Sunday, January 05, 2020

Visiting Alleppy, Munnar & Cochin - In search of the elusive Appam!

Visiting Alleppy, Munnar and Cochin - In Search of the elusive Appam!

Our yearly vacation this time was to revisit Munnar and Alleppy in Kerala, which Souji and I had visited 16 years back right after our marriage. So we retraced these visits, this time with Pooja and Ruchir.

22 Dec, 2019 - Sunday:
We took the Kochuveli Humsafar Express - We boarded the Kochuveli-Humsafar Express from K R Puram at 7 PM.  A new train, with only AC Coaches, beautiful Blue-Green Liveries, with Smart toilets,  Reasonably clean and tidy. We reached Ernakulam Jn., by 5:30 AM, an hour late and spent the next couple of hours at the First Class Waiting Hall.

Just outside of the railway station was a Pure Veg hotel and where we had our breakfast. We ordered for the Kerala's famous Appams, but the waiter told that he had served the last Appam to a family that ordered just before us. He assured that Appams would be available everywhere across Kerala and not to worry. Felt happy with the assurance the waiter gave us. Appams were definitely on our bucket-list of items to try while in Kerala!

23 Dec, 2019 - Monday:
We took the Chennai-Alleppy Fast Passenger at 9:30 AM and reached Alleppy by 11 PM. Must say that the train ride to Alleppy offers great views of Backwaters, Green Lands, Beautiful houses near the railway lines, nicely decked for Christmas. One of the best short distance train journey, that should not be missed. We took an Auto from Alleppy to 'Ponnumada' - starting point where all the houseboats were anchored. Its about 5 Kms distance from Alleppy railway station and 3 Kms from the Alleppy town. Beautiful town with large palatial houses, very rich!

Ponnumada greeted us with 100s of houseboats where we met the manager of the houseboat (Kevin), who took us inside one boat tethered to the shore and exited into the entrance of 'our' houseboat - 'Aqua Malabar'

Aqua Malabar - A neat 1 BHK houseboat, which we had reserved back in October over the web. A beautiful hall welcomed us with neat Sofa sets, Dining table & Chairs, Large windows, TV and Entertainment Units. A passage down the hall had a Sparkling clean wash basin with Mirror before leading us to our Double cot AC room with an attached bathroom. Further behind our room was the Kitchen and the Staff Quarters.

We were introduced to the Captain of our boat and the cook, who would take care of us during the 1 day accommodation. We stated sailing just a few minutes past noon that took us through huge wide backwater waterways that Alleppy is famous far. With water that was absolutely still, our boat cruised at a slow speed giving us enough and more time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes on both sides of the waterways.

We steered around Islands which had acres and acres of Green Paddy fields on both sides, which were fed by the water from the waterways. Apparently, all these paddy fields belong to the Govt. of Kerala and employs the laborers whose live right across the ridge of these paddy fields. The lush green paddy fields, stretches far and wide as long as the eyes can see, are a treat to the eyes. The pale blue waterways surrounding these paddy fields, Cute little houses along the shoreline showing off colorful flowers and Christmas cheers, the Coconut trees along the shoreline, wandering Houseboats and the the clear blue sky made it a naturally idyllic scenery, and left us with an indelible sight in the mind for a long time to come. 

The cameras did not stop clicking top for the next hour or so till our captain dropped the anchor next to another Paddy field. Lunch was served and we couldn't wait to hog. 

For lunch, Our cook 'Raj' [Nepali!] had prepared Vegetable salads, 3 types of Palyas - Alu-Gobhi Palya, Kosu [Cabbage] Palya, Gorikaaye-Carrot palya, Rice, Sambhar with multiple veggies, Happala [Papad] and Pickles! Heaven!

The sun was quite heavy post lunch as we lazily dozed off for an hour and so did our boat. The captain resumed the journey and drove us to deeper places where we saw 'highways' of waterways, service waterways, houseboat traffic on both ways, and traffic jams at the intersections of highways and smaller waterways! Very much akin to our land roads, movement on the waterways were very similar to what we see on roadways in all aspects! 

We saw waterway commerce with Ice-cream and Tender coconut vendors on boats that come and latch onto the houseboats. These sellers have a 1 man boat almost similar to a Kayak with just enough space to hold an Ice-cream dabba. They attack the minds of peaceful people of houseboat to indulge into their offerings! Good quality Ice-creams I must say and very reasonable prices. So lot of fun and who would not want to slurp a cone or a candy on a hot, humid afternoon in the lap of nature?!?!

At about 5 PM, our Houseboats dropped anchored again near an Island Village, where the captain rolled out the power cables from our boat to the metered connections on the land. That way, they can draw power from the mains for the AC and lights during the night and hence no need to run the Diesel Generator anymore! Quite a nice arrangement I must admit.

We got off the boat and checked out a few houses and shops for a few minutes. Ruchir demanded that he wanted to fishing and our cook Raj got a Fishing rod made from a tree branch, got the wires and hook and give him a hand full of dough as a bait, to catch the fish. Pooja got one for herself too. Both tried their hands with fishing and they loved the experience! Taught some patience ;-)

Our captain suggested we could hire one of the smaller boats and explore the by-lanes of these Islands, which were great places to see while our houseboats were anchored for the night. Initially, we resisted the offer, but with Souji's insistence, I took the bait!

