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Kerala 2009: Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom

Date: 28th August 2009

Though the main purpose of this trip was to attend a friend’s wedding, as always, being an out-of-town wedding, I’d use the opportunity to travel around. This time, it was a chance to explore a bit of south Kerala. Being from north Kerala and having only visited Trivandrum years back, I’ve longed to visit the parts of Kerala that are now most synonymous with tourism in Kerala.

We (me and a friend) left Bangalore city from K.R. Puram station in the evening and headed for Ernakulam, an overnight train ride that took nearly 12 hours. Upon arriving (really) early in the morning, we got off the train only to board the one next to it. An hour-long journey took us to our friend’s hometown in Kottayam. Given that we had a day before his wedding — and the fact that his place had little to offer in terms of “tourist sights,” we decided to head for the tourist village of Kumarakom.

When we heard Kumarakom wasn’t very far from Kottayam city, we thought of saving some time by taking an auto. Then the auto driver said it would come to around Rs. 160 (€2.50/$3). So instead, we just waited for the KSRTC bus — which cost us Rs. 6 (too low to convert!) per person. Clearly the better option.

30 minutes later, we were at the “jetty” stop, pretty much the starting point for the boat rides to the lake. There are other roads on either side of the stream that will lead you to the many resorts that surround Vembanad Lake, the biggest lake in Kerala.

We opted for the 1-hour boat ride from the KTDC which cost Rs. 350 (€5/$7). (We didn’t try bargaining because these rides were conducted by the tourism department and it was written on a board there. But you could try.)

Kumarakom Vembanad lake backwaters longboatKumarakom lake backwaters speed boatsKumarakom houseboat small boat

Kumarakom lake houseboats backwaters
These houseboats can cost anywhere from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 16,000 per day
Kumarakom lake houseboats kerala
The prices vary based on the amenities available on each boat

The backwaters leading up to the lake were lined up with houseboats and smaller boats parked on either side. It was an odd mix of luxury resorts among houses belonging to villagers, both living off a tourism economy.

Kumarakom houseboat village houseKumarakom fishermen boatThe backwaters eventually lead out to Vembanad Lake.

Kumarakom lake VembanadAnd even though the pictures may not give you the scale, trust me, it’s big!

Kumarakom Vembanad lakeKumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the east coast of the lake, which explained all the birds flying around and getting a better view of the lake.

Kumarakom lake birds formationKumarakom Vembanad lake birdsKumarakom Vembanad lake birds pole wingsKumarakom Vembanad lake birds poleThe boat ride is very relaxing and I would definitely recommend taking it at around sunset.

Mithun kumarakom lake boat ride
Me, about to fall asleep from the lazy ride

Kumarakom lake boat sunsetKumarakom Vembanad lake sunset

Kumarakom has dozens of resorts by the lake. From high-end properties from the Taj Group and the famous Kumarakom Lake resort to mid-range offerings farther away. If you can afford it, it really is a great option for a romantic sojourn.

Kumarakom lake resort VembanadKumarakom lake coupleBack on land, we paid up and took a bus back to Kottayam. The next morning was our friend’s wedding, the venue being the local church.

Kottayam church cross post boxChurch cross letter boxKottayam church stepsKottayam church Jesus sky

Joe wedding photographers
His big day

Kottayam church Jesus statueAfter the wedding, we headed back to our room and caught up with a third friend, who would join us for the rest of our journey.

Kumarakom was just the first stop. Next up was Thekkady and then Cochin.

Camera used: Nikon D90; post processing done in Photoshop CS3

P.S: Here’s a small video I took from Vembanad Lake:

Learn more about Kerala’s amazing backwaters:

Kerala tourism backwater
Click the image to visit greatbackwaters.com

Taj Mahal and New Delhi sights: Red Fort, Raj Ghat, India Gate & Rashtrapati Bhavan

Date: 3rd March 2005

The next day, after Vivek’s wedding, we left Jaipur in the after noon by bus and headed for Agra. We took the state bus which was quite cheap (and very basic in every shape and form).

We reached Agra by 5pm and took an auto straight to the Taj Mahal. It was already sunset, so we really didn’t have much time.

We bought our tickets, paid for our camera fee and got in.

Taj Mahal entranceTaj Mahal entrance touristsI was budding with excitement as I was finally going to see India’s most famous monument.

Taj Mahal Agra eveningAnd though my photos may not paint a rosy picture, trust me, it really was beautiful!

Taj Mahal Agra eveningI had no choice but to use the camera flash once inside.

Taj Mahal Agra inside ceilingTaj Mahal Agra Shah JahaanTaj Mahal Agra Shah Jahaan wall islamic

There really wasn’t much else I could take as the flash would have made the photos appear as though it was already night fall (which it wasn’t yet). Plus it was closing time, so we had to make our way out.

