves at the entrance of the parking lot.

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The Adiyogi looked majestic – the peace, coolness and serenity one feels after regularly practising yoga was clearly visible on His face, and definitely was a stark contrast to the punishing Coimbatore afternoon. We spent some time there, and after a pradakshina of the statue we were ready to head to the next place on our itinerary – a restaurant before beginning the journey to Ooty.

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Getting the car out of the parking spot was certainly the most hilarious part of the trip. The gearbox of the car was slightly different from the ones dad had driven previously. Contrary to most other cars, the reverse was the leftmost gear, and one needed to press a button to activate it. Ignorant of the fact, we found it impossible to get the car out of the parking lot – it kept going ahead when we wanted to take a reverse! Ultimately mom, sis and I got off and pushed the car behind while dad kept it in neutral gear. We got stuck behind a vehicle and it was impossible to get out without reversing the vehicle – and that was when we decided to approach the driver of one of the vehicles parked there (who had been confusedly observing us ever since we began pushing the car). He found it difficult to contain his smile as he helped us out. I am sure those 5 minutes were the most entertaining minutes of his day, and that he must have laughed his heart out once we left. The next hour and a half was spent in searching for a decent restaurant that was not too crowded. The day being declared a bandh didn’t help us at all – we couldn’t find one restaurant that was open! We ultimately gave up on the idea of lunch by 4.15pm.

The journey to Ooty was by far the most memorable road trip I have had yet. And the fact that we rented a vehicle (and not hired one with a driver) made the experience so much better. From cruising on the well maintained roads to trying to find an inexistent road and retracing our path by about 4-5km, we experienced it all. We discovered during this experience that the people in the small towns here feel really happy to help others out – never before had I seen anybody so enthusiastic about guiding us towards our destination, be it a lady carrying vegetables home or a pan-shop entrepreneur! Our ascent to Ooty finally began at about 5.45pm after we finally found a small restaurant where we stopped for tea. I dreaded the ghat section because I was really prone to carsickness as a teen – however this time was something different. We rolled down the windows and took in the freshest air possible, sang along with the songs on the phone, cracked jokes, enjoyed the beautiful scenery outside, observed the fluffy clouds, looked out for monkeys, and finally witnessed the sun take the rest of the day off. The most interesting part of this journey was seeing the buses travel up and down the slope – for a bus, the speed at which the drivers drove was just insane, and the way they navigated at the blind turns was nothing less than a work of art. By the time we reached the Club Mahindra Derby Green Resort, it was dark. We missed a couple of turns and ended up adding an additional half hour to the duration of our journey.

I always look forward to staying at Club Mahindra – I love every bit of the experience, especially their hospitality (they go to extra lengths to ensure that our stay is comfortable) and the amazing food. On arrival we were greeted with hot towels, honey herbal tea, and sandalwood paste. The slightly-sweet hot tea complemented the chilly Ooty evening, and the untimely rain helped in quickening our journey from the reception to the 1-bedroom apartment (which also had a kitchenette!). The bandh interestingly proved to be beneficial for us – our room got upgraded owing to the fact that one of the guests cancelled at the last moment! We had a hearty dinner at restaurant Ascot. We were spoilt for choice when it came to dinner, as there was every cuisine we could possibly want. With minds full of eventful experiences, and tummies full of amazing food, we finally retired to our mini-apartment for the evening.

As there were no 1-bedroom apartments available for the next day, we were allotted a couple of hotel units (it’s essentially room + bathroom). We explored the area a bit in the morning before the amazing continental breakfast at Ascot. We reached the clubhouse after a bit of a climb and discovered a number of hidden gems there, including a 6-player Carrom board. The pencil sketches made by the previous guests were really interesting – it was almost homely.

We were torn between going for a trek nearby and attending the salsa class at the club – interestingly we ended up doing neither. We spent the afternoons chatting in our rooms, playing card games and relishing on the delicious alphonso mangoes that we carried with us from home. We were serious mango-vores, having consumed mangoes on almost every day of our stay.

We decided to explore the different delights Ooty had to offer us, and began with the Botanical Garden. We couldn’t even park the car the first time we went there owing to a HUGE group of  100+ people who had come to visit the garden. The next day was a similar story – we managed to get a parking spot, but couldn’t enter the park as the system was down. We gave up after waiting for more than half an hour in queue. We passed through the Tibetan market on the way back to the car park. Spotting an Ibaco icecream outlet brought the biggest smile to my face – I frequented it a lot during my stay in Chennai, and finally found an opportunity to share the amazing experience with my parents and sister. I made them the best possible ice-cream I could fathom, and we finally left the parlour feeling really full.

On the second-last day we wanted to experience breakfast at a restaurant called “The Earl’s Secret” in Ooty. Although the hotel “King’s Cliff” to which the restaurant is attached is at an enviable location, our experience was less than satisfactory. There was no coordination among the staff – we were told on phone that there would be a buffet (and even quoted the per-head price beforehand), there was none.

Dejected, we ended up going to the other Club Mahindra property: Danish Villa, where we enjoyed a nice buffet. The last night at the Club was the most eventful one – we enjoyed watching Herbie Fully Loaded and Impractical Jokers while savouring a pizza. The three days flew past us pretty quick – I only realized how much we had enjoyed only when our stay came to an end.

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The Reception

The day of our departure was another eventful one. Google Maps gave us a hard time – it showed us inexistent routes and we spent a good amount of time getting back to the normal road after being stuck somewhere uphill. We decided to stick to the advice of the local people until we reached the base of the hills. Having committed to returning the car at 10am, and did everything possible to reach the Zoomcar depot in time.

Google Maps bestowed upon us its benevolence this time, showing us routes with really smooth roads and negligible traffic. We made it to the depot in the nick of time and proceeded to have breakfast at a restaurant called Sree Annapurna near the airport after completing the formalities. Besides being affordable, the food was just amazing – the Thayir-wada (dahi wada) was the easily the star of the day, and the filter coffee was the most amazing one.

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The flight back home was interesting too. We had a three-hour long layover scheduled in Hyderabad, where we bumped into one of my cousins and his family. Coincidentally they were booked on the same flight as us, just ten rows ahead. We chatted for a while, discussing about our experiences since the last time we met (on Diwali last year), and how my cousin Yash seems to grow a couple of inches every time I meet him! Our trip to Ooty has certainly been one of the best memories of this year yet. From last minute bookings to weird Google Maps experiences, we had it all. A special thanks to the staff at Club Mahindra for making our experience amazing.

