Monday, 23 September 2013

Mangalore to Coorg – and I enjoyed the leeches suck my blood.

If you have a death wish, visit Mangalore- the traffic here is so chaotic that one may blindfold himself and still drive much better. Drivers and riders in Mangalore lack road etiquette and are oblivious of any traffic rules. The bus drivers top the pecking order of bad driving, with horns blaring at jet level decibels; it’s as if rest of the traffic is theirs to roll over. The two wheelers thankfully can’t go over or below a vehicle, else they would have done that too. It will be a challenge not to see someone drive in the wrong lane at super-fast speed. We started our trip from this maddening city at 0630 AM towards Coorg on the 10th of September.

 The roads connecting Mangalore and Coorg,

We had booked a cottage at Kabbe holidays- a homestay far away from the maddening city life. The roads from Mangalore to Sullia are pretty good, and then we had  25 kms of crater ridden road to deal with. I would probably have preferred driving on the moon, than in Sullia. The moment we enter the district of Coorg, the roads are carpet again. The road is quite undulating all the way till Madikeri and the scenic greenery is jaw dropping beautiful.

We reached Kabbe Holidays at about 1 PM and had lunch there. We were pleasantly surprised at the beautifully laid out cottages and the lovely scenic view their offered, right from the luxury of our beds. 

 We spent the remainder of the day, listening to the call of the birds and staring into the serene horizon.
Dinner was enlightening with our host, Dilip- realising that Aari was Gluten Intolerant he taught us to make fluffy rice chapatis, rice cake and a couple of other rice delicacies. After a lip smacking dinner, we did what we do best- sleep
The next day, Dilip, Praveen (another guest at the place) and myself went on a trek to a nearby hill. The trek was quite short, but to my unexercised bulky body- quite a challenge. The trek was quite beautiful, with fog rolling down the hill and clearing up frequently. 

The moment we reached the peak, we saw 5 wild elephants about 750 mtrs from where we were. We decided to brave a few thorny bushes and sneak a wee bit closer to the pack. During this process we lost sight of the elephants and rolling fog further reduced visibility. At this moment we heard a loud trumpet of one of the elephants and we decided to rush back to our safe point. Out here I fell into a small pit and thankfully the tall grass, cushioned my fall. I looked at my camera lens and thankfully it was all right. I hauled myself outside the pit and realised that scores of leeches were desperately trying to get into my skin. Not minding the leeches, I continued my rush towards the safe place. Once back into open ground, I started the laborious task of plucking out the leeches- it was quite exhilarating to be sucked so professionally- no pain and no clots.

Once back into our cottages, I was quite excited to rattle out my story to Aari and see her get jealous.
In the afternoon, we went to a nearby waterfall. Aari and I had seen quite many waterfalls this month and quite expectedly, more than the waterfall I was happy to see the frogs that resided there.

They were mating frogs and singles looking at the mating frogs.  Since I had carried my tripod, I decided to get a few long exposure shots of the waterfall anyway.

In the evening, Aari and I had a nice romantic walk in the fog covered walkway of the nearby hill. The blanket of fog providing us a nice cloak of privacy. We also enjoyed speaking and befriending a few friendly local people and they were truly warm towards us.

The morning of our departure, Aari and I decided to wake up early morning, brave the cold and do some bird watching. It was a truly rewarding experience. Other than the common birds like the bulbuls, cuckoo’s and drongo’s we spotted Velvet fronted nuthatch, Grey hornbill, wagtails, whiteeye, scarlet minivet, laughing thrush and a busy golden back woodpecker.
 Knock knock.
Who's there?
VFN who?
Velvet Fronted Nuthatch
A scarlet Minivet sets the forest on fire..,
With mom,dad and our new found friends Srivani and Praveen.

We had a heavy dosa laden breakfast and started our drive back to Mangalore at 10AM. We had a pitstop at Madikeri for some wild honey and reached Mangalore at 3PM. We somehow felt that the roads were wee better on our return trip that during the onward journey.  All in all it was a never to be forgotten experience, one that we would love to relive again.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Goa to Mangalore and back- From the highway to the cow-way.

