Posts Tagged 'Travelogue'

“An Italy Travelogue”

This is not a travelogue – I hate these kinds of beginnings.. This *is* a travelogue, at least I think so, but not the usual stuff – simply because I have forgotten how to write. I’ll just write random things I remember about Venice and Florence and sprinkle a few photographs within and try to pass this off as “An Italy Travelogue”

Italy is just few hours away from Munich and consequently I was thinking that the place would not be much different from Germany – how wrong was I?! Italy and and the Italians reminded me more of India then Germany. How? That is a long story, so instead of blabbering about that let me post a photograph from the city of Venice!

As if there is any other way to see this watery city!

Venice from the boat

Venice is completely dependent on two things – bridges and boats. Actually add another thing – tourists. Without them I seriously doubt anyone would ever live there! Before a few Venetian people find my blog and vow to avenge their home let me post another photograph of this beautiful place.

How did they ever make a complete city on water?

But on the whole I enjoyed visiting Venice – a completely unique experience. And when booking a hotel for Venice, I would recommend *not* booking in Mestre (the mainland counterpart of Venice) but in the actual city of Venice. It was beautiful having a room overlooking Grand Canal from one window and a not-so-grand canal from the other.

Venice Sidewalk

A ride on a train (where I decided to learn Portugese to help out any further without-ticket Brazilian girls – hope the wife does not read this) later we entered the beautiful city of Florence. The city left me spell-bound with its art, and my hotel left me hungry with its snafu! I was about to dig up the baingan-pizza-without-any-sauce when the hotel recovered brilliantly and I had the best pizza of Italy (I may not be exaggerating, considering my other experiences with pizza in Italy). Alright I wrote a long paragraph, time for a photograph!

And containing enough gold in the shops lining the bridge to fincance WW3

Ponte Vecchio – the only bridge to survive WW2

I absolutely loved the city of Florence – narrow cobblestone roads, majestic architecture, awe-inspiring art and shops magical enough to wipe the contents of your wallet with one glance. My cloak of disregard helped me avoid those glances but the cloak was no match for the aromas of pasta, scratch that, make that the scent of Wi-Fi! The internet speed was no doubt good, and it was fun seeing I had 70 unread emails in my Inbox – of which just one was worth reading and even that was addressed to the wife; but the pasta was equally good.

Florence, "No I am not guilty, I've been framed!"

Florence framed by a window in the Giotto’s Campanile

The agenda for the final day was to visit Pisa and lean on the Leaning Tower but my view that Italy is similar to India was reinforced in the worst possible way – a strike cancelling all trains to Pisa and then an hour long wait to cancel my tickets (for which the refund will arrive in two months)! Anyway that allowed me the time to climb the 414 steps of the Gioto’s Tower and see a brilliant view of the Duomo and the city of Florence.

Florence from the top with the Tuscan countryside in the background

And that brings us to the close of this not-a-travelogue travelogue.
Samachar samapt hue, shubh ratri.

Chowmahalla Palace

Recently I visited the Chowmahalla Palace and left wondering how come I had never seen this place in my 9 years in Hyderabad. At walking distance from Charminar it is a must see. It still is a home to Nizams whenever they are visiting Hyderabad, and I could only gape at the grandeur that they live in.

With entry tickets priced at Rs. 25 per person, it is a steal. And since my camera had to pay double the money for its entry I’ll let it do majority of the talking :)

Chowmahalla Palace

The view as soon as we entered the grounds. At first I thought this was the main palace, but later on saw that it was akin to servant quarters with small rooms dotting the courtyard.

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Cannon

Many defunct (hopefully) cannons guarded the palace, and three fountains adorned the palace gardens.

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Doors

Door to infinity.

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Chowmahalla Palace

As I crossed the infinite doors, and the cannons and the lush green garden, I reached Khilwat, or the Durbar of the Nizams.

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Chandelier

As soon as you enter the Durbar, the first thing you would notice is the abundance of the Chandeliers. The chandeliers are lighted only when parties are held there (yeah it also is available on rent as party grounds!), but I was able to light up this chandelier with the sunlight :)

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Throne thrown among the Chandeliers

Once you get a neck pain from staring at the chandeliers, and you attempt to ease the pain by looking down you can see the throne of Nizam.

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Intricate Nakkashi

But inevitably, the gaze gets attracted by the chandeliers again, and this time on concentrating long enough you happen to see the most intricate of carvings on the walls and roof.

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There are many rooms dotted through this and other buildings which house multiple exhibitions of the Nizam life.