Well, for those who intend to plan a similar trip, here are some pointers that might help –

  • If you plan to go from Coimbatore to Ooty, I would highly recommend renting a vehicle if you don’t have one. We found Zoomcars to be a very good deal for approximately ₹6,500– A Hyundai i20 Elite for 70 hours and 350km (over which we would be charged ₹12/km). The fuel was included in the package as well. BTW the airport pick-up and drop service is available
  • Speaking of renting a car, ensure that you take photos of the car from all sides to make a note of any prior damage the car has withstood and share the photos with the representative.
  • Although we loved visiting the Adiyogi, it would be best if one visits the place after approximately a year or two. A lot of landscaping is going on at present, and once complete, the experience will be something different altogether.
  • Do research about the bandhs well in advance. We travelled through a number of towns, and not a single restaurant or shop was open until 5 in the evening. Carry enough food just in case.
  • Plan in advance, especially for Club Mahindra (unless you are a Violet Card holder). We were really fortunate to find a place at such short notice. The food there is just amazing, albeit slightly expensive.
  • Carry adequate warm clothes. It is always cool there. We experienced that summer afternoons in Ooty have weather comparable to Mumbai evenings in winters. Preferably carry umbrellas for the sudden untimely rain.
  • The Derby Green property of Club Mahindra overlooks the Race Course and has a number of activities for the guests. Make sure you experience at least a few of them. Avoid visiting the property in winters – it is really cold. The staff there mentioned that the guests hardly ever come out of their rooms during winter.
  • The Tibetan Market in Ooty has great fruits, if you are interested. Chocolates are also available nearby. And if you haven’t already, do give Ibaco ice-creams a try. I just love the experience.
  • Google Maps is not highly accurate in the hilly regions. Asking the local people for directions could be more helpful. We had at least three occasions where the Maps pointed us to inexistent roads.
  • On a lighter note, if you are a mangovore like us, avoid having mangoes before a road trip on an empty stomach.

Sun, Sea and Sand… Ganapatipule

Every year we come up with interesting ideas for Avva’s birthday gift – a couple of years ago, all of us grandkids had collaborated and made a video, which was played during the birthday celebrations. This year we took it a step further and organized a get-together at Ganapatipule, a small beach-town in coastal Maharashtra. Considering that almost all my uncles and aunts would be there, we had booked seven rooms (almost two complete villas) for the weekend at Abhishek Beach Resort and Spa.

The pristine beach and the sparkling clean blue water is the icing of the cake that makes Ganapatipule special. The place is the home to a 4000-year old swayambhu Ganapati temple and is thronged by thousands of devotees every year.

Day 1: 3rd February 2017

Dad and I began our journey from home at approximately 6.20am – our train Mandovi Express was scheduled to depart from Dadar Station at 7.25am. After having a plate of poha at the nearby Shree Krishna restaurant, we reached the platform at about 7am, only to find that the train was running approximately half an hour late. When the train finally arrived we boarded our coach and settled down in our seats.

I have always enjoyed daytime train rides. Half the fun lies in savouring the tasty food while enjoying the beautiful journey outside – be it the food that mom packs from home or that from the pantry car. Speaking of food, I learnt a pretty valuable tip from my train journey – having one’s coach near the pantry car is one of the biggest boons. The food served is always hot and tasty. The pantry car offered a varied breakfast and lunch menu. We spent most of our time eating – the scalding hot tomato soup with breadsticks has been the trademark of every train journey ever! The vegetable cutlets with bread and butter were pretty much filling. The gulab-jamun seller tried his level best to improve his sales – he even began with offers such as buy-four-get-one-free. The part I enjoyed the most about the journey was relishing the watermelon (which I mistook for papaya owing to its orange hue) with my dad. Our coach had a couple of kids – one of whom was on the berth right next to ours. Although a wee bit naughty, the young boy was playful and fun to be around. We disembarked at Ratnagiri and proceeded to find a mode of transport to Ganapatipule, and finally settled on an auto-rickshaw. We picked up a couple kilos of Totapuri mangoes on the way to the resort.

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The Scenery en route

The journey by rickshaw took us about 45 minutes, and we were treated to the scenic beauty of the beach. The last time I had visited the region was over ten years ago and thus couldn’t recollect much about it.

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This time though, I was bowled away by the shining golden sand and the deep blue sea that merged with the sky in the distance. It was very difficult to point where one ended and the other began – it was as unreal as any image in the game Bejeweled 3. The hills and the greenery only added to the natural charm of the place.

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Our Villa at the resort

We reached the resort and were given the keys to one of the villas (the reservation for the other one was done in my uncle’s name and they were yet to arrive). The villas were fairly decent – each of them had 4 rooms (two of which were on the ground floor) and a kitchenette. Almost all the rooms had a balcony with ample space to enjoy the mornings and evenings. There also was an access to the beach, although from the main road which was a short distance away. All in all, this place was pretty good choice. Once settled in one of the rooms, we had a quick lunch. Soon after, we left to explore the place a bit.

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A couple of hours later, I was ecstatic to see everyone as the cars pulled into the resort, and was the most thrilled to meet Avva. After completing the check-in formalities, we moved to the rooms and freshened up before proceeding to the Ganapatipule Temple.

We saw the MTDC Resort as we reached the temple. The resort has the best location possible – its entrance faces the main gate of the temple. We found the temple to be almost empty, save us and a couple of other families. This was completely uncharacteristic, as the temple was almost always bustling with devotees. I guess it was owing to the fact that it was a Friday evening. After registering for the Sankalpa Pooja for the following morning, we sat down for a little while in the seating area for the devotees. My mom and aunts joined me in singing a couple of songs – singing in the temple was an amazing experience. The icing of the cake was that Avva sang the song “Shree Gananatha” with us. As we walked towards the exit, the pundits at the temple told us that the song was beautiful and that they enjoyed it J We sat outside the temple, before our cars arrived, enjoying the beauty of the decorative lights – they beautified the temple so much in the evenings.

We proceeded to have dinner after we reached the resort. The dinner was a pretty eventful one – as we were twelve of us, we were seated in groups of six at neighbouring tables. After eating roti-subzi, we ordered for a dish of curd-rice at both the tables. Interestingly both the plates were poles apart in appearance and taste. While the one on my table had curd rice with bit of yellow tadka, the curd rice on the other table looked a lot more visually appealing as it had a LOT of red tadka. Intrigued, we tasted a bit of both the dishes, and the red tadka dish was pretty sweet. We called the person who had been waiting on us, and he too seemed baffled at first. He asked one question – “Kaunsa wala aapko pasand aaya?” which translates to “which one did you all like?” Although he offered to bring another plate that was prepared properly, we declined as we were too full. He assured us that he would personally supervise the preparation of curd rice for the remainder of our stay.

Day 2: 4th February 2017

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The main entrance of the Temple

The day began with us getting ready in a hurry and rushing to the temple. By 7.30am we all were at the temple and waiting for the Pooja. The Sankalpa Pooja for us was scheduled at 8am, and the breakfast buffet at the hotel closed at 10. We worried if we would be able to make it in time for breakfast. My cousin Nandan and his wife Sayali were supposed to join us for the Pooja. However, as their bus to Ganapatipule got delayed and we were unable to contact them, we requested the priest to postpone their Pooja to the next day.