Aari, I and Zeita drove from Goa to Mangalore on the 5th of September and returned back on the 19th of September.  We started both our trips at 0630 AM, reached Mangalore at 0430 PM while the return journey took us half an hour less.
We had scattered rains during both our drives and also clear skies and dry weather at some places.

Our drive started on a nice comical note, when Aari noticed this spelling challenged bus. ("Mother Mary")

The entire Goa- Mangalore drive was on NH 17, and this section of the highway is pretty good. It’s mostly a 2 lane highway; except from Udupi to Mangalore where large sections have been made into a 4 lane and work is underway for the remaining part.

NH 17 in South Goa is well maintained but is narrow as a gully. Patience and good mannered driving of the locals probably keeps the highway from getting blocked despite the heavy traffic.
When Mangalore bound we had our breakfast at Udupi Café, in Karwar. The entire restaurant was served by one overworked waiter and certainly one can give this place a miss- Unless compelled by the stomach to act otherwise.
From Canacona to Mangalore, the roads are filled with cows- creating not only a nuisance, but also a driving hazard.  It’s surprising to note that nothing has been done to curtail this cow menace. If we saw a vehicle in front of us suddenly veer from its path, we came to accept that it was dodging a cow. Vehicles suddenly braking to stop hitting a crazy cow are quite common occurrences.  We also spotted a person trying to clear a dead cow from the road, making me wonder how many injuries and deaths are caused on this highway by cows every day.

An additional hazard sign required- Jay walking cows.

"It's time to replace the truck in the hazard board with a cow ". NH 17 by itself is filled with hazard zones and when it was not the cow we had an occasional elephant too!!

The highway from Goa to Mangalore is in good condition, despite the monsoons. The only section that is filled with pothole is a 10 Km section between Bhatkal and Honnavar and a 2 KM section north side of Kundapura.  The road is really bad here and potholes as deep as a swimming pool.

Between Udupi and Mangalore, the highway is four lane. Unfortunately many people here are unaware of lane driving and also have very bad road etiquettes. Signalling during lane change is completely absent and driving between two lanes is pretty common. But the greatest danger is vehicles coming from the opposite direction on the fast lane that we were driving on!!!  They drive with their headlights on in such a casual manner, oblivious to the danger they are causing by their self-created traffic rules.
Traffic rules in Karnataka are poorly enforced and  rarely followed.
We had our Lunch when going to Mangalore in Udupi at Hotel Sharada International . Good place- with average to good food and reasonably priced too.  Enroute to Goa, we had our breakfast at Parijata in Kundapura. We had to take a 1 km detour off the highway, into the Kundapura main road to reach this place.  The breakfast is had standing, but the service is fast- hence we were able to gobble down and back into the drive in 15 minutes flat.  Lunch was gluttoned at Café Tato at Margao. The place is on the highway and serves tasty food – super fast. They have a separate non-veg section, and we saw a large and decent crowd that thronged the place.
One of the most scenic section of the drive is at Maravanthe, where the highway is flanked by the Maravanthe beach on one side and a river on another. 

Milestones in Goa show the distance to Mangalore 50 Kms less than the actual 400 kms , but this gets rectified once in Karnataka.
There is a toll booth in Karnataka, which charges 5 Rs toll; while in Goa, Non-Goa registered cars have to pay 250 Rs to enter Goa.

Despite being a 2 lane highway, the drive is truly lovely. Green trees create a covered canopy for a large section of the drive.  Overall, the 400 kms can be comfortably covered in 8 hours, 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Mumbai to Goa – ‘Iron Maiden’ lullaby sends Aari to sleep

We started our drive back to Goa from Vasai at 6 AM- We had to cover 621 kilometres of unpredictable Indian roads.  We did not plan any over night stops, but we were prepared for a stay at Kholapur, incase of any inordinate and unexpected delays.  The drive until Nerul was all fine and then we came across a massive traffic jam between Nerul and Belapur; we covered about 3 Kilometres in 1 hour.  It turned out that a truck had broken down at a narrow bottleneck  and 2 cranes were employed to remove it.
Our hopes of reaching Goa by sunset were fading by the minute. By about 0900 we reached the Pune express highway and ate our breakfast at one of the food courts. The place was pretty crowded but the delay in breakfast gave us a much wanted break. The road on Pune Expressway, except in the Ghat sections is pretty much good. We reached Pune in good time, and that brightened our prospects of reaching Goa by the day.

