Continuing with my past travelogues, this is the first of two posts on my road trips to the Union Territory of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu (Wikipedia link, do readif not familiar with Pondicherry). As I mentioned earlier, I may not be able recount every name or for that matter, everything since, well…. it’s been a while!
Date: 26-27th August, 2005
Two cars. Nine of us. Independence Day weekend.
We set off early morning from Bangalore city and headed down Hosur Road, past Electronic City, for the Tamil Nadu border. The highways (once you enter Tamil Nadu) are remarkably better than Karnataka’s roads but this being India, they don’t stay good for long. You have to get off the main highway off to a smaller road that leads to Puducherry.
The route we took passes through Krishnagiri – Thirvanamalai – Gingee and was expected to take us 6 hours.
We reached Thirvanamalai at around 7:30am and stopped here for breakfast. It was at a local restaurant/mess so I don’t remember the name — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad idli–dosa joint in Tamil Nadu.
By noon, we were in Pondicherry. The (Government run) hotel we stayed at was just after the Pondicherry entrance checkpoint, to the right. It wasn’t much of a place (especially the restaurant) but I do remember the rooms our friend booked were the “suites”. They were big, had A/Cs and looked like a suite… by 1980s India standards. But hey, it was cheap. Around Rs. 600 or so. (Mind you, this was off-season 2005).
We freshened up, had lunch and headed straight to Beach Road.
Most, if not all, of what you’ll want to see in Pondicherry is in and around Beach Road and the “rues” (‘rue’ = ‘street’ in French) behind it. The old French colonial buildings, the Aurobindo Ashram and the big churches are all within walkable reach from here.
After some shopping and dinner, we called it an early night. The plan was to wake up early (funny how it always is on my trips) and head to Beach Road to watch the sunrise.
Which we did.
After breakfast, it was church-hopping. First up, the Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee (The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) on Cathedral Street.
Next, Sacred Heart Church on the south boulevard.
Okay I kid. Maybe the kids were from out of town. 🙂
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is famous for its glass paintings depicting events from the life of Jesus Christ.
Then, we walked to the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels).
After grabbing some ice-cream, we took advantage of the lower cost of fuel in Pondicherry and headed back to our rooms to check out. We left Puducherry by noon and decided to head back Bangalore.
Word of advice: Be careful about buying liquor in Pondicherry (as with fuel, liquor is cheaper too) and taking it out of town, there are multiple police inspection points you will have to stop at.
We took the same route back and only stopped on the way to have lunch. Lord knows where it was that we stopped but it was terrible. Best to have lunch at Pondicherry itself and then leave as the options are very slim on the journey back.
I really found Gingee Fort interesting and told myself I wanted to check it out the next time I was around these parts.
Not that it hindered our journey. It was still a lovely drive and that is one thing about heading to Pondicherry from Bangalore (or even Chennai) — it’s one of the best daytime drives you’ll have in South India.
Camera used: Canon Powershot A95; post processing done in Photoshop CS3, especially the blues which were cyan heavy
Since I’m done with my recenttravelogues, I decided to go back through my photo collection and share my older travel experiences. I’ve traveled quite a bit down and around South India, and though I may not be able to recount my experience exactly, I’ll try my best to re-trace the steps.
I’m starting off with Bylakuppe, a Tibetan settlement in Karnataka state and around 3hrs drive from Bangalore city. I’ve been to Bylakuppe twice — first, in 2008, en route to Coorg and the second time, with AOL India’s Shutterbugs group.
First visit to Bylakuppe (October 2008)
It’s kind of weird to be traveling for an hour or two through Karnataka’s smaller towns, seeing the locals and sign boards in Kannada and then suddenly seeing a lot of Tibetans and Buddhist monks in onelarge piece of land off Mysore road.
We were en route to Coorg and had heard of Bylakuppe from friends, so we decided to make it the lunch stop in our journey. It was noon by the time we arrived and we decided to quickly check out the Golden Temple before having lunch.
I don’t remember which day it exactly was but when we arrived at the Golden Temple, the monks were on a break (I guess) as few were seen inside the temples and halls.