Taj Mahal tombAs cliched as it may sound, the Taj Mahal really is one sight everyone (especially if you are Indian) must see before they die. It’s a hideously romantic structure to profess one’s love for someone and will probably never be attempted again.

My only regret is that I wish I had gotten there a few hours earlier.

After making our way out and surviving the hordes of vendors pushing replicas of the Taj in your face, we sat down for a coffee break. We pondered about whether we should stay in Agra that night or head straight for New Delhi which was the next stop on our ‘tour’.

But Delhi it was.  So we took an auto to the Agra bus stand and boarded the bus. It was around 8pm by the time we left and we would arrive at New Delhi around 3am the next day.

New Delhi

Date: 4th March 2005

We were staying at a (crappy) 3-star hotel in the heart of the city, pretty close to all the major sights we planned on seeing. So in the morning, we headed first for Red Fort (or Lal Qila).

Red fort New Delhi Mithun
Yeah that's me. Laugh all you want.

Red Fort Delhi Indian army stone

Red fort Lahore gateRed fort New Delhi entranceRed Fort Khas MahalRed fort Khas Mahal descriptionRed fort Khas Mahal monumentRed fort Khas Mahal structureRed fort Khas Mahal marbleRed fort Khas Mahal Delhi

Red fort panorama New Delhi
(Panorama comprised of 3 shots)

Red fort Diwan-i-am Delhi

Red fort Indian war museum building
Indian war museum at Red Fort

Red fort Indian war museum New Delhi

Here’s a brief video I took:

We had a relaxing meal at a coffee shop/restaurant at the Lal Qila itself, which was nice. After that, we moved to our next stop (across from the Red Fort) — Raj Ghat.

Raj Ghat park New Delhi public parkRaj Ghat park New Delhi public park school kidsThe massive public park houses several memorials in honour of some of the greatest Indians that helped shape our nation. First up, the greatest of them all — the  Mahatma Gandhi memorial.

Raj Ghat Mahatma Gandhi memorialRaj Ghat Mahatma Gandhi memorial from above

We then walked down the bricked path to check out the rest of the place.

Raj Ghat park New DelhiRaj Ghat park lake squirrelThere’s a fairly large pond in the middle of the park which makes this place all the more serene.

Raj Ghat park lake ducks stoneRaj Ghat park pond stone pigeonsRaj Ghat park pond ducksRaj Ghat park geese DelhiIf you like geese, here’s a video:

The day wasn’t the brightest Delhi offered, and we even got a brief moment of drizzle — but the somber skies suited the next few sights.

Raj Ghat park New Delhi brick pathMore memorials, these mostly honouring the Nehru clan.

Raj Ghat Nehru memorial New Delhi
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru memorial
Raj Ghat Indira Gandhi memorial
Indira Gandhi memorial
Raj Ghat Rajiv Gandhi memorial
Rajiv Gandhi memorial
Vijay Ghat Lal Bahadur Shastri memorial
Lal Bahadur Shastri memorial

Raj Ghat Rajiv Gandhi memorial plaqueRaj Ghat park stonesRaj Ghat bricked pathVijay Ghat New Delhi

After walking around for nearly an hour, we took an auto and headed for India Gate.

India Gate road New DelhiIndia Gate road New Delhi monumentIndia Gate road New Delhi monument close upIndia Gate New Delhi monumentIndia Gate Amar JawanIndia Gate New Delhi fountainIndia Gate New Delhi parkWe followed down the straight road from India Gate which took us to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

Rashtrapathi Bhavan India Gate

Road to Rashtrapathi BhavanRashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi

To our right was the parliament house…

Indian Parliament house New Delhi… but we weren’t allowed near the building nor were we permitted to take photographs from up close. Oh well.

Back to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Rashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi buildingsRashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi lamp post

Rashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi buildingRashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi buildingRashtrapathi Bhavan New Delhi offices

Rashtrapathi Bhavan presidents palace Mithun New Delhi
Me in front of the President's palace building. Not sure why I wasn't smiling.

Rashtrapathi Bhavan India Gate distanceAs an Indian, you can’t help but feel patriotic when you are in this part of Delhi.

Of course, there is much more to the capital city. It is after all famed for its shopping and street food — but we had to catch a flight back to Bangalore the next day and we were a bit knackered with all the walking we did. So we went back to the hotel and rested.

The next day, it was checking out of the crappy hotel, hopping into a taxi and heading off to the airport.