This is our 9th drive from or to Goa and Mumbai, and we prefer a Hotel Called Sai International for our Lunch breaks. The food is good- the service very fast and courteous. The best part are the wash rooms, which are maintained spick, span and in hygienic condition.  Only a handful of Indian restaurants can claim this. Most of the restaurants on highways , which have a nice ambience in the eating section have a pretty miserable washroom.  Sai International, which comes after crossing Satara Bypass and about 20 kilometres prior Kolapur, has always been our pick for lunch.

We completed lunch at about 0230 PM and continued our drive. The Road until Satara is pretty much ok, with potholes that pop in now and then. After Satara all the way until Nipani, the roads are worth their toll price.

At  Nipani we took a turn to Goa, and again the road until Sindhurg was pretty much good. There are potholes at many places, but nothing that will rattle your bones. At Sindhurg we stopped for Chai and fresh corn. I had my Cuppa and shared a corn with Aari. When I was eating my share of the corn a monkey landed on the car top and extended his hands asking for the corn. I refused to give in and he showed me his teeth and threated me with a harsh sound. I gave in to his audacity, and timidly handed over the corn to him. He proudly sat on top of Zeita and munched the corn to his fill.

The road at Sindhurg is pretty bad, but the lovely scenery makes up for all the shake-rattle and roll. As the Sindhurd Ghat came to an end, the playlist on the cars music system (which plays songs on a strict alphabetical order, arranged by bands) started playing Iron Maiden. Aari, after a bit of tapping to the beats of ‘Holy Smoke’, soon fell asleep.  Bruce Dickinson’s  ‘air-raid siren’ voice, seemed like soothing lullaby to her- and she says she does not like rock music!!

We reached Goa, by 0530 PM and reached home at 0645 PM, just in time to see the twilight fade away. It was a lovely drive and despite the monsoons, one can complete the Mumbai- Goa drive within day-light hours of a single day.

Zeita was dirty at the end of the drive- gave her a nice 2 hour bath today- the drive did not tire me much, but the washing sure sapped off all the energy.  

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Two nights of sedentary living at 'Hidden Village'

Two men and two and a half women decided to drive to and spend 2 nights at ‘Hidden Village’. A rustic getaway, about 80 kilometres from Vasai.  Aari, I, Bosco (Zeita’s godfather), Neelam and Aurelia (Bosco’s and Neelam’s child and our godchild) left at about 12 PM via Biwandi (as drawn on the map). 

The traffic at Biwandi was chaotic at best. We were left gasping for driving space and breathing air and it was a relief getting off Biwandi. We reached Hidden village at 3PM, most of this time, between 12 to 3 was spent watching the exhausts of trucks at Biwandi. The road, where we take the detour off Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway all the way upto Mumbai- Nashik highway is scarred with potholes. There are lengths of good sections too, but they just don’t ring enough good bells because of their bad cousins. 

Hidden village, like the name suggests is quite hidden-just the kind of place to get away from the maddening city life.  We lazed in our cottage for a few hours and later that night, Aari and I decided to play footsie in the games room. I got the better of her, one of the few times I get one-up with her. 

The next morning, Aari and I decided to take another stroll and meet the farm animals. The goats were delighted to see us and even more delighted when they realised that we were there to pamper them. 

Seeing all the attention the goats received, a female Turkey arrived from nowhere, and started displaying her plumage. She came slowly towards Aari and stood next to her feet. I then sat down and began petting the bird- it was more than delighted. A few minutes into the petting I realised the colour of wattle, changed from white to red. We then continued our walk and the Turkey kept following us.