A small boat took us into the smaller lanes of these villages and that is when we started to realize the beauty of this place. A truly incredible experience of how life thrives in backwaters can only be experienced and no words will be enough to describe the beautiful glimpses we saw. I have captured these scenes on the photos we took, but whoever is reading this blog, should be advised not to miss taking this tour of the villages while you are there. If this is not heaven, then nothing is. As plain and simple as it is.

Beautiful houses decked with grand flowering bushes on both sides of these canals, Orchids, Jackfruit trees, coconut trees and Plantains all around, the flowering Mango trees  swoop down from the banks and brushes the guests on these boats and one can pluck these mangoes as you slowly move on these clear waters. Awesome experiences and we loved every second of this drive!

We saw temples, small shops/shacks, footpaths along the bunds, people crossing over from each side of the canal through arched over-bridges which are so low, that we need to literally lie down on the floor of the boat to get us past through the bridge. Each house has a boat or two of their own, very similar to us having our vehicles on our streets. Imagine a village with roads replaced with waterways! And that's exactly what it is like. A truly memorable one. This little tour that costed about Rs. 500 per hour is worth every grain of salt and must say was more enjoyable than the larger tour on the Houseboat! If not for this little tour, we would never have known the true life on the backwaters. 

As the sun went down, the 'Karthika' Maasa' deepa/diyas were seen from each of these little houses as we sailed past them making a very beautiful sight. Christian houses showed-off their hanging-stars lighting up their front yard. After 45 minutes, our little boat emerged out of these narrow canals, into the main highway where our Houseboat was anchored.

The rest of the evening, was spent behind closed windows and doors and excused ourselves from uninvited mosquitoes. Thanks to Souji's advice, we had mosquito-proofed our hall and room even before we de-boarded for the mini tour. 

Our houseboat showed off a beautiful blue, white and pink neon lights that looked amazing in the night, raising the eyebrows of all the other houseboat visitors. Many inquired about how we got our houseboat booked and felt happy knowing from their inquiries, that ours was quite a Queen compared the rest.

We spent the night watching the only movie DVD that was on our Houseboat - Zero! The SRK - Anushka Sharma starrer was a okay-okay movie to spend the night together. Dinner got served at 8 PM with Chapathis, Panneer Subjee, Bhindi Masala, Rice, Dal Fry, Curds, Papads and Pickles! Deliciously made and we loved it! [No Appams :-( ]

The AC in the bedroom was a real boon considering how hot and humid the rest of the non-AC world was. 

24 Dec, 2019 - Tuesday:
Early morning at 6 AM, Ruchir and I woke up first and took some nice snaps of the village at dawn. We then explored the lush green Paddy fields witnessing the sunrise on these Islands. Morning coffee was served as we stood enjoying the beauty of the paddy fields from our houseboats oriented towards the sunrise. Quite a mesmerizing experience, I must stay. Goosebumps!

Our captain raised the anchors one last time as we set sail by 8 AM and started driving back towards Ponnumada. Breakfast of Idlis, Sambhar and Chutney was served indoors and en-route. We (probably) retraced our route back the Starting point of 'Ponnumada', and we disembarked our house boat at 9 AM.

We bade goodbye to the Captain, the Cook and the Wonderful houseboat experiences of Alleppy backwaters. Our Taxidriver to our next destination 'Munnar' was already waiting at the door for us to be picked up. On time!

We had pre-booked the taxi services from our Hotel in Munnar. We started towards Munnar by 9:30 AM and reached our Hotel, Royal Retreat by about 4 PM. On the way, we took a break at one of the waterfall, which hardly had any water. We ate some cut Pineapple, Carrots at the waterfalls and continued with home made Kurku-Murkus. The roads from Alleppy to Munnar were quite good till such time the Ghat Section arrived. The climbing of the hills started after we were 3 hours into the journey. The last 30-45 minutes of the drive saw us going through vast green tea estates on each side of the road. A sign that indicated that we were now getting into the much famed 'Kannan Devan Hills', where Munnar was situated.

Our Hotel at Munnar - 'Royal Retreat' was the same hotel Souji and I had stayed 16 years back and it hadn't changed much, except that the little sleepy town was busting with huge buildings, traffic snarls, heavy traffic and people everywhere. At the reception, we got to know that our room was upgraded to a 'Suite' from the 'Premium' we had booked. So a happy start to our stay at Munnar. 

Our room was super spacious, with a King Size Bed, Cozy comforters, Clean and neat linen, TV with all channels pre-loaded, AC, Couple of Sofa Sets, a mini-fridge, Huge Spic and span toilet, and my favorite - latest editions of Photography Magazines! I couldn't have asked for more! It was already 4 PM and we refreshed ourselves, and got to know we could finish the 'Tea Museum' nearby before the day ends. So we picked up an Auto rickshaw to the Town center and from there to the Tea Museum. 

The 'Ripple' Tea Museum had some interesting old gadgets that were used during the time the Tea Gardens were first started 130 years back. There was also a documentary movie session of 40 minutes that gave a good idea of how Munnar became the Tea Plantation Capital of South India and a good run down on the reasons for it. The museum also had a demo setup which showcased the entire process right from Plucking Tea Leaves to Packaging Tea. One could buy all the varieties of tea that they manufacture at the Tea Store and also have sip piping Hot Tea over the live counters.