Row of Chandeliers

Clicked this from the first floor where another room had been converted in to a mini-museum.

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Framed

A view of the grounds behind Khilwat from another window in another mini-museum :)

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When I reached these beautiful gardens, I thought that I’ve seen the whole palace. I did not realize that I had just seen half of the place.

The Minaret with AttitudeAs I started to capture the other half of the palace, this minaret captured my attention. It looked to me (and till now looks) like a person standing with hands on hips displaying a haughty demeanour.

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Secure SilhouetteAnother huge garden adorned this half too and as I attempted to get closer for a better shot, many whistles pierced the calm, the security guards beckoned me back on the track around the garden. Security was really tight, and all the guards were extra helpful once you started talking with them.

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Ready to take FlightThe whistles had not only brought me back on track, but had also raised the pigeons from their siesta. Hundreds of pigeons were living in the Chowmahalla Palace.

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Surveying the KingdomAnd he seems to be the King of the pigeons. As it s(h)at on the fountain/minaret, it surveyed the grounds and its subjects disdainfully.

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Not on my Head pleaseAnd this was the pond in the huge garden that had attracted my attention in the first place. The pigeons don’t seem to like the uni-colour statues terming them as drab, and proceeded to add various shades to the statues.

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Silver Ghost There also was an entourage of Vintage Cars belonging to the Nizams. This one, a 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, was the only one I could photograph properly as all the cars were behind glasses, and the reflections kept ruining the shots.

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Overall it was a very satisfying way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Of course this palace is very small, it does not even hold a candle to the Mysore Palace in terms of size, but in terms of grandeur it can hold its own quite comfortably.

Time to ListenHow can I write about a monument in the the old city and not have the time to post a shot of the most famous landmark there – the Charminar.

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CharminarReaching to the sky

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Tadikalpudi Peak Conquest

The destination was the peak of the highest mountain of the Tadakalpudi Ranges at 2075 feet. The team comprised of Sridhar, Kosstubh, Guhan and me. I was the newbie in the group, the other three knew lay of the land as they had already been to these ranges, although the peak had yet to be conquered.

This time we did things a bit differently. We gave as much time to the preparation as much we gave to the trek. Maybe we even gave more time to the preparation, and trust me that was the one thing that drastically reduced our trek time. Each of us would open up Google Earth & Bhuvan-ISRO and would find out all probable routes for ascent and descent, marked out few spots that looked conducive to camping, found out as many paths and stream beds (which are the highways of the mountains) as we could, and in this way we chartered out three routes that we could follow.

Day 1 : 29th August, 2009

We reached Tadikalpudi just before 5 in the morning, and within 5-10 minutes we were on our way. The aim was to cover as much distance as we could before the sun gets too hot. To get to the base of the ranges we needed to cross fields, a small hillock, some more fields, and ground covered with shrubs & bush – a total distance of around 4 kms. Our plan seemed perfect, since the slope was east-facing, cover as much distance as you can before the temperature rises. What we had not accounted for (and could not have accounted for) was the very high humidity. It had rained heavily the day before and the sun was hot enough at 7:30 to turn the grounds around us into a sauna! Taking multiple breaks we laboured on. I was the worst affected, and was taking frequent breaks. Sridhar, Kosstubh, Guhan helped me with my backpack twice and just kept egging me on. During one of the short breaks, Sridhar said a simple thing which proved really helpful to me for rest of the ascent – time your steps with your breaths. As Kosstubh put it eloquently – “Chhoti, par moti baat“.

Ascent

The steep climb, the ascent angle would have been easily 50-60 degrees.

The ascent was from around 600 feet to 2000+ feet and and the angle of ascent varied a lot. We started the ascent with a steep climb of 50-60 degrees for about half of the way, and rest of the ascent was a “trivial” matter of hardly 30-40 degrees. Around noon we reached a spot which we had marked as “Ascent Ends” in our route planning. This was at a height of about 1800 feet and the way to peak was now more or less straightforward – if you consider making your path through boulders and thorny bushes and skirting around drops (though not steep, but drops nevertheless) to the valley below and descending down the same valley for some distance to find a better way up as straightforward. When viewed in Google Earth I had felt that once the ascent ends, I would be able to trot to the peak – there were contours till the peak, but the height difference was generally just 100 feet. The path we took till peak just showed me how amateur I am, and how much can a satellite image be trusted. 100 feet from air is hugely different to the actual traversal of those 100 feet on the mountain.