From inside the Golden Temple:
A few from just outside the Golden Temple…
… before lunch.
I forgot the name of the restaurant we had lunch from but it was a garden restaurant on the road that leads to the Golden Temple. Don’t expect anything fancy in Bylakuppe, most restaurants (and there are only a few) serve simple Tibetan dishes. You do get South Indian food just outside the Golden Temple and the standard “fried rice” fare is available at some restaurants. But don’t go asking around for Chinese food! Tibetans hate them!
If you are wondering what we had, it was thukpa (noodle soup; veg & beef) and tingmo (steamed rice bread).
It was shocking how cheap it all was. Three of us ate all that for less than Rs. 100!
On the way out, we checked out the other places of interest in Bylakuppe (or at least the places that looked interesting to us)
After this, we headed back to the highway for Coorg.
Second visit to Bylakuppe (March 2009)
My second visit to Bylakuppe was with my office photography club called Shutterbugs. It was a weekend trip, leaving on a Saturday morning, spending the night at Kushal Nagar and heading back the next day. Fortunately, this time, we arrived at the Golden Temple when prayers were in full force.
Since we had all day to spend in Bylakuppe, I got a chance to go around the whole vicinity this time around and explore the place better.
As the day darkened, we headed to Kushal Nagar which is pretty much the largest town in the area and took rooms at a cheap lodge. We set out again the next day, rather early, for Nisargadhama which was fairly close by.
After Nisargadhama, we headed back on to Mysore Road for Bangalore, stopping for lunch at Hotel Mayura River View in Srirangapatna — a very nice (& affordable) restaurant by the river banks.
As I sat there by the river, the setting oddly got me thinking about ‘Jungle Book’.
Two weekends ago, I went to the district of Wayanad in the state of Kerala. It was with mostly friends from work who are part of AOL India’s photography club Shutterbugs.
We left one Friday night from work and was joined by a colleague Yazid who would come with us until Wayanad and who would then, from there leave for Calicut, his home. I’ve always wanted to go on a photo expedition with Yazid since he’s one guy who was always open to teaching me more on photography.
Since he wasn’t going be with us for long, I used any opportunity to take advantage of his time. And we got some when we stopped for some time near the Karnataka-Kerala border.
Yazid taught me and another friend, Ramesh, how to use the Bulb mode in a camera. I had it as a mode in my Canon 7D but didn’t know exactly what it was for. Essentially, the Bulb mode was for giving the photographer full manual control over timed exposure. As in, you can hold the shutter open for as long as you can hold the button down.
Another cool example was shooting off the flash for a second and then holding on to the open shutter to create cool effects like this.
Ramesh stood in front of the jeep when the flash was shot off, then moved away while the shutter was still held and the result is what you see above.
We tried another shot using the same technique. Here’s a shot of Ramesh and Yazid with the shutter release lasting as long as the flash just goes off.
Now here’s the same pose but with the flash going off and then both moving away while the shutter is still held open by me for nearly 10 seconds.
The long exposure helps you get the stars as well.
We tried the same with shadows. Shot off the flash which obviously captures our shadows but then move away while still holding the button down so the open shutters captures as much of the background as possible.
We tried some more shots…
… before Ramesh and I felt we had learned enough.
We set off from there and by the time we reached Bandipur, the sun had slowly started to show up.
By 7am, we had reached Wayanad. The taxi had to stop at the check post for the standard paper work which gave us the opportunity to start our photography.
I didn’t take many photos as I was feeling sleepy given I was up the whole night making sure our driver didn’t doze off like the passengers did. Breakfast was just hot tea.
It took our driver nearly an hour to get back from the customs police. And when he did, we realized we had a puncture too! More time was wasted as the driver slowly replaced it. Annoying as it were, we finally moved past the check post and stopped again soon after. Nidhin (the guy who organized this whole trip) told us the first thing on our itinerary was a safari ride through Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary. We paid up for five, our guide and got into our jeep.
Now, the thing with any safari is that, the chances of one actually ever seeing anything exciting are rare. Plus timing is important too. Early mornings are often said to be best as a lot of animals prefer to stay in the shade once the sun is out in full force. Plus, it helps if the vehicle you are in wouldn’t make such a racket giving a loud heads-up to every creature signaling tourists are on the way!