We were done with the Tea Museum by 5:30 PM and walked half the distance back to the Town with no Auto-rickshaws available to pick us up back to the town! Most of the folks who reached there were part of a package deal and we didn't realize that we would not have Autos waiting for us when we got dropped at the entrance when we came in. Fortunately, we found one Auto-rickshaw guy who was willing to pick us up back to the Town from midway. We spent some time looking at the town which was crowded beyond capacity, due to Christmas, Year end vacations etc... Every hotel was booked, every restaurant was full and busy and a prime season for business activity. We walked down from the town back to our hotel, which was about 2 Kms. A long day of travel and a long walk, our legs was beginning to pain bad. We had a nice dinner at the hotel itself and hit the bed early.

Oh! by the way, we enquired with a couple of 'Vegetarian' hotels if they served Appam, but got to know they didn't and it would only be served where both Veg and Non-Veg food were served. We were also told that Appams were served at Pure Veg Hotels in Cochin and Guruvayoor! So we were still okay with it, as these were on our list of to-visit places  anyways!

25 Dec, 2019 - Wednesday, Christmas:
We got up ready and took some nice snaps in the beautiful flowering gardens of Royal Retreat. We had booked a Jeep for sight seeing around Munnar on the 'Madhupetty' direction, the previous night itself, considering that it was Christmas season and huge demand for tourist vehicles. We had a Super-duper breakfast of Bread Toasts with Jam and Butter, Idli, Vada, Sambhar, Chutney, Upma, Coffee and Tea which was complimentary along with our hotel bookings. We enquired if they would prepare Appams, but got to know they didn't and asked us to check with another Hotel nearby (SN hotel). So we decided that we would have Appams at SN Hotel at the close of our day today. 

On our way we briefly glanced upon Flower and Botanical Gardens and then stopped for some snaps at good Vantage points across the lush green Tea Estates. We saw again! - The WORLD FAMOUS (in Munnar only) - Honey Bee Point, a tree that had loads of Honey Bee nests. We saw the same tree 16 years back ;-). Wondering why a tree with Honey Bee Nests is Point of interest in Munnar!

Next was the Elephant Ride which we skipped as we wanted to cover only if time permitted  on our way back. Our next stop was at another beautiful tea estate, where Souji and Pooja dressed up as Tea Leaf Pluckers. Ruchir tried Horse riding along the same road. After an hour, we drove past the Madhupetty Dam, which had good water storage. Crystal clear and clean. Not a huge one, but big enough for the region I believe. 

Next, we visited the 'Cowboy Park' which had lot of amusements for kids and also the Boating on the backwaters of Madhupetty Dam. Pooja and Ruchir were thrilled to take one of the packages at the amusement Park. Souji engaged herself into looking around the Souvenir shop while I explored the beautiful lake with towering cloud covered peaks. Ruchir and Pooja returned an hour and half later and got them some food at the restaurant. We all went to the lake and took some group Photos there. 

Our next visit was the Echo Point, which was further upstream the boating lake. A beautiful section of the with hardly any a few people around, it was mystically silent. People shouted whatever they want to hear back the Echo, but nothing much happened. However, the scenery and landscapes over there was just mind-boggling. The camera did not stop for a second we were there. 

We sat down the grassy meadows next to the lake admiring the beautiful weather and the surroundings and relishing the Kurku-Murkus for some time in the lap of nature. 

We drove back again with the Sun, Clouds and Rain playing hide and seek and taking turns. Our next destination was the Kundala Dam. Another storage reservoir that feeds collected water to the downstream Madhupetty dam, via the Echo Point. We spent some time looking at the pristine beautiful reservoir. It started raining for some time and we took shelter in a nearby Shack. All of us got drenched but enjoyed the state we were in. Rainy weather, Fully drenched, cold and hungry like hell... A perfect setting for a piping hot Maggi!!! Pooja and Ruchir gorged on the most loved snack of all times and felt really satisfied afterwards. The rain stopped and we explored the place a little further and then got back into our Jeep again.

Next was 'Top Station' another Vantage point, the highest in the Kannan Devan Hills range. As we climbed the hills, the fog brought in even-heavier rains. The  visibility on the roads dropped a bit due to the Mountain Mist. The view point was completely fogged out and we couldn't see anything beyond 5 feet. We waited for better visibility but the situation did not get any better. So we got back into our Jeep and started on our way back. 

Got to know that only the Top Station point belongs to 'Tamil Nadu' where was the remaining section of the lower hills belong to Kerala. Also go to know that during the reformation of Indian States during the late 60s, Kerala retained the possession of Iddukki District (Munnar) and lost Nagercoil and Kanyakumari to Tamilnadu. However, the Top Station also was retained by Tamilnadu. 

We started our return back to Munnar hotel and in about an hour and half we were close to our hotel. We got into a huge traffic jam a kilometer long and we could see the vehicles stuck at the traffic junctions at Munnar. It took us 30 minutes more to get past the traffic jam and then got dropped back at our hotel by 5:30 PM.

We refreshed ourselves at our wonderful hotel room and spent an hour getting ready for a feast of Appams to be devoured at SN Hotel, a few hundred meters away. We dressed well, took some photos of the gardens, and then left our hotel with a smile. Appams - here we come!