As we were following this route to reach the peak we chanced upon a good clearing with ample shade and breeze. At this place Sridhar, Kosstubh, and Guhan went ahead to one of the lower peaks of the mountain (it has 4 separate peaks, actually view-points would be a better word as peak is the highest point; these 4 separate points are at a much higher elevation than the surrounding area) to reconnoiter the path to the actual peak, while I rested my bones – once again. They returned back with good news that the actual peak was close by, and they had even spied a way down the mountain. They had seen the saddle between two of the view-points/peaks of the mountain, and we had aimed to hit that and walk atop the mountain from there. We mistook some turn, and luckily for us we directly reached the peak that we had intended to walk to from the saddle.

Peak1

On top of the Tadakalpudi Mountain Range Peak. This was on Day-1 afternoon

And at 1:40pm, we were atop the world! OK, I’ll stop exaggerating, we were atop the Tadikalpudi Mountain Range. Not a bad achievement at all. The cool breeze atop the mountain was refreshing, but much more refreshing than that was the knowledge that we had achieved what we had set out to do and that too in good time, thanks to the immaculate route planning that we had done. In all we had taken nearly 8 hours to reach the mountain-top.

Home away from Home

Camp was set up, we kept three sides open as temperature was very high

The peak-conquest was followed by a photo-session, a breather in the sun on one of the rocks that formed the summit, a satisfying lunch, finding a good camping spot, pitching our tent, and simply resting. We sat watching the beautiful sunset, while Guhan kept getting “Sridhared” non-stop.

View from the top just before sunset

Waiting for the sunset, the whole mountain range was aglow with the fading light of the sun

Each of us had carried 6 liters of water and as the first day ended Guhan, Kosstubh and me were left with only 1ltr, 2ltr, and 1.5ltr of water respectively. It had been a very humid day, and we were sweating almost non-stop throughout. We managed to keep ourselves hydrated, and were relying totally on the stream that we would encounter on the way down. Amongst all this Sridhar was sitting cool with 4 liters of water with him. Where each of us had drank 4-5 liters of water, Sridhar easily managed with 2 liters only!

Day 2 : 30th August, 2009

Peak2

Conquered the other adjoining peak too. This is on Day-2 early morning

An event-less night later, we were up before dawn, to summit the next peak, and catch the sunrise. The sun played peek-a-boo behind clouds, but we were able to reach the other peak quite easily. I felt it was even higher than the peak we had conquered on Day-1 afternoon. We were not carrying the GPS at the time to verify the authenticity of what we were feeling, but it was a common feeling among the four of us.

Descent

The descent has started, and we kept finding pockets of water along with boulders and greenery all around

We packed the tent, our belongings, and started the descent along the west face of the mountain at 6:30 am. The descent initially was very steep and within half an hour we had reached 1500 feet. We kept crossing pockets of stagnant water, and we were crisscrossing across the dry stream bed, in search of the manna of life – water. We kept finding water, but not flowing water. Just after 8 we reached a pool with ample flowing water. We refilled our bottles, washed away the accumulated dirt of the past 30 hours, Kosstubh even took a dip, we had a sumptuous breakfast, and were back on our way down the stream towards the village. Now that the stream had ample water, finding our path across the boulders that made the stream bed, and even bordered it was getting trickier. Getting back into the mountains was not an option as the stream was bordered on both sides by thick bushes full of thorns. We kept hopping from one boulder to another, and after what seemed like an eternity (in reality only two hours) we were at the base of the mountain, left the stream, and took a turn into the flat ground filled with shrubs at around 10:30 am.

Waterfall during Descent

This was the water source where we were finally able to quench our thirsts and refresh ourselves. A miniature waterfall had filled up quite a decent sized pond

As soon as we entered the flats, the green top surrounding the stream disappeared and with it the safety we had from the hot merciless sun. Within minutes we were wishing for shade, but shade was hard to come by now as the trees were scarce. We were amidst a maze of fields, and shrub covered grounds and there was no clear path across them to the village. Sridhar went ahead on one of the probable path to see if it was good, while the three of us greedily ate the Glucose. Water reserves were again running low, as we had filled just 1-2 liters extra for the descent (no sense in carrying extra weight) and that meant eating glucose directly without water. We would surely have achieved a Master’s Degree in Water Management had there been any such thing! Sridhar called us from across the field saying he had found the way back. We encountered a well laid dirt path that led us straight to the village. Soon, at about 11:30 am, after enduring the stares of each and every villager (we were as good as aliens to them – people descending from the mountains with backpacks, and strange rolls [sleeping mats] hanging from the bags), we finally reached the railway station.