After the Pooja we went for the pradakshina (circumambulation) of the hill at the base of which the temple is located. The 1km walk took us a little more time than usual, as we stopped to have coffee. Finally, once all of us had completed the pradakshina, we went back to the resort for breakfast, where Nandan and Sayali met us.

The breakfast was pretty good – in addition to the South-Indian breakfast spread, they stocked upma and poha, in addition to the fruits, egg preparations, cornflakes, tea and coffee. Sayali and I chatted at the deck overlooking the sea. I spent the next hour trying to check the status of our tickets for the return journey in Mandovi Express. As the waitlist status didn’t improve, we booked a set of Rajdhani tickets under Tatkal quota and cancelled the old ones. While most of us went to the spa after that, Nandan, Sayali and I went to the game room and spent a considerable amount of time playing Table Tennis. Even though Sayali and I teamed up Nandan defeated us pretty easily about four times, after which we moved on to play Carrom. By then our uncles and aunts joined us at the game room and challenged each other to chess. By the end of the next couple of hours all of us enjoyed a game of pool as well (although we weren’t exactly playing by the rules 😛 ). We finally went to have lunch at the restaurant, at the end of which we ordered curd-rice again (Yup…that’s what South Indians do). Fortunately it was perfect this time.

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The evening was the most remarkable one – we spent most of it at the beach. Ganapatipule has the most perfect beach ever – the perfect golden sand that shimmers a bit, and water so pellucid that one can see their feet clearly even in the ever-so-slightly warm knee-deep water. Basically for beach-lovers, it’s the place to go. Although I had no intention of getting my capris wet (and tried keeping them dry for as long as I could), the sea had other plans. With a couple of huge waves I ended up getting my capris completely drenched and concluded that resisting the sea was futile. In the next two hours we did a lot of fun stuff – we all held hands while standing in thigh-deep water facing the beach, so that the waves hitting us take us by surprise. By now, we all were drenched from head to toe. Nandan, Sayali and I ventured into waist deep water and enjoyed the waves for a while, splashing water at each other like a bunch of 12-year-olds. For a very brief while, I felt like I was transported back to one of my favourite childhood memories.

After getting back to the hotel and having a nice refreshing shower, we all went back to Saroja Auntie’s room for evening snacks – basically a potluck, as everyone had prepared and brought something sweet or savoury. The Totapuri mangoes added a different zing altogether to the menu. After we were done with snacks, Sayali and Nandan taught my aunts and me a new card game called “Big Fool” which we played until dinner time. I guess this is the only game that I know where eight people can comfortably play with a single deck of cards and still have a LOT of fun. After a simple dinner, we went back to our rooms. Nandan, Sayali and I played a few more rounds of Big Fool before retiring for the night. I don’t know if its technique or luck – Nandan defeated me and Sayali every single time without much of an effort!

Day 3: 5th February 2017

Our morning began by rushing to the temple. Nandan and Sayali were already there, waiting for their turn for Sankalpa Pooja. Like the day before, we went for a pradakshina of the hill, followed by the breakfast at the resort.

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While my grandma, uncles and aunts left soon after for my hometown, Nandan and Sayali had their bus scheduled for the evening. My parents and I had our Rajdhani Express scheduled to depart from Ratnagiri at 1.25pm. Having approximately an hour to spare before leaving for Ratnagiri, Nandan, Sayali and the three of us went to the beach from the access near the resort.

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Although the steps to the beach were carved on the rocks, a bit of work was yet to be done. The trees lined the stairs on either side. The beach looked as inviting as it did the day before – the bright blue coloured sea and the clean shimmering golden sand. Although really tempted, we didn’t go in the waters as we were running out of time.

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We could see the Ganapatipule temple a little far away. We decided to take a small walk before going back to the hotel to collect our luggage. The shore was full of tiny crabs not more than an inch in length which darted with such a speed that they appeared to hover across the sands. It was rather intriguing to see them suddenly disappear into the minute sand-caves. We retraced our steps to the resort and relished on a tender coconut as collected our luggage. We boarded our rickshaw to the Ratnagiri railway station after bidding adieu to Nandan and Sayali.

Here are a few tips and tricks that may help people planning a trip to Ganapatipule in the near future –

  • Ganapatipule is connected to other major towns and cities by road and rail. The road journey is considerably slow owing to the mountainous region – the 375km long journey from Mumbai takes approximately 9 hours. I find the 7-8 hour train journey relatively more comfortable – operated by Konkan Railways, the train route is very scenic, and showcases the beauty of the Konkan region. Ratnagiri is the closest station, and is connected to Mumbai by a number of trains. Here is the website of the town – http://www.ganapatipule.in
  • If you plan to take the train to Ratnagiri and then the rickshaw to Ganapatipule, negotiate for the fare in the beginning itself. The distance is approximately 30km usually the fare comes out to be approximately Rs.400-500.
  • The route to Ganapatipule from Ratnagiri goes almost parallel to the coastline, so the view outside is ensured to be a treat. Look out for raw totapuri mangoes en route.
  • If you are looking for a place closest to the beach and the temple, MTDC Resort is your best bet. However, the resort is almost always booked throughout the year. If you wish to stay at the resort it’s best to make reservations at least six months in advance
  • Speaking by personal experience, Abhishek Resort was a pretty pleasant experience as well. The place has a game room, and an entrance to the beach as well (although one needs to walk a bit to get there)
  • The timings of the temple are 5am to 9pm. If you are planning to go for a trip to Ganapatipule, it’s advisable to visit the temple on a weekday as it is less crowded.
  • The dress code for special Poojas at the temple is saree for the ladies and dhoti-shalya for the gentlemen. Men can change in the rooms near the temple. The pradakshina around the hill is about 1km long, and ends at the rear-entrance
  • Don’t forget to carry extra clothes for the beach – my suggestion would be to spend an entire evening there, as the beach is something that everyone will enjoy.
  • I would suggest against looking forward to buying alphonso mangoes during the mango season at Ratnagiri. Almost all the farmers enter into contracts with traders a long before the season begins. One can easily get MUCH better mangoes in Mumbai itself.

The Ahmedabad Wedding – Shaadi!

Day 2

Our plans of visiting the Sabarmati Riverfront were dashed as we woke up after it became too sunny. As all the ceremonies were planned for the evening, we were left with quite some free time. After a quick late breakfast at Apurvi’s the four of us left for the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.

It was during this visit that I understood how vibrant Gujarat really is. The entire experience was one of the smoothest I have had till date – every part of our journey was very comfortable, and we hardly faced any delays on the way. The traffic was well controlled, the roads neatly maintained, the roadsides lined with trees and the plants on the road dividers. We reached the temple rather quickly. We had anticipated a large crowd at the temple on account of it being a Sunday. Fortunately for us, it was a long weekend and it was pretty sunny at the time of our visit. We managed to reach the main temple without much of a wait.