I was only carrying my wide-angle and 50mm lens, so there was little I could capture as far as exotic animals and birds are concerned. Nidhin had a 300mm lens so he managed to get some rather good close-ups of the creatures we came across.
So bear with me… here are some trees!
After driving through the forest, we hit the tarred road and the driver took us to a nearby “waterfall”.
Turned out to be nothing more than a river stream with a lot of sand dumped on its banks — which looked suspicious as it surely didn’t look like it belong there.
After nearly nearly 2 hours, we were back to where we started. Our safari ride was over. Was it worth it? I guess it varies. If we had spotted tigers, then I would have said ‘yes’. Otherwise, if deers and small wild animals aren’t your thing, it’s a waste of money.
It was nearing noon so we decided to head for our resort which was still a bit away. But once we hit Sultan Batheri (the big town in Wayanad) our taxi suffered another puncture! Since the spare tyre was also bust, we had no choice but to wait for it to get fixed.
So I decided to take in the local sights.
After an hour, we were back on our way. And then… another puncture! That too the same tyre! We got fed up at this point, so we told our driver to get it sorted and we took an autorickshaw to our resort.
I don’t remember the name of the resort and honestly, I wouldn’t even recommend it for the price (Rs. 1750 per night). Getting there is pain by itself and the amenities or for that matter, the views, really aren’t worth the price.
After finally brushing our teeth and having something to eat, we rested for a bit. It was already past 4pm at this point and we really didn’t want to waste daylight, so we set off for our next stop — Banasura Sagar dam.
We hired a jeep as by the time our taxi driver got the tyre fixed and reached our resort, we decided its best he eat and rest. Also mostly because we were scared of the tyre going bust again.
There is an entrance fee at Banasura Sagar dam, the largest earthen dam in India and apparently the second largest in Asia. Open to visitors, the place offers a children’s park and even boat rides.
It was very sunny when we arrived and I regretted not carrying my sunglasses.
The tickets for the boat rides are separate from the entrance fees and none of us were interested in going for it either. So after spending an hour there, we headed back.
After sunset, we just enjoyed drinks and food over a campfire… ‘cos there was little else to do. There is absolutely nothing around the resort besides trees and shrubs.
Most of us called it an early night (especially me) since we barely slept properly in the past 24 hours. The plan was to wake up early the next day and set off by 5:30am.
But that never happened.
I got up a 5:30am and tried calling up the others — but in vain. And since it was freezing cold and misty outside, I went back to bed. We eventually did get up but by the time we left the resort, it was past 9am.
We drove through Kalpetta, picked up a local friend of Nidhin’s and made our way to Kuruva island.
Kuruva is not an “island” you’d imagine. It’s just a piece of forest land surrounded by a river stream (River Kabini) thus earning the title of “island”. We weren’t planning on getting on to the actual island itself so we went with our local guide through the side and the paddy fields you have to cross to get to the banks.
There is an entrance fee to enter Kuruva island and if you pay, this is how you actually get to the island.
But we just sat by the bank for some photography.
By 1pm, we were bored and decided to head back to town. Nidhin’s friend showed us one last thing before heading back to town.
An old teak bungalow used by the British during colonial times.
The bungalow was on a secluded piece of land surrounded by trees making it one heck of a vacation home.
Now all that’s left are markings by vandals professing their love for someone and other messages inscribed on the wood. The house is decades old but I was surprised how good the wood still was.
It was very sunny so we quickly headed back to our taxi, drove to town and cooled off during lunch. After that, it was back to Bangalore.
Fortunately, we didn’t suffer any further punctures and the only time we stopped (and probably the most exciting moment of this trip) was when we saw young elephants by the road side in Bandipur.
We did end up stopping at Mysore for dinner. (Actually, we stopped at Mysore because Nidhin’s friend said there was this dosa and beef curry joint in town but trying to find it was a pain and Nidhin’s state didn’t help either so we just ate at a regular vegetarian joint.)
Just as the clocked neared 12am, I was back home. The trip really wasn’t one of my best given the expenses and the resulting photography.