A very very tiring trek, but a massively successful one too. One to be cherished for a long time :)

It helped a lot that we had distributed the responsibilities for the trek management earlier – Guhan handling the finances, Kosstubh and me planning the route, Kosstubh, Guhan and Sridhar handling the food, and Sridhar being the final authority on the path we planned, and everyone pitching in where required.

The total trek distance was nearly 15kms. 7.7 kms in the plains (village to mountain base and mountain base to village), and rest within the mountains.

Another point to note: if you are planning to ever do this trek, please do take appropriate guidance and permissions. The villagers are very suspicious about movements in the hills.

From afar the mountain looks deceptively easy to climb, from Google Earth it feels it is nothing, but one lesson I learned the hard way on this trek was – never ever judge a mountain on how it looks in maps and from afar. Till the time you set your foot on it, you do not know the mountain.

The Trekkers

The Successful Trekkers

Trek to Narsapur Forest

Narsapur Forest – till a few days back, I had never even heard of this place; it was only because of the Office Travelerz Club that I came to know about this place. Sridhar, as is the norm, was the starting point of the planning and soon five of us – Sridhar, LSP, Raghu, Kosstubh, and me – were ready to trek through these unchartered forests. Google was of no help this time, as there is hardly anything about Narsapur Forest on the web even though it is just 30kms from Hyderabad. Tried to judge the lay of the forest as best as we could with the help of Wikimapia, and we were off.

We had planned to start off at a small Ayyapa Swamy temple 2kms before Narsapur, and enter the forest (which was on both sides of road for nearly 10kms before Narsapur) along a river bed nearby. We were so engrossed in admiring the lush green jungle that we missed the temple and reached the outskirts of Narsapur before realizing our mistake. Anyway we did not let this deter us, rather this helped us in finding a safe parking spot courtesy Sridhar and his awesome people skills. We walked a hundred meters down the road to find a good entry point and found a bunch of kids (2 guys and 4 girls) from Hyderabad who wanted to trek through the jungle without a drop of water & a morsel of food to “celebrate Friendship Day”! I am sure had they gone into the jungle it would have been the start of a C-grade horror movie. Anyway we left the road and entered the jungle, within 8-10 meter we had lost sight of the road. Sridhar had been marking our path on his GPS and finally it helped us a lot to navigate through the jungle.

The forest was much denser & beautiful than what we had expected!

The forest was much denser & beautiful than what we had expected!

Even though we were in the dense jungle, for the initial half hour we could still listen to the sounds of civilizations (read the horns of the passing vehicles), as we were traversing a route that was roughly parallel to the road.  We kept passing cattle trails and soon the parallel way was thrown away and we embraced the perpendicular direction. We crossed over a hillock full of big boulders (the whole time my thought bubble was reading – “this is ideal tiger territory”) and this is where we took our first break after about an hour of trekking. The weather was amazing, it drizzled for a while and we took shelter under the umbrellas of the two seasoned trekkers – Sridhar & LSP. We resumed, descended the hillock and took another 10 minute pause to satiate the photographers’ thirst, the subjects being a cut log & a cow skull. And no this was not the only wildlife spotting – we saw a Greater Coucal (I think it was that!), a Green Bee Eater, what we felt to be a Mongoose, and the best of all a Monitor Lizard running along.

Skull of a cow/buffalo that we came across while trekking

Skull of a cow/buffalo that we came across while trekking

We followed the dry river bed for a while, and soon realized that we had come in a long way and should think about returning now. Among the two options that we had – retrace our way through the jungle to starting point, or aim for the main road and walk along till Narsapur – we decided for the latter option. Trying to find a way back, soon we were lost in the jungle, the GPS was not that helpful this time as we had missed to mark the points on the main road while driving along till Narsapur. Anyway nobody was perturbed by this as we all had a good sense of the direction in which the main road was. The only question was whether we would come out a km away from where we parked the car, or 4 kms – we had no clue of determining where we would exit.

As green as grass

As green as grass

We had already trekked for nearly 4 hours by that time, and I was getting ravenously hungry. Sridhar seemed to read my mind and took out a box of apple juice which he seems to have hidden in his trekking bag along with God-knows-what! We entered a stretch of forest that seemed to be the originating point for the phrase “as green as grass”. Had I not seen it myself, I would have thought that it was done by photoshop, the grass was that green! Soon we were atop another hill from where we could see the first sign of civilization that we had seen for a long long time – an electricity pole, but it seemed to be at least 4-5 kms away, and we were sure that the road was not that far off. We were indeed right, and soon hit a jeep/tractor trail that was leading us to the main road as was apparent by the horns of the passing vehicles. We stopped for the last time for our lunch (which we had got packed earlier, when we had stopped for breakfast) and soon hit the main road at the exact same point where we had earlier expected to start out trek (near the aforementioned Ayyapa Swamy temple). A refreshing 3-4 km walk in the jungle was followed by a really tiring 2 km walk on the hard unforgiving road and we were back at the Raghu’s car, ready to return to Hyderabad. Only on the return journey did I come to know why this place is so offbeat/obscure, the Narsapur Forest is reputed to be a Naxal hideout.