The temple is dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and is the focal point of the 23 acre complex. It has been built using 6000 tonnes of pink sandstone. The fact that got me really intrigued is that it is constructed in accordance with the Vedic architectural principles – no iron or steel has been used anywhere in the temple. The beauty of the temple was mesmerizing – We felt a sense of calmness as soon as we entered. I really loved everything about the temple premises – the waterfalls, the well-manicured lawns, layout of the temple itself, the intricately carved pillars and walls. The temple was a treat for our eyes – quite literally, as we weren’t allowed any gadgets inside. We really wished though they had allowed us our cameras inside to allow us to capture and share the beauty with everyone else.

Another thing that I really admired about the temple was the food court area – it is really well planned and I remember my last experience there being great. This time we relished on ice-cream for a little while. As we were pressed for time we didn’t get an opportunity to visit the other attractions at the premises – the exhibition halls and the water show. We passed by the various cultural spots in Sahajanand Van on our way out. Looking at the sculptures reminded me of my childhood memories – being told stories of Dashavatar by my grandparents.

We passed by the riverfront on our journey back to our hotel, and got dressed for the wedding while listening to music. Once we were all dressed and ready, we left for the Cambay Grand Hotel. Cambay Grand was the location the “baraat” or the procession from the guy’s side is supposed to depart from. The wedding was to be held at the same place as the Sangeet ceremony. Just like the evening before, we reached the venue first and started clicking photos. We were all charged up and ready to go after we had the snacks.

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The chariot driving Anshul to the wedding arrived there in a short while. Attached to it were a couple of horses. As the groom’s sister, it was Apurvi’s duty to feed chana dal to the horses before the journey began. It was definitely a sight to behold – the horses put up a decent fight with Apurvi for the thaali and ate up the chana completely. The expression on Apurvi’s face was just priceless as she tried yanking the now-empty thaali away from the horses who weren’t just willing to let go!

As the time for the baraat’s departure inched closer, the lights on the chariot were lit. The band hired for the occasion got their own vehicle and started playing the songs. I have never seen Apurvi as happy as she was while dancing at the baraat – her energy level was insane, considering that she had barely slept in the past couple of days.

This was just the beginning of the evening – the baraat was led by the vehicle of the band, followed by the ‘baraatis’ or the wedding procession, and finally the chariot. Fireworks adorned the skies as the procession moved ahead. The departure of the baraat was one of the funniest incidents of the day. The band members confidently led the procession in the wrong direction. When the mistake was finally, realized the entire procession had to be turned around 1800. I am still amazed by the fact that they successfully managed to turn the chariot around without much trouble on a really narrow road. The rest of the journey was fun – we danced to the tunes.

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Naagin Dance

The highlight of the baraat was the Naagin song – everyone went into Naagin (snake) mode and seemed to enjoy every bit of it. We bumped into the Pundit in the middle of our journey – he came out of nowhere on the bike, overtook us, and wasn’t seen again until the very end. The part of the baraat I enjoyed the most was dancing to the Jhingaat song towards the end – that song has the capability to lighten everything up.

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The baraat at the venue

We finally reached the club at about 8.30pm. The club was very beautifully decorated – elaborate rangolis made with flowers and candles lined the path to the mandap where the ceremony was to be held. The mandap itself was very beautiful – it was installed on the lawn and adorned with flowers. By the time we reached, the venue was filled with guests, and we felt lucky to get seats for ourselves close to the mandap. This was when the level of fun really peaked – Apurvi anticipated that Anshul’s shoes will be stolen by Bharvi’s cousins, and hence gave them to us for safekeeping. Running short of ideas, we hid the shoes under our seats and covered them with our dresses.

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The four of us did this exercise in rotations so that all of us could go and have something to eat. This went on for about four hours, at the end of which we were actually “praying” for someone to come and challenge us or try to steal it from us. We finally burst out laughing when we realized that we had been played, and that nobody was coming for the shoes.

Although Sree, Kriti and I had intentions of leaving early, we decided to stay as we had never witnessed a Gujarati wedding before. As it was getting late and we were getting drowsy, we told jokes and chatted to stay awake.

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As the photographers and videographers blocked our view completely, we decided to go and stand closer to the stage. During the “phere” ceremony, the bride and the groom go around the sacred fire seven times symbolizing the seven promises they make to each other in the beginning of their new journey together. The friends and family of the couple shower them with flower petals as they go around the couple. In our case, we began aiming rose petals at the couple initially. When we ran out of petals we aimed some marigolds at them. Then someone in the crowd even aimed a garland of marigolds at Anshul. I am sure that Anshul was pretty intimidated, especially by our gang – every time he came close to us, he instinctively shielded his face!

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The Phere ceremony (and Anshul shielding his face from our marigold attack 😛 )

At the end of the last phera, he finally caught a marigold that one of his cousins aimed at him. He gave the flower to Bharvi, who aimed it back at the person who threw it. Bharvi is undoubtedly one of the swaggiest brides ever.

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The Lovely Couple

As the marriage ceremony came to an end, the couple sought blessings of the elders and proceeded to the final ceremony of the evening – Bidaai (farewell of the bride). We reached our hotel at about 3.30am and slept like logs.

Day 3

We packed up and checked out as early as we could. Loading the luggage in the car, we proceeded to Apurvi’s place for a late breakfast. En route to the railway station we stopped by at Farki’s to pick up some rabdi and at Induben Khakrawala to carry back some of the famous khakra delicacies – the dosa khakra is famed to be sensational. It was really sweet of Prerna and Apurvi came to drop us off as we boarded the Shatabdi Express back to Mumbai.

As we neared the Borivali station (where we planned to alight) we carried out an interesting “social experiment.” We were almost 20 minutes out and had pretty bulky suitcases placed on the luggage shelves overhead. We started unloading them one by one, hypothesizing that the exit would be crowded by the time we get there. We just wanted to see how the rest of the coach would respond to this innocent little act. We weren’t surprised by the result – the entire coach went into a frenzy, unloading the suitcases and making a dash for the exit. Our hypothesis did come true in the end – by the time we got the suitcases down, the exit was all blocked. I was intrigued by the ability of three girls to create a chaotic situation without as much as saying a word!

This experience was certainly one of a kind – never in my dreams did I think I would enjoy an event so much. A very special thanks to Apurvi and her parents for inviting us and making us feel right at home the entire time.