We reached SN Hotel, occupied a cozy seat and asked for Appams! A cold, very heavily accented manly voice responded back - No Appams. Appams only in Morning not during evening. All our smiles withdrew from our face and turned upside down. We enquired if they could recommend other hotels which served Appam and they answered that it would be served only in the morning. With a heavy heart, we came out of the hotel with blood rushing to our heads. With body aching all over due to non-stop activity during the past few days, we walked again back towards the town, with barely enough energy to spend. We saw a Vegetarian 'Annapoorna Hotel' and settled down to have some Rice, Rotis and Phulkas. A very decent hotel. We didn't even look at the menu card and just ordered a few things in random, still nursing the thoughts of the elusive Appams replaying in the background. We got a shocking jolt when the bill arrived close to Rs. 1000! We thought there was some mistake and asked the waiter to recalculate and come back. The person at the counter redid his math and put a sent across the bill, which had the same amount, this time circled and reconfirmed. We opened the menu card and found that every single dish we had over there was 3 times costlier than normal 3 Star hotel charge. This was like rubbing salt over the injury of not able to find Appams! We took an Auto back to our hotel and retired to bed early.

26 Dec, 2019 - Thursday:
Enjoyed the same complimentary breakfast at Royal Retreat, and then walked towards the Town. Strolled leisurely around the streets as Souji shopped for specialties of Munnar. Spices, Plum Cakes, Handmade Soaps etc... With 2 bags full, we returned back to the hotel and checked out by 11 AM. We refreshed again and left for Cochin by 12 PM. Our return journey was uneventful and we reached Cochin by 4 PM. We checked into South Gate Residency, a hotel near the South Railway Station. Very convenient location for catching trains, Metro and buses all at the same place. Also we were in the middle of the wholesale Markets, so shopping was an arm length away. 

After freshening up, we asked for directions to the Port side of Cochin and then walked towards the Marine Drive Road. We entered the Subhash Chandra Bose Park overlooking the Cochin Port. A well maintained public park with good seating all through and a fantastic view of the Cochin Port. We spent some a couple of hours there. Our hunger pangs were blowing loud whistles and we decided the time was right for a full fledged traditional Kerala meal. We googled and found 'Vasant Vihaar', a Vegetarian hotel 2 Kms away with photos of mouth watering Kerala dishes served on Plantain Leaf Meal. Got to know reaching there that the meals were only during Lunch and only Chinese and North Indian during dinner. We felt cheated that being in South India, we don't get South Indian meals in Hotels, but you get Chinese and North Indian specialties only! Upon enquiry we were told that they had Chilly Parota and Kotthu Parotas which were their best specialties. So we ordered 2 Chilly Parotas and 1 Kotthu Parota. It took about 35 minutes for our food to arrive and we when it was served, we just jumped off our seats. We were expecting Parotas that would have some chilies but got a bowl of mish-mashed stuff that looked like Gobi Manchurian!. Kotthu Parota was even more worse with and looked like a forest of heap of junk food. The taste was okay, but the feeling of wanting to have a South Indian Meal versus the reality that was in 3 bowls of junk literally screwed our happiness. We left the bowl half finished and took a couple of Bananas and got done with our Dinner. Souji even had a plate of Gol Gappa to flush down the junk if anything was still stuck in the food pipe.

We booked a Taxicab at the reception of our hotel to visit temples of Guruvayoor and Thrissur. Initially, we checked out our options with the Railway Station, but later decided that it would be better to do the visit in a taxi. Because of the vacation season, we wanted to avoid the rush and so the plan was to leave early morning 3:30 AM the next day.

27 Dec, 2019 - Friday:
We got up at 2 AM, got ready at 3:30 AM. Our taxi guy came only at 4 AM and we were in Guruvayoor temple by 6:15 AM. The Queue did not seem to be too long and that is when we realized we were in the wrong queue. We then asked people around and that led us into a huge queue. Thankfully, there were benches all through the queue and we joined the queue at a time when the last bench was open for seating! The folks who were behind us had to stand. Luck us we thought! 

Guruvayoor temple looked splendid in the early morning lights. The streets around had full of stalls glittering with the reflections of Copper Vessels, Imitation stuff and Pooja related stuff. The crowd also seemed to have some class. Looked very forward looking, descent and well behaved. A very Brahmin based crowd I must say. 30 minutes passed and we hardly moved any further in the queue. We were told that due to the Solar Eclipse the previous day, there were extra things that were being done inside the temple. Another 30 minutes, we hardly moved another 20 feet. We saw at-least 2 central ministers who walked in with VIP status and got their Darshan done in minutes. Even after an hour, our queue didn't move. After 2 hours we must have moved about 100 feet in all. That's when we realized something was not right. Souji checked with another family what was the issue and they knew both Malayalam and Kannada and told us that if we needed faster darshan then it would cost more. Knowing Thirupati well, we thought we could use that route as it was already getting closer to 9:30 AM and the temple would close by 11 AM. So we existed the queue and joined the queue at a ticket counter and got to know that it was Rs. 1000 per person for a fast entry!!! This was too just too much nonsense. We felt disappointed that only people who have money can get the darshan. Since we had come this far, that too starting our day at 2 AM, going back without seeing Guruvayoor temple after standing in the queue for 3 hours, would be a total waste of time, money and effort. This was ridiculous, and outright robbery in the name of god. But we were helpless, and had to cough-in Rs. 1000 per person for getting the fast darshan. 

In 5 minutes we were able to get-in and get a Darshan of the Lord inside. We came out of the temple and saw the same people we were with in the Queue still waiting. And many of them still believed that the delay was due to the Solar Eclipse, Ministers arrivals and other things. But in reality, this was a money making tactic to which allows the rich to have a Darshan while the others had to wait, not sure how much longer. That experience at Guruvayoor temple left a very bad memory.