All in all a Sunday very well spent, at such a beautiful forest so close to Hyderabad.

How to reach et al…

From Balanagar Bus Stop take the road that goes towards Chintal, Shapur Nagar i.e. the Medak Road. Follow it for around 30-35 kms to reach Narsapur. On way you would pass Gandimaisamma X-Roads, Dundigul Air Force Academy, Gummadidala before the forest starts on both sides of the road till Narsapur.

For food we stopped at a roadside place, and got our lunch packed from there. You need to carry water, at least 2 liters for a 4-5 hour trek and preferably soem food – trekking can get tiring. Also the jungle on the right-side of the Gummadidala-Narsapur road seems denser than the one on left side. And if you go and ask Forest officials for trekking trails, you’ll realize that trekking in these jungles is not allowed, so if you plan to venture in there, go at your own risk. Nobody would have your back but yourself.

Trip to Kerala

Hyderabad was a conglomeration of brown patches with few blues and interspersed with green dots, two hours later I was landing in midst of a green earth with a blue river snaking through and as far as the eye could see no brown patches of dry land – Kerala welcomed us.

Alosh’s wedding – the avid photographer looked ill at ease when in front of the camera :)

The infamous strikes of Kerala hit us, and our plan of going to Munnar went down the drain.

Spent two days at a very small place (I would not even term it as off-the-beaten-track, for that it had to be on a track!), no network unless I went outside for a few meters, backwaters just behind the house, a black sand beach a boat ride away, and to reach the house you had to cross a 2 feet wide strip of land with water on both sides. It helps when your friends live in place that you can only term as paradise!

Wave breaking at a beach covered with black sand

Wave breaking at a beach covered with black sand

Warning: If you can see the rains approaching on backwaters at a distance that seems at least 4-5 kms, never get on the small fishing boat even for a 10 minute ride. We made that mistake and luckily lived to tell the tale. Within 1-2 minutes the rain that was kilometers away was upon us, and the visibility was reduced to 8-10 feet, I could hardly make out the front of the boat. Strong winds threatened to overturn the boat, and the rising tide threatened to gobble up any thing/person that went overboard; luckily for us we were not in the middle of the backwater but hardly 20-30 meters away from the coast and were able to reach the coast drenched to the bone, but alive.

A fisherman selling oysters by the bucket. We were in a similar boat when we had the Near Death Experience of being thrown overboard into the  backwaters of Kerala.

A fisherman selling oysters by the bucket. We were in a similar boat when we had the Near Death Experience of being thrown overboard into the backwaters of Kerala.

I have trekked through mountains and trekked through jungles too, but one thing has been common – there has been ample daylight, and all the treks were timed perfectly to make use of all available sunlight. So when I got a chance to undertake a trek at night through a jungle that boasts of tigers and elephants, I would have been a fool to refuse this once in a lifetime chance :) Trekked for around 6 kms for three hours in dense darkness in the Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest equipped with nothing but a tiny torch that threw light till about 10 feet ahead. Walking in plains was easy as the moonlight helped a lot. The second you left plains and headed under trees it was impossible to see an inch in front of you without the artificial aid. Unluckily we were not able to spot any animal, would have loved to spot an elephant in that darkness.

Some Random Waterfall on way to Thekkady

Some Random Waterfall on way to Thekkady

I hate traveling in a cab, and by air. Give me a train any day, or let me drive. Traveling for long hours sitting is very tiring, the stunning scenery helps a bit, but not for long.

Need to give at least 3-4 weeks more to cover all places of Kerala. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place, and I’ve covered hardly anything. I will be back :)

It definitely was much easier to write a post in the form of unrelated points :) Will stick to this when the words are not flowing…


Meet the Blogger…

I write! Topic does not matter, can be my life, or my travels, or any match I saw, or the Hyderabadi life, or reminiscing about Raipur, or penning Short Stories & 55s.

I can be contacted at kunalblogs[at]gmail[dot]com.

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