Based on my experiences here are a few tips and tricks which might help if you are planning on visiting Akshardham temple anytime soon–

  • The temple premises remain closed on Mondays, and this plan your visit accordingly.
  • No electronics are allowed inside the premises. You will need to deposit your cell phones and bags at the respective counters outside.
  • The security at the temple is pretty strict – avoid carrying any leather articles such as wallets or belts.
  • The food court is pretty amazing – it is spacious and well planned, and the food is tasty as well.
  • The water show is held in the evening at around 7.30pm. If you plan your visit well, you can easily spend the entire day at Akshardham

In case you missed it, here is the link to the Sangeet blog post

The Ahmedabad Wedding – Sangeet

Day 0

Ever since watching ‘Jab We Met’ (and a rather memorable incident about nine years ago) I have been slightly cautious about reaching the railway station on time. This time was no different – I had almost packed up everything and had a couple of hours to reach Mumbai Central for my 11.25pm Duronto Express to Ahmedabad Junction. The occasion of the weekend trip was the wedding of my classmate Apurvi’s brother. Stuffing whatever I could remember in my suitcase I rushed to finish the upma that my mother had served at the table. Although I suggested otherwise, my parents insisted on dropping me at the terminus themselves. My friends Sree and Kriti had reached almost an hour before I did and were already waiting for me in the coach with their parents. We chatted with their parents for a bit before the beginning of the journey. The journey was more of a mini-sleepover for us – we sat chatting about our college experiences, reminiscing the funniest and the lamest moments we have had yet. Our discussion about the kleptomaniac (on whom we based our own fictional version of Dhoom 4 😛 ) and a certain Gujarati classmate whose very name is enough to cause a laugh riot was enough to set the ball rolling. We finally decided to hit the sack at 3.30am, in order to have a little energy left in the morning.

Day 1

As the train slowed down before reaching Ahmedabad station, I was woken up by Kriti. We were warmly greeted by Apurvi and her dad as we alighted. After dragging our bags to the end of the station and packing them in the car. I surprised myself quite a bit – I had packed 2 extra sets of dresses (in case the need arose…) but had conveniently misread the weather report on google and not carried any warm clothes. I was practically shivering – what was I even thinking while wearing a sleeveless top anyway! It was really sweet of Kriti to lend me a shawl – I will never forget how contrastingly nice and warm it felt in comparison to the chilly Ahmedabad mornings. After picking up Apurvi’s brother we headed to Hotel Shrimad at Chandkheda, where we would be staying for the next couple of days. Our friend Krupa had flown in as well and joined us there.

The hotel stay was one of a kind – it was IN a mall! The very check-in process at the hotel was funny – after submitting our ID proofs we were asked to sign in to the register and provide a thumb print (god knows why!) With the luggage placed in the rooms, the five of us chatted a bit before deciding to rest for a while. In the process we (Apurvi included) missed out on the Haldi ceremony (It was only later in the evening that we got to know about the substitution of turmeric with Vicco Turmeric cream. It was certainly the most creative jugaad one could ever come up with!).

The elevators leading to the hotel were one of a kind as well – never before had I heard (or even imagined) of an elevator chiming “Thank You. Visit Again. You’re Welcome” with a slight Gujarati accent. Sree and I ended up taking the elevator almost every single time just for the heck of it. We finally went to Apurvi’s place for a rather late breakfast, and were greeted by her mom. I was left mesmerized by the environment and their hospitality – we practically felt at home. Apurvi’s mom is hands-down one of the coolest moms I have ever met – her knowledge of all the happenings in college is pretty much up-to-date, and I absolutely love her ability to make anybody laugh within seconds of meeting them. We were soon greeted by Anshul (Apurvi’s brother – the groom), who jokingly mentioned that he had heard *just a little* about us. Apurvi showed us around and told us about her childhood memories of her pets as we chatted in the balcony. Apurvi’s cousin Prerna also chatted with us for a while. After a rather awesome breakfast of Chhole Bhature, we headed back to our hotel rooms to freshen up and catch up on our sleep. We faced a rather intriguing event as we returned to our room – although I distinctly remembered switching off all the lights and taking the keys with me, the lights were somehow on. This made Sree and me wonder if there was some ghost lurking around waiting for us to leave.

The evening turned out to be eventful – Sree, Apurvi and I ended up wearing almost the same shade of pine green for the Sangeet ceremony. The function was arranged at the Sun and Step Club. Apurvi looked stunning in the mini-photoshoot we had before everyone else arrived (our group had been the first to reach there). It was a bit funny, as we had to go outside again so that we could be formally welcomed by the bride’s side. The bride Bharvi looked picture perfect in her navy blue dress.

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The highlight of the evening – the beautiful couple 😀

We all chatted a bit before the event actually began. The Sangeet ceremony was definitely a treat – in addition to the live orchestra, there were a number of dazzling dance performances put together by the relatives of the couple.

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Apurvi’s Mum dancing to Sawaar Loon

Apurvi’s mom stole the show – the grace and finesse with which she danced to the slow and the fast beats, coupled with the choreography, simply blew our minds away. Even now when I listen to the song ‘Sawaar Loon’ I am instantly reminded of her performance.

The rest of the evening was pretty lively – people danced to the Garba tunes that the orchestra played. I shied away from Garba as I couldn’t really match up to the tempo or get the steps right. Krupa really seemed to enjoy the dance though – I guess Garba just runs in her veins. We all took to the dance floor after dinner in the last part of the evening, when Bollywood tunes were being played – that was definitely our turf! The air had suddenly become so charged – more than a hundred people dancing their heart out.

We danced till our legs were sore…we then waited a bit and danced some more. This was one dance event we all thoroughly enjoyed – we must have danced for almost a couple of hours. I kept dancing even though my leg was sprained a bit, and interestingly enough the pain just went away. Sree surprised us with her amazing Bollywood moves – we had no idea she danced so well! The funniest memories of the evening included being almost knocked over by Kriti and Apurvi as they played Phugadi, and dancing to the Marathi song Jhingaat – the expressions on our faces were just phenomenal! We chatted a bit with Apurvi’s mom before we left for our hotel rooms – the Sangeet definitely was a roaring success. We finally retired to our rooms at 12.30am, and drifted to slumberland in a matter of minutes.

Here is the link to the next part – the Shaadi blog post

Bhandardara – A Weekend Getaway

 “I don’t intend to crash a triple date” I joked when my phone pinged with a message from my cousin Nandan and sister-in-law Sayali. They had been planning an outing to Bhandardara, a hill station in Maharashtra, with Nandan’s and my parents. I didn’t exactly intend to go – my exams were exactly a week away and my preparation hadn’t even begun (forget about revising!). After finally giving in to temptation, I packed a couple sets of clothes in a hurry. Excitement dominated over my sleep – we planned to leave by 7am, and I found it difficult to sleep by quarter-to-one. Needless to say, I felt like a zombie when I woke up.

A journey in our new car was something I was really looking forward to – in addition to ‘light’ luggage it can easily seat seven people. However, the boot turned out to be a wee bit picky about the dimensions of the bags. After a not-so-successful attempt at being able to close the boot, we chose to shift the luggage to another suitcase. My parents and I reached the designated pick-up point in an hour – and the fun began soon. We planned to go via NH160 and MH SH 44. The distance between Mumbai and Bhandardara is approximately 160km and roughly takes about 4 hours.