It was 10:30 AM and had a quick breakfast of Dosas and Upma, at a nearby Veg Hotel. We left Guruvayoor to Thrissur immediately and reached Thrissur by 12 PM. We reached the Vadukunathan temple only to find that it was already closed by 11 AM and would only reopen at 5 PM. So we spent some time at the gates looking at the old temple, had some Ice Candies near by and then started back on our return journey to Cochin. 

We reached Cochin by 3:30 PM and took some rest in our Hotel and then headed again to do some Shopping nearby. We first visited Marine Drive. At one of the junctions, we took a boat-ride that took us through the coast lines of Cochin. We saw the Aircraft Carrier docked at a distance as well! Beautiful tall buildings looking bright in the setting sun, made up for a good tour. A small Island resort was fully decorated for a wedding reception and looked regal. After an hour's drive we returned back to where we started. 

We crossed over the street into 'Broadway Street', a paradise for shopping at budget prices. Loads of shops, quite busy. Bags, Footwear, Spices, Cakes and pastries and other Steet side stuff, was in full demand. Ruchir finally found the pair of Brown Shoes with lace, and bought it. He was over the moon, now that he had the Police Uniform, Cap, Gun, Sun Glasses and now the Brown Shoes with Lace, to become the 'Little Singham'. He felt unstoppable!

We visited Veg Bhavan, a restaurant that was close to our hotel where we had dinner. We enquired about Appams and they said that Appams would be available only during mornings! Finally, it looked like we would get to taste the Kerala's very own Appam and the time had come! We returned back to our hotel and hit the bed. 

28 Dec, 2019 - Saturday:
Our last day of the trip. We got ready leisurely and by 9 AM we came out of the Hotel. Even though the breakfast was complimentary, we wanted to eat the Appams. So we skipped the complimentary breakfast at South Gate Residency and walked straight to Veg Bhavan. Finally! We smiled at the waiter and ordered the 3 plates of Appam!. The waiter smiled back and said that Appams were not available!!! I looked at the reception guy who said just the previous night that Appams were served during breakfast time and it was still breakfast time! The waiter smile again and said, that the information regarding Appam being served in during the breakfast time is correct. However, Appams are not served on Saturday and Sundays!!! I felt like throwing the plates onto the face of the waiter, but somehow restrained my composure and we all walked out of the hotel. Enquired in another Veg hotel and the result was the same. So there we were, 6 days in Kerala and not a single chance to taste the Appam! We walked back to our Hotel which still was serving our complimentary breakfast of Plain Bread (No Jam, No Butter), Vada, Sambhar, Upma and Coffee. We checked out of our rooms by 11 AM, kept our luggage at the reception and left for Lulu Mall!

We took the metro train to Lulu Mall, which I am told is the largest mall in South India. The Edapally Metro Station was a few hundred feet away from the mall and also has a over-bridge that directly is connected to the 2nd floor of the Mall. We spent about 4 hours there going around each floor, with out Window Shopping. We returned back to our Hotel via the same Metro which was just 100 meters from away from our Hotel. We stayed in the reception lobby and took an Auto-rickshaw to 'Kalladi' by 4:30 PM. An hour and half, we reached Kalladi but the traffic was so intense that the Auto-driver could not take us any further. Kalladi has a temple, which is Adi Shankaracharya's birth place and Souji really wanted to visit this place. Unfortunately, the traffic got really worse and the driver was not very cooperative, so we had to return back without stepping into the actual temple, even though we were just 1 Km away from it. We reached Cochin International Airport by 7 PM. The lights at the Airport looked Majestic. The airport itself has the best Architectural design I must say, compared to any other Airport I have visited. We spent a lot of time admiring the beauty of the Airport. 

We checked into the airport early, got our boarding passes, and rested at the Level 2 Lobby. Our Indigo Flight was on time and we departed at 10:30 PM to Namma Bengaluru at 11:30 PM. We took a taxi from Bengaluru Airport and had a pit-stop at VV Puram to get some midnight masala dosa packed as Souji and I had not had our dinner. We reached home by 12:45, had the masala dosas and went to bed.

Thus came to an end our, wonderful trip to Alleppy, Munnar and Guruvayoor, Thrissur and Cochin! The search for the elusive Appams is still on!

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Trip to Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari

Dec 22 - Dec 28, 2018

It had been a long time since we had taken our parents and in-laws out and hence we thought we could make one more trip, this time to visit the Southern Indian Temples of Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari.

Our In-laws also hadn't seen any of these places and we also had not seen Rameshwaram.

Dec 23, 2018 - Sunday:
We took the night train to Madurai on 22nd Dec (Saturday) and reached the Madurai early in the morning. Our reservations with Hotel Lotus was already booked a month in advance. 

When we reached Hotel Lotus, which was just behind the railway station, we realized it was just 5 buildings away from the Hotel New College that we stayed for a few hours last year!

After a sumptuous plantain leaf lunch at the famous 'Hotel Sabarees', which was next door to our hotel, we visited the Madurai Meenakshi Temple, entering from the West tower. 

It took close to 4 long hours of unending queues inside the temple to finish the Darshan and everybody were really tired. We took some rest back at the hotel and in the evening, visited the Thirumalanayak's palace. This time for a Light and Sound event. While it started well, found the experience a little too dry and stretched too much. We came out after 45 minutes. It was also slightly raining and we returned back to our hotel by 8 PM after a light dinner.