The next day too, the same ritual continued. This time I engaged in some heavy petting, knowing that it was our last day there. A few minutes into the petting, we spotted 2 male Turkeys giving us some dirty looks.

We decided to continue walking and the female turkey continued sitting in the place where I had last petted her. When we were about 20 meters from the place, one of the male Turkey, mounted the female and copulated with her. Such lazy birds these males turned out to be, I did all the pampering and cajoling and the males just arrived to give the finishing touches. What’s the Turkey world come upto!!

Aari and I also met a flock of geese. At one time they surrounded me and in geese language asked me to feed them bamboo shoots. After a small lecture on geese etiquettes, I plucked a few shoots of the bamboo to feed the birds. 

The birds that were behind me, were quite annoyed that I was ignoring them and not feeding them. To get my attention, they began pulling my short-pants!! Hey come-on give a man his privacy, bird brains.

Hidden village has a lovely pool, which is fed by water, from a nearby spring. I love water and wanted to take a plunge, right on arrival. Aari though was reluctant to have me go for a swim. To know why, we need to take a bit of detour from this hidden village story.
In April this year, I was throwing a stone tied with a string on our tamarind tree. When the stone would get entwined on any branch of the tree, I would shake the tamarinds down. After three days of throwing, my shoulder was really tired. I persisted throwing the stone higher and higher and finally, one fine third day my shoulder dislocated. I gave one look at my mangled shoulder and intelligently put it back in its right place.  Aari and I then decided to consult an orthopedician , who after closely looking at my 1.5 tesla shoulder MRI, decided that I should not swim for “6 months” (Aari thinks he said “for life”!!!). So back at hidden village, Aari was against me going for a swim. But how could I resist water! Taking a cue from the turkey, I did a little pampering dance of my own and managed to get the green light. Aari accompanied me to the swim and kept a hawks eye vigil on me. After 1 hours’ worth of swim, I had proudly gone against the doctor’s diktat.   

We spent two blissful nights and returned back to the maddening crowds of the city. For the return trip we decided to give Biwandi a miss and drove via Thane instead; a good 20 extra kilometers, but much lesser potholes and more disciplined traffic . The return journey took us nearly the same time as the onward journey, but was a pleasure to drive and hardly any truck exhaust pipes to look at. I recommend this route to any one intending on a similar sojourn or drive. 

Bye and have a lovely day- Thank you

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Day 2- Kolhapur to Pune via waterfall country.

We started our day from Maratha Regency at about 9AM. The security personnel at the hotel offered Aari a flower just before departure.  The next pit stop of Pune was only 250 kms away or about 4 hours’ drive. We decided impromptu to take a detour and explore a place called Warandh Ghat. After checking out from our hotel, we quickly joined the NH4 and headed towards Pune. 

About 185 Kms from Kolhapur, we took a detour on the road that leads to Mahad. The road until this detour is very good, a couple of toll booths were the only time the brakes were used (figuratively speaking).  We planned to drive about 66 Kms on this road, that heads towards Mahad. The road itself is filled with many small craters but the hills around are simply breath-taking.

We drove, enjoying the waterfalls that were littered all along the drive. We stopped at some of them to wet our feet and for some photo shoots. 

Once we reached the ghat, we stopped there for a breath-taking  scene. It then started to rain, and it rained very heavily- the rain was so heavy, that Aari categorised it as raining cats dogs and monkeys. As we retuned back, the heavy downpour continued and we spotted many new waterfalls too. It was a truly romantic drive in all sense. 

We returned back to NH 4 after a 4 hours scenic drive . NH4 from Satara all the way until Pune is filled with diversions. Flyover construction work is in progress and these diversions are in pretty bad shape. We counted about 6 diversions until Pune, but thankfully we did not lose much time here. 

We reached Hotel Ginger at Pimpri at about 7 PM, and had a relaxing sleep after a truly wonderful buffet dinner. 
A small glimpse of the drive in the ghats, with impromptu commentary by Aari.

Map of day 2 drive.