This trip was special for me because of two reasons – visiting a hill station in our new car with cousins and family, and finally getting to meet and spend time with Sayali (the only tiny bit of interaction we had earlier was at the wedding). Nandan, Sayali and I sat in the rear – although it wasn’t the comfiest ride, it was fun. A little past 9.30 we started keeping an eye out for the restaurants. After finding Sher-e-Punjab Grill on the opposite side of the road and putting in a decent amount of effort for parking, we found out that it opened at 11. We finally came across a McDonald’s outlet a couple of kilometres away and reluctantly chose to explore the breakfast menu. Sayali and I had our pancakes with maple syrup and butter, and savoured the hash browns. A huge glass of coffee later we were ready to roll. We had a facepalm moment soon after – we encountered loads of Indian restaurants within the next 5 minutes. The rest of my journey was pretty much spent chatting with Sayali – we got along like a house on fire. I never thought I would have so much in common with her – right from TV shows to reading habits! After a brief pit stop we resumed our journey. The road leading to Bhandardara was a bit uneven and bumpy, and thus took us some time to reach.

It was only after we reached the MTDC Resort that I realized how incredibly lucky we were. Despite our booking being done at the last moment, we were able to find great rooms. Interestingly enough, only three rooms remained at the time of the making the reservations (exactly the same number we were looking for). We reached the resort at about 2pm.

After resting a bit and having lunch, my parents and I sat at the bench overlooking the lake while Nandan and Sayali challenged each other to a game of Badminton. Bhandardara felt exactly the same as it did the last time we visited – cool, calm and serene. Sitting in the shade of tall trees overlooking the lake on a sunny and windy afternoon was certainly an amazing experience. We made an impromptu booking for a small sightseeing tour for the evening and the following with a local tour guide, and it turned out to be a pretty good decision. He helped us in optimising our journey and making the most of it. The first point we visited was the Wilson Dam and the Umbrella Falls. It wasn’t much of a sight, as water wasn’t being released from the dam.

The next experience on our list for the evening was boating in the Arthur Lake. The boating experience was definitely one of my favourites – the lake looked crystal clear at the shore and appeared darker as we ventured deeper. Arthur Lake is really vast – in the distance we could see it reflecting the brilliant blue hue of the evening sky. Our rower casually mentioned to us that the depth of the lake was roughly 240 feet, and that the lake housed a number of big fish (too bad we couldn’t see any).

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As we wished in rowing the boat ourselves, the rower allowed us to do so after we neared the shore on the way back. We did the exercise in pairs, and I learnt something interesting from our experience. The boat would move in one direction only if both the oars were in synchrony. I guess that’s the deal with life – in order to get somewhere we need to not only keep moving, but also focus our efforts. Otherwise we end up spinning in circles and don’t really get anywhere. Although it took us some time to learn, we made it to the shore soon. I was truly left mesmerised by the sunset – the marvellous evening sky was painted in hues of pastel orange and violet, and the lake complimented the scene by mirroring the bright orange orb that played hide and seek with the Sahyadri hills. The place screamed of tranquillity.

The last place we visited before returning to the hotel was Randha Falls, which is one of the major attractions of the region. With a height of approximately 170 feet, the Pravara River descending into the gorge was definitely a sight to behold.

The part I loved the most about this attraction was listening to the falls – it just felt rejuvenating. Sayali mentioned that the last time she visited the falls the viewing area was being constructed. We proceeded to the nearest restaurant as the twilight faded into an evening lit by a crescent moon, and treated ourselves to hot tea and snacks.

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The evening back at the resort had my interest piqued – with help from our tour guide, we had a bonfire planned. Mom and my aunt had packed stuff for the bonfire barbecue – veggies, stuff for the marinade and skewers, and had spent a bit of time in the afternoon marinating the veggies. The night sky seemed like a huge canvas painted with numerous glittering stars – a sight that I really miss seeing in Mumbai. The smoked veggies had a nice char on the outside – it would have been just perfect if they had cooked faster. Nandan, Sayali and I played cards before retiring to our rooms for the night. Nandan is really lucky – he managed to win by a decent margin even though Sayali and I ganged up together.

After an early check-out at about 9am, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast at Yash Resort nearby. We decided to check out the remainder of the places on our list before starting on our return journey. We passed by the Kalsubai Peak on our way to Wilson Lake and Umbardara Viewpoint. The place looked ordinary at first – it appeared as if there wasn’t much to explore.Umbandara.jpg We realized how wrong we had been – the view of the valley from the height was totally worth the long journey. One of the interesting features was the difference in temperature – while the viewing area enjoyed the shade and was very cool, the place near the car parking spot was swelteringly hot. After a small photo session to capture the moment we aimed tiny pebbles at the valley, trying to cover maximum horizontal distance possible. I was happy with my performance, as the last pebble I aimed went pretty far.

The last place on our list was the Ghatghar dam and KokanKada. Personally I enjoyed KokanKada hilltop a lot more than the dam, as the hilltop gave us a very picturesque view of the whole region.

After relishing onion pakoras with tea we took the Ghoti-Shirdi Road to reach NH-160, and retraced our journey back to Mumbai.

Here are a few quick tips for those planning for a trip to Bhandardara.

  • The best time to visit Bhandardara would be after the monsoons or during the winters. The weather is pleasantly cool during the winters.
  • MTDC Resort is one of the best places to stay and offers really beautiful views of the Bhandardara Lake. Keeping that in mind book well in advance. And if you manage to get a room there, do remember to collect the refundable deposit during check out formalities. I noticed that many people usually end up forgetting to do the same.
  • Navigating the roads can be a task after the monsoons. Be prepared for a bumpy ride!
  • The closest petrol pumps are 20km away. So if you intend to go for sightseeing, it’s better to refuel before you reach the hill station.
  • Based on my experience I would not recommend trying the restaurant at MTDC Resort more than once. We got a good breakfast buffet package at Yash Resorts nearby.
  • Carry Odomos or other mosquito repellents, as mosquitoes are a nuisance especially in the evenings.
  • There is only one bank present in the area. Owing to demonetization, the bank had been closed for about 10 days at the time of our visit. Additionally the lack of a POS machine at the resort added to our cash management woes. Thus ensure that you are carrying adequate amount of cash with you.
  • I personally suggest requesting the services of a tour guide to optimise your time while sightseeing. The services are reasonably priced, and are customizable to suit your needs. The localites serving as tour guides are usually present at the resorts. Discuss the package and the pricing beforehand.
  • Instead of covering all the tourist spots in one day, try spreading the schedule over multiple days. There will be ample time to enjoy individual tourist spots.
  • Our guide took care of the bonfire arrangements for us (and we had gotten the barbecue stuff along with us). Personally I didn’t enjoy the bonfire and barbecue experience much. However, the experience might vary depending on the average group age, group size and the time of the visit (peak or non-peak season)
  • If you are going from Mumbai, Igatpuri lies en route. Manas Resort is a great place to stop for a meal. We stopped for lunch there on the way back and the experience was totally worth it.

 

Chennai Chronicles: The Wedding

Day 0

I couldn’t be more excited to attend my eldest cousin brother Nandan’s wedding. The wedding was something I had been eagerly waiting for – meeting my relatives has always something I look forward to. And the best part – the wedding is another occasion to get all dolled up and have fun.