Dec 24, 2018 - Monday:
We had pre-booked our Taxi from Bangalore for the full day visit to Rameshwaram and back. Despite initial delays, we left Madurai by 4:45 AM and reached Rameshwaram temple by 8:15 PM. 

On the way, we spent time on the beautiful Pamban Bridge across the sea connecting mainland India with the Island of Rameshwaram. After a heavy breakfast at Saravanna Bhavan, we deposited our belongings at a nearby shop and entered the temple premises.

The experience of having a bath from 24 fresh water wells inside the temple was a Super-Duper experience. All of us liked this very much. This took close to 2.5 hours for us to compete the Pre-darshan temple activity. Then came queue to the actual temple and that took us another 3 hours to complete the darshan. Rameshwaram temple is a huge complex with thousands of pillars and very easy to get lost. And to add to the confusion, there were no directions inside the temple on where to buy the express tickets and where the queue begins. It was a real mess inside the temple. God only can save himself there.

After a 4 hour ordeal, we were done with the darshan and visited the near-by Rameshwaram beach. I remember visiting this beach in the 1980's which was then filled with filth and rubbish left over by visitors. And this time, it was even more worse :-). Nothing has changed. Rameshwaram has to be the dirtiest beach in the whole of India.  

We had lunch at Saravanna Bhavan and then taxied to visit 'Ramar Padam' temple about 10 Kms from the main temple. Located on a small hillock, it is a small temple that has the foot-mark of Lord Rama. There was no rush here and we spent an hour or so taking some rest under the shades.

We then left towards Dhanushkodi, the place I was personally looking forward to see during this trip. A narrow strip of land 500 mts wide and 20 Kms long takes you to a small fishing village 'Dhanushkodi' where the landmass of India comes to a dead-end. It is the last point on the Indian map. 

The drive to Dhanushkodi was absolutely breathtaking with one straight long road with Sea on both sides! We saw the shattered remains of Water Tanks, Railway Station, School, Church and other small buildings destroyed by the Tsunami that consumed the town in the 1960s. 

We reached the tip of the land mass, which opens out into a nice beach front with Turquoise blue-green water inviting all of us for a dip. Pooja and Ruchir had a wonderful time playing over there for an hour and gave us enough time to take videos and pictures of this beautiful place. At the tip of the road is a small Pillar with 4 headed 'Sarnath Lions', indicating the last point on the map of India. It was a breathtaking place.

We left Dhanushkodi by 6 PM and headed directly towards Madurai. We reached Madurai by 9:30 PM and rested back at Hotel Lotus.

Dec 25, 2018 - Tuesday:
We got up lazily in the morning and had breakfast at Sabarees. All of us went out for some local shopping near the temple, where Souji purchased some cotton sarees, a variety supposed to be very famous in Madurai. 

We checked out of the hotel by 1 PM and stayed the lounge before heading to the railway station by 3 PM. We departed Madurai to Nagercoil by 4 PM which we reached at 9:30 PM. We took a coupe of Rickshaws from Nagercoil to our pre-booked hotel, 'Hotel Sea Sun'. It was too late to find a decent hotel around this place, so we had the fortune of having dinner at the hotel's restaurant. The dinner was absolutely hopeless, but somehow managed to get over the shock by sleeping it out.

Dec 26, 2018 - Wednesday:
We woke up early morning by 5:45 AM or so and climbed to the terrace of our hotel which had a Sunrise and Sunset Viewing gallery. The Light House, Vivekananda Rock, Tiruvalluvar statue and other buildings were very well lit. We spent time watching the sun come up and then had a good breakfast at a small shack right opposite to our hotel who made much better Dosa, Idli and other snacks. All the guests who stayed at our hotel crossed over to this shack to have this breakfast. That told us how good or bad the restaurant at the hotel was.

We then took a rickshaw to the Kanyakumari temple and completed the darshan of the temple in about 3 hours. Then we stood in an even longer queue to visit the Vivekananda Rock, to which we took the ferry across the sea. 

Our In-laws had not seen these places and they were absolutely thrilled with all the new things they were seeing this tour. We stayed at the Vivekananda Rock for more than 3 to 4 hours, giving us a lot of time to soak in the beauty of that place.

We let our Parents and In-laws return back to our hotel while Souji, myself and kids, visited the Light house. We climbed the top in about 15 minutes. Ruchir was excited to see the views from over the top. About 9 years back, we had visited the same light house, and that time, we were allowed to go even further to the viewing deck at the same height as that of the mirrors. This time, it was only till that of the lower deck. But still the views were amazing. 

We walked back to the hotel and rested for the full evening and into the night.

Dec 27, 2018 - Thursday:
While Anna and Amma wanted to rest during the day, our inlaws and kids did a small trip towards the temple. After lunch, we checked out of our room, hired 2 Auto-rickshaws and headed back to Nagercoil, to catch our train back to Bangalore by 6 PM. 

We took one of the corners of the AC Waiting hall and loaded all the luggage there. Our parents, Inlaws, Souji and Ruchi, went on to visit Sucheendram, which was 30  minutes away from the Railway Station. Pooja and I stayed back as we had already seen Sucheendram earlier. The rest of them returned back by 4:30 PM. 

We departed Kanyakumari by 7 PM and reached Bangalore by 11 AM on Dec 28, Friday.

Overall, we spent quality time with Parents and In-laws and they good to see some great temples, new places and some nice experiences. A wonderful trip to remember.