Taken from inside the car:

Teen Murthi New Delhi
Theen Murthi
Barah Murti Mahatma Gandhi statue New Delhi
Barah Murthi

Barah Murti Mahatma Gandhi statue New Delhi

Camera used: Canon Powershot A95; post processing done in Photoshop CS3

P.S: Here’s a video I took while at Rashtrapathi Bhavan and India Gate:

First trip to Rajasthan: Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar and other sights in Jaipur city

Date: 2nd March 2005

These photos are from my first visit to Jaipur, which also happened to be my first big trip within India. The journey was actually for the marriage of one of our favourite office colleagues at the time. A bunch of us made it for the wedding, most of them by train — but I chose to fly.

This was 2005, Air Deccan (India’s first budget carrier) was still in operation. I got a return ticket from Bangalore to New Delhi for around Rs. 5,000. From New Delhi, we (I was joined by another colleague and his wife) boarded a state bus from Rajasthan House and headed for Jaipur. The journey took us around 3 hours and we were in Jaipur city by evening.

Our friend had put us up at the Best Western in Jaipur and since there was a ‘sangeet‘ that evening, all our sightseeing was kept for the next day.

The next morning, 3 of us set out to see the sights Jaipur city had to offer. The wedding was that evening so we had time until late afternoon. The hotel suggested we hire a taxi and for Rs. 500, the driver offered to take us around to all the popular sights.

First up, a quick stop at the Hawa Mahal or “Hall of the Winds”.

Hawa Mahal Jaipur Rajasthan

Hawa Mahal Jaipur Rajasthan streetThe Hawa Mahal was en route to our main destination, Amer Fort — or Amber Fort as it’s popularly known.

Amber Amer Fort Jaipur Rajasthan IndiaAmber Amer Fort Jaipur Rajasthan IndiaAmber Amer Fort Jaipur Rajasthan India wallsThere was an entrance fee… but I don’t remember how much it was. (Sorry, five years ago.)

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan elephant ride
Elephant rides were popular with the white folks. Not me.

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan courtyard

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan Mithun
5 years ago, that was me. (Not much has changed since then really)

I don’t exactly remember if we hired a guide or not, but we still just followed the path all the guided tours were taking and listened in whenever we heard English explanations.

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan corridor
The Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace)

Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace)Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan mirror palace ceilingAmber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan gardenAmber Amer fort Jaipur RajasthanAmber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan IslamAmber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan Islam ceilingAmber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan outiside

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan parrotAmber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan templeWe spent nearly an hour at Amer Fort before heading out.

Amber Amer fort Jaipur Rajasthan elephants
Elephants cooling off at Maotha lake in front of Amer Fort

Our next stop was the Jantar Mantar, a collection of astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II a very long time ago.

Jantar Mantar Jaipur Rajasthan dialsJantar Mantar Jaipur Rajasthan dial stepsJantar Mantar Jaipur Rajasthan weird

Jantar Mantar Jaipur Rajasthan samrat yantra
A lot of these massive structures were used to tell time and predict the weather believe it or not

Jantar Mantar Jaipur Rajasthan sun dial

City Palace Jaipur Rajasthan
The City Palace with Amer Fort in the background

After half-an-hour spent at the Jantar Mantar, we had our lunch.

The restaurant was on the road facing the Jal Mahal.

Jal Mahal Jaipur Rajasthan
Jal Mahal (Water Palace)

After that, we were back in the city.

Albert hall Jaipur Rajasthan
Albert Hall Museum

Final stop on our taxi tour was the Birla Mandir in Jaipur.

Birla Mandir Jaipur RajasthanBirla Mandir Jaipur Rajasthan templeBirla Mandir Jaipur Rajasthan templePalace behind Birla Mandir Jaipur RajasthanAnd with that, we were done. By 5pm we were back at the hotel, freshened up, and then made our way to the wedding venue — which was a palace-turned-5-star hotel.

Jaipur Rajasthan wedding Vandhana
'Indian wedding' not guaranteed in the hotel package. But these tourists got lucky.

Jaipur Rajasthan wedding VivekJaipur Rajasthan wedding venueJaipur Rajasthan wedding danceJaipur Rajasthan hotel large marble chessJaipur Rajasthan wedding nightThe wedding venue was impressive to say the least. It’s fairly obvious why Rajasthan plays host to a lot of extravagant North Indian weddings. The whole state offers palatial grandeur with many such palaces been taken over, and turned into luxury hotels. Of course, none of this comes cheap.

Jaipur Vivek wedding group
The entire group from office who made it to Vivek's wedding

Anyway, after the wedding, it was back to the hotel for the entire group. Some of us were heading back to Bangalore via Mumbai the next day, while I (& two others) decided to go to Agra instead (& then to New Delhi).

Sorry for not going into too much detail about all the places I went to but I’ve linked out to sources where you can find out more information and read up on their history.

Agra and New Delhi will be another post.

Camera used: Canon Powershot A95; post processing done in Photoshop CS3

P.S: Here’s a small video I took while at Amer Fort

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