My 15-hour journey to my hometown began from Koyambedu bus station. After worrying about missing out on my bus and going crazy hurrying, I finally was relieved to reach the bus station before time. The next mini-adventure was to find out where exactly the KSRTC bus would arrive (Koyambedu is a HUGE place, something like Majestic bus station in Bengaluru). The bus was luckily not crowded and I got a couple of seats to myself. The scenery on the way was beautiful – a perfect evening over the lush green fields.

The evening sky was just heavenly, with the moon being the showstopper, painting everything with its soothing soft light. We saw Kannada movie Gajakesari to kill time on the bus (the music was pretty catchy, although I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie), and I spent the remainder of the evening chatting with my friends and cousins.

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I was ecstatic to find out that PV Sindhu had made it to the Singles Finals of Women’s Badminton at 2016 Rio Olympics. I was too excited for the weekend – I had to literally force myself to sleep so that I had enough energy for the power packed day ahead.

Day 1

I was received by my mom with the biggest grin at the bus stop. We travelled back home in the same rickshaw she came in, and were greeted by my maternal grandma as we entered. The fun began as the cousins awoke one by one. It really felt great meeting them all after a year, and the festivity of the occasion only added to the fun. My cousin Nitya (Nandan’s sis) had spent a better part of the week putting together a dance performance for the occasion along with my younger cousin brother Tanay, and they had done a pretty good job at that. I helped out in mixing the song track for the performance – a mix of Disco Deewane (Student of the Year movie) and Dil Dhadakne Do (title track of the movie by the same name). Tailoring the song according to the dance took some time, but the track came out decently (especially considering the little time we had). After a little bit of last-moment-shopping, we assisted with the preparations for the wedding.

After a lot of debating and designing, we came up with the posters for marking the cars ferrying us back and forth to the wedding venue. We did a fairly decent job – the posters were liked by everyone (Nandan even put it as his WhatsApp profile pic!). A few other cousins (Aditya, Samarth and Likhita) joined us in the evening. The mehendi artist did a wonderful job painting the hands of the ladies in the house, and I was more than excited getting my hands covered in henna after a very long time.

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The presence of Nitya and Nandan’s cousins – Sreelekha and Bhagya added a lot to the fun element. By night, the house was completely transformed – strings of lights adorned the front façade, while the colourful rangoli at the entrance welcomed the guests. It sure did feel magical!

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The highlight of the evening was seeing PV Sindhu clench the silver medal at 2016 Rio Olympics. We awaited with bated breath her match against Carolina Marin of Spain. Every point Sindhu scored against Marin was celebrated with cheers loud enough to be heard half a kilometre away! Although we were disheartened that she didn’t get the gold, the fact that she clinched a silver only fuelled the festive mood (gave us one more reason to celebrate!).

The six of us – Nitya, Likhita, Aditya, Tanay, Samarth and I decided to stay over at our uncle and aunt’s place for the night. Nitya and Tanay managed to rope in the remaining four of us to dance after the Varapooja ceremony. What intended to be an hour of chitchat at most, turned out to be hours of practicing for the dance. We invited our cousin Vikku and his wife Jaahnavi to help us out. It was pretty much a laugh riot – everyone seemed to forget their own moves but remember others’! Tanay and Nitya would begin with Disco Deewane, and would be joined by the others for Dil Dhadakne Do.

We ended up adding a stanza of the “Huttidare Kannada Nadalli Huttabeku” song from Beladingala movie to the end of our track, to which the guy gang would be dancing. We finally slept at 4am after playing a bunch of card games for almost an hour.

Day 2

Setting an alarm for 7am and snoozing it till 7.30, I woke up. Nitya woke up half an hour later. After a quick bath we went back home to attend the day replete with functions. The morning was pretty bright and nice, and the house looked much more splendid than the night before.

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Dad joined us there and I couldn’t be more delighted to see him. In addition to the pujas and the photo sessions, we spent our time playing with the youngest members of the family – my young cousin Advik, and my niece Sai Keerthana.

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It barely took us any time to bond and have fun, and it was really heartening to see the kids run around with all their infectious energy, excitement and enthusiasm.

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The actual fun began late in the afternoon. Well, as my sister-in-law and her side of the family is not from Karnataka, everything had to be translated to Hindi. This is where Aditya came to the rescue! Dressed to the nines and catching up with cousins and relatives over refreshments and snacks was fun. The craziest part of the evening was the dance we had prepared. Although I had carried the pen drive having the song with me, I had anticipated (and even kinda hoped) that our dance would be cancelled. Needless to say, my hopes were dashed as my cousin plugged the drive into the sound system. Fortunately for us, everything went pretty smoothly…well, until the last part of Dil Dhadakne Do song, where all the six of us somehow managed to forget our steps at the same time! Needless to say, all the elders were smiling and pretty happy with the fact that we actually managed to put up something decent in such a short time. Nandan, on the other hand, found it pretty hard to stop laughing. I guess we should try our hand at stand-up comedy next time.

We all went back home to change clothes for the reception. Dressed in our best and with widest grins on our faces, we went to the venue again. The best part of the evening certainly was spending time with the cousins – cracking jokes, chatting and capturing the memory with photographs and selfies. We shamelessly got an insane number of photos clicked with Nandan and athige (sis-in-law) Sayali. It was one of the most special moments that I treasure the most. I loved spending time with my maternal grandma – she introduced me to one of her old friends. Her smile really brightened my day up.

Although we had dinner pretty late we enjoyed every bit of it. I just loved the curd-rice and ended up enjoying multiple servings. I enjoyed the desserts the most, especially the mango and butterscotch ice-creams and the rabdi. Being tired and sleepy I barely took any time to fall asleep once I got home.

Day 3

I woke up with contrasting emotions in the morning – delight on seeing my brother’s wedding and the numerous ceremonies attached to it, and for getting an occasion to get all dolled up again; and sadness as I would have to leave in the afternoon, and because three days had just zoomed by without me really realizing. Keerthana, chirpy and jumpy as ever, managed to cheer me up with her million-watt-smile. It was interesting to see her bond with me in such a short time. It really felt great when she insisted to sit on my lap during the short journey to the wedding venue.

Having a hurried breakfast with the cousins and relatives (we reached kinda late and the ceremonies were about to begin) we rushed back to the hall. I relished the masala dosas and the vada. I really missed my sister – the fun would have elevated to another level had she been able to attend. The “funnest” part of the day was witnessing different ceremonies such as Kashi Yatra, naming ceremony of the kids, and Nitya got the opportunity to name the future-children of Nandan and athige.

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After a hurried lunch my parents and I left for home to pick up my belongings for my return journey. I really didn’t want to leave, and my cousins had been teasing me about missing out on the trip to Jog Falls (it had been on my wish list on a while)…not that they actually went there. Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten to take my cell phone along, and was unsure about the timings of the bus to Chennai. I had assumed it to be 2.30pm, but it actually had been 2.15pm. The starting point of the journey wasn’t my hometown, and hence the caretaker of the bus ended up calling me every 20 seconds inquiring where exactly I was and how long it would take me to reach the stop, and each call turned out to be angrier than the previous. We luckily managed to reach the bus stop before the bus left.