Here are some photos and videos from our trip.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Anna's 80th Birthday - Sathyanarayana Pooja

Feb 3, 2018 - Saturday

Anna completed 80 years on Feb 2nd, 2018. We celebrated his 80th Birthday by inviting all our near and dear ones to the Sathyanarayana Pooja at Shri. Subrahmanya Matha, N R Colony, next to APS College grounds.

We had taken the First Floor of the building for this event. Day started with a sumptuous breakfast of Shaavige Bhath, and Kashhi Halwa, followed by steaming Coffee.

The Pooja itself started at 8 and got over by 10 AM giving enough time for everybody to meet and greet each other. It was so nice to see everybody whom we had invited come and join us for the wonderful event. 

The highlight of the event was Anna's 'Chaddi Dosts' from Gandhi Bazaar, friends for 70+ years come down and attend the function! A real feel good factor. Made up the day for Anna.

Relatives, Friends, Neighbours from both Anna and Amma's sides, joined us for the event.

The lunch was served at 12:30. We had 'Tarkari Kootu', 'Aloo Bonda', 'Mysore Pak', Laadu and Boondi, specially made for the occasion apart from the regular Rasam, Chitranna, Pineapple Gojju and other delicacies. 

Thanks to everyone for coming over to meet and greet Anna on this wonderful day and making a huge success.

Here are some photos and videos from the event.
Anna @ 80

A 3-day getaway to Sirsi and beyond

With the Dasara festival coming up, Souji wanted to make use of the holidays she would get along with the kids. So she chalked out a plan with visit to Sirsi and stay in a homestay along with a couple of families. After getting the confirmation from Sanjeev, Sarju, Pradeep and Usha, she booked the 'Parnakutira' homestay at 3 days at Sirsi. 

Sanjeev and family was to drive their car, while we planned to tag along with Pradeepa's Innova.

Oct 18, 2018 - Thursday [Ayudha Pooja Day]

Sanjeev's family left early morning by 5:15 AM ahead of us. Pradeepa and us, started around 10 AM after the Ayudha Pooja formalities at our respective homes. Parineetha, niece of Pradeepa accompanied us till Davanagere which we reached by 1 PM. Thanks to the wonderful hosts [Parents of Pradeepa's Sister-inLaw Chinmayee] for preparing a super-duper lunch at their house. It was a fun gathering and so nice to meet up with their family and having spent some good time there. 

We dropped Parineetha and then started again towards Sirsi by 3 PM, via Haveri. I drove the Innova [first time] till Haveri and Pradeepa took over from Haveri onwards. Smooth drive through beautiful greens under a setting sun - awesome!

'Parnakutira' - our Home Stay @ Sirsi:
We reached Sirsi our Home Stay 'Parnakutira' nestled inside a deviation 4 Kms away from the main town of Sirsi. This happens to be a 100 years old traditional home converted into a heritage homestay, and belongs to Asha's Uncle. So that is how we got to know of this place. A beautiful place to stay, and named after the forest home that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana lived during their vanavasa. The house can accommodate 3 to 4 families easily, has 3 good sized rooms with 2 of them having attached bathrooms and multiple halls, common bathrooms with both Indian and Western comforts. They even have an outdoor Badminton court, Indoor Carrom Board, Library, TV, beautifully landscaped front yard. The biggest asset to visitors is the amazing variety of traditional 'havyak' food they prepare. And before I forget to mention, this homestay is for Vegetarians, No Alcohol allowed inside and Smoking is prohibited! So if you plan to visit this place, you may want to fall into this bracket :-)

It was already 8 PM by the time we refreshed ourselves, met with the hosts and then visited the famous Sirsi Maarikamba Temple, which was about 4 kms from our Homestay. The temple was decked in colourful lights all across and swarming with huge number of people, both visitors as well as locals. The darshan was easy and we spent a good time at the temple. 

We were back in our homestay by 9:30 PM and had a wonderful dinner. We chalked our plan for the next day and hit the bed by 11 PM.

Oct 19, 2018 - Friday [Vijayadashami Day]:

Sanjeeva, Sarju, Souji and I got up by 6:30 AM, while the kids were still stiff as a bone in their beds. We strolled leisurely through the winding roads that led to our home-stay. The misty morning greens glistened with the slant rays of the morning sun falling on the dew drops and the huge trees alike, making the scenery look so fresh and so refreshing. 

We all got ready by 8 AM and were drawn straight to the sweet smells of Kharada Avalakki  with Curds and Uppittu. We got some packed some for kids for our day's visit as well. 

We started bang at 9:30 AM and headed straight to Yana which we reached by about in by 11 AM. Good clean roads, not much of traffic anywhere and it was a pleasant drive. The only concern was about Leeches at Yana, but we were kind of mentally prepared for it. This was one place on Souji's must visit bucket, ever since she was inspired by the movie 'Nammoora Mandhara Hoove'. We walked about a half a kilometer from the Parking lot amidst a lot of trees and greens, which is when the huge hillock of black stone started emerging in front of us. It looked as if a huge mass of black Lava rock simply rose to the heavens from ashes, making it look totally out of the world. The hill is completely VERTICAL! No slant or gradient sides to a hillock. Unbelievable!.

A little bit of a walk and you get to the base of this rocky hill structure where there is a small temple of Shiva underneath. The Poojari explained the multiple scientific research that have been conducted here to understand the origins of this natural rocky hill structure, which ended up inconclusive. The final conclusion got attributed to the divinity of Lord Shiva, being the reason for this place. Nevertheless, this place is just outstanding and a must visit for anybody visiting Sirsi. Thanks to Souji for making sure we visited this place!