It was only after settling down in my seat and reaching the next town that I realized I had forgotten to take my suitcase along. That was the most bizarre thing I could imagine – spending a good 20 minutes packing my suitcase and then forgetting to carry it along! As my parents would be leaving for Mumbai late in the evening, I requested them to take it with them. I chose to rest a little and catch up on some much needed sleep I ultimately ended up sleeping for the next 13 hours straight, only to be woken up by the conductor at Koyambedu at 5am. The wedding had been memorable in every way.

Chennai Chronicles: Mahabalipuram

18th June 2016

I had been planning to explore places in and around Chennai as soon as my internship got confirmed (which happened to be in Feb). Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) and Pondicherry had been on the top of the list for a while. I decided to end my 8-weekend long procrastination and finally came up with an impromptu plan with my cousin Rahul.

The weather in Chennai had been pretty windy and cloudy for a couple of days, and this inspired me and my brother enough to take a chance and chalk out a Saturday for a Mahabalipuram trip (or “Mahabs” as he calls it). After much of googling the places worth visiting we came up with a short list. Rahul had already been there a couple of times before, and had a fair idea about the places worth seeing. After weighing the pros and cons of different modes of transport we could avail from Chennai to Mahabalipuram, we zeroed down on renting a car from Zoomcars. We booked a car assumed that 10 hours (10am to 8pm) would be more than sufficient to roam around and get back within time. Well, as I don’t have my license in Chennai, Rahul decided to drive.

We begin our journey to Mahabs from the Zoomcars carpark in Kodambakkam, in a bright orange Ford Figo, and soon realized that 10am was kinda past the ideal time to begin the journey. We got stuck at Nungambakkam High Road signal for a REALLY long time – roughly twenty five minutes and spent the time listening to music. The wait was so long that even the super-long playlist in Rahul’s iPod finished playing! After what seemed like the better part of an hour we hit the East Coast Road (ECR). After another bunch of waiting at the signals, we finally passed the toll-booth, after which the drive was a lot smoother.

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The route was pretty scenic – a beautiful shoreline running parallel to the road. After a nice comfortable drive, we reached Mahabalipuram at about 12.30pm. The first place we chose to visit was the Pancharatha – or the 5 chariots.

The place was really nice, and the weather was decent. Although hot and windy, it wasn’t sunny. The Pancharathas are monolithic temples resembling wooden chariots (rath). They were built in the time of Pallava King Narasimhavarman-I. It was pretty intriguing to note that the temples have been carved out of a huge rock. In addition to that, there were huge sculptures of animals as well.

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The carvings were really beautiful – one of the best pieces of architecture that South India has to offer. I was slightly disappointed to read that the Pancharatha had nothing to do with the Mahabharata – I was under the impression that the place had some link to the Pandavas.

Rahul and I went to the next place on the list – Krishna’s Butterball. Well, this was one of the reasons that got me interested in Mahabalipuram in the first place. The attraction is essentially a huge monolith (weighing about 250 tons) defying the laws of physics. It is a huge boulder sitting on a narrow rocky base. The attraction gets its name from Lord Krishna’s insatiable appetite for butter.

The astonishing part about it is that it is said to have been there since about 1300 years – myth has it that Pallava king Narasimhavarman tried to have the rock moved from its position, but the rock wouldn’t budge. A relatively recent unsuccessful attempt to move the rock was made in 1908 by the then Governor of Madras – Arthur Lawley.

We chose to visit the Lighthouse Museum next. We walked a bit from the Butterball. The lighthouse museum was a nice place – apart from the usual models of boats and ships, the place housed the items which were actually in use. I found the petroleum vapour burner system the most interesting – basic science concepts were used to ensure visibility of the lighthouse from 30 nautical miles! We also saw some of the tools used by the sailors. After this, we proceeded to the lighthouse itself.

Ascending the spiral staircase we reached the reached the top of the lighthouse and walked through the tiny door leading to the deck. The view was memorable – we could see the entire town from the lighthouse – the shore and the endless bright blue sea on one side, and miles of land on the other. We stayed at the deck for about ten minutes admiring the beauty before walking back through the door and down the spiral staircase. En route to the butterball, we treated ourselves to a few slices of raw mangoes, followed soon after by ice cold water. We were intrigued to find quite a few other Zoomcars in the area –

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The last place we visited in Mahabalipuram was the Shore Temple. Well, the temple is said to have been built in in the 8th century during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II. Constructed with blocks of granite, the temple overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple looked great against the backdrop of the clear blue sea. We treated ourselves to a packed of orange juice before stopping for lunch at a restaurant called Border Parotta.

Left with about 5 hours on our hands until the vehicle was to be returned, we wondered what all we could do. We narrowed it down to 2 options – Crocodile Bank and DakshinaChitra. As we weren’t sure how long the Crocodile Bank would stay open, we chose to visit DakshinaChitra instead. Dakshinachitra is a museum capturing, showcasing and celebrating the essence of the South Indian culture over the ages.

The houses constructed in DakshinaChitra have been purchased (they had been given for demolition by the original owners), taken down, transported and reconstructed. There are houses from the four South Indian states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, in addition to other attractions. We spent a couple of hours looking at different houses and admiring our ancestors for the amount of thought they put into designing homes. We left for Chennai at about 6pm.

The drive back to Chennai was pretty eventful – we decided to listen to Atif Aslam. After overdosing on “Aadat” (I guess listening to 4 different versions of the song was really a bit too much for us) we switched back to the rock music we were listening to earlier in the day. I was surprised to find that in spite of really slow moving traffic and really long wait at the signals, we somehow managed to reach the car drop point almost half an hour before the scheduled time! Dropping the car off, we walked a little before bidding each other bye.

If you are planning to visit Mahabalipuram in the near future, here are a few pointers that might help–

  • The afternoons at Mahabalipuram can be too hot. Check the weather conditions before you plan. Sunscreen highly advisable.
  • In Rahul’s words, “The place is best for a school trip or for history buffs.” There are a few places to visit and one can visit all the tourist spots in less than 3 hours on a moderately crowded day. I don’t have much of an idea about trekking though.
  • Carry enough water – 1.5 litres per person should ideally suffice.
  • If you do plan to visit the place just to see the attractions, don’t miss out on the lighthouse and the lighthouse museum. It was the highlight of the day for me.
  • They have one ticket for all the archaeological monuments at Mahabalipuram. However, the lighthouse and the museum are not included in this and tickets for them need to be paid for separately.
  • If you don’t have your own vehicle it might be advisable to rent one. It is more convenient than the buses. Zoomcars offers fairly good deals on cars and is easy on the pocket. The deal we got was ₹1000 for 10 hours and 100km and ₹12 per additional km. The entire trip cost us ₹2200 (including the food, travel and attractions)