The Poojari also asked us circle around the perimeter of the temple through rocky caves. The cave formation was just astounding with the sunlight playing hide and seek through the crevices over the top. We spent a good time taking loads of pictures, and it was worth it.

By the time we came back the parking lot, it was already 3 PM. With a small pitstop for tender coconuts, we departed Yana for 'Vibhooti Falls', which was about 30 minutes drive from the main road. 

Vibhooti Falls:
The moment we reached the Parking area of the falls, the rains came pouring down for about an hour - which gave us some time to enjoy the 'Mungaaru Male' while sipping piping-hot tea and coffee at a small shack near-by. Once the rains subsided, we walked for about 20 to 30 minutes through the slushy hill sides to reach the foot of the falls. We were very wary of the blood sucking leaches all along the way. The kids had no idea what one would look like and what to expect. 

A 100 foot tall Vibhooti falls emerged from the lush green cover, cascading and gently falling towards the earth in 2 jumps. The second section at the foot of the falls was quite small, making it friendly enough for people to bathe. The water was crystal clear, devoid of any plastic junk and litter. Pradeepa and Sanjeeva took the kids to the water and ensured they had a good time playing and having fun. Souji, Sarju and yours truly bay-watched all our babes. 

After dragging the wet-bodies off the falls, and having another round of tea and coffee at the shack, we rode back to our homestay, by 7:30 PM. The dinner had Chapathis and Subjees, Rice, Sambhar, Tambooli, Palya [curries], Jackfruit Papads, Chutneys, local variety of soups... wah wah... and that list went endless..  Burp!oor Khana!

We spent some time chit-chatting at the hexagonal Verandah overlooking the green landscaped garden and spent time talking on how the day went. We chalked out the next day's plan and decided to have a rather casual day than a packed one. We hit the bed early as well.

Oct 20, 2018 - Saturday:

We did an early morning walk and this time around the kids also joined us after we did our first round. Kids had a gala time running around the empty roads and their nonstop banter must have woken up half of Sirsi town miles away.

Breakfast was on the table waiting for us. Speciality of the day was 'Taalipattu' [Bangalore's Akki Rotti]. The Taalipattu, Coconut Chutney, Jonee Bella, Ghee and Honey combination was so tasty , we lost count of how many we had.  

Our humble hosts were literally sweating at the pace we were consuming them. They probably wouldn't have seen people eating as if there was no tomorrow. We could see tears rolling down their cheeks when we left the table for washing our hands, only to later know that we needed some more to be packed for that day's journey. We could hear the lady cook bang her head on the other side of the wall, in disbelief of us Bangalorean's appetite for Akki Rotti :-)

We started by about 10:30 AM, to visit the 'Gudavi Bird Sanctuary', about 40 Kms away from Sirsi town. It took as about an hour to reach that place. Good roads all along, so driving was fun. There was hardly any visitors there at the place so it was quite empty. We saw thousands of white and black cranes, egrets settled here after migrating from far and beyond. Nicely done 1 KM walk way all around the sanctuary with watch towers every now and then for an aerial view. 

Our next stop was Banavasi - The capital of Kadamba Dynasty. A grand 4 lane road welcomed us to the 'Uma Madhukeshwara' temple [dedicated to lord Shiva] which is the most important visiting point at Banavasi. The temple was built in 4 different centuries by different kings and kingdoms including that of Chalukya, Vijayanagar, Kadamba and Sondha kings. 

The temple also houses a large hall with massive black pillars and a place for court dancers to perform in front of the lord. The external quarters of the temple holds some beautiful artifacts like a richly carved stone cot presented by Sondha king 'Sadashiva Nayaka' which has inscriptions in Brahmi script [Classical form of Kannada script, 2 A.D] and adorned with intricate floral, animal and geometrical designs. Another artifact has inscriptions in 'Prakrit' language that is believed to be older than 'Sanskrit' language itself. 

A huge 50 foot Stone-Chariot stands tall at the entrance of the temple which was presented by Sondha king Ramachandra Nayak to the temple in the 16th Century.

The grand road in front of the temple looks majestic. We noticed that many shops were selling Cucumbers, Tender Coconuts, but one thing that was in huge demand was the king-size Pineapples. Upon inquiry we got to know that these belt from Sirsi till Sagar were best suited for Pineapple cultivation and we could see lorry loads of these getting transported. All of us had enjoyed quite a few of these Pineapple slices and they were juicy sweet or what! Very nice.

We left Banavasi by about 3:30 PM and reached Gudnapur, a short distance away from Banavasi, on the way back to Sirsi. This was a place that was on the tourist map and so we thought it must have something special. We landed at the Sangameshwara Temple very close to a huge lake. With copious rains, the water level in the lake had risen and submerged the floor of the temple up-to half a feet. So the otherwise ordinary road-side temple looked like a Star-category temple! There was nobody there at the temple and it looked quite deserted as well. Kids had a fun time splashing water in the courtyard of the temple while the oldies sat on the steps. With nothing much to see or do, we left on our way back to Sirsi. 

We drove past the Maarikamba temple where the ladies and kids did some 'Glass Bangle' shopping for some time. On our way back, we also visited the Kadamba Stores, which sells the local produce of Jackfruit Chips, Sambhar Powders, variety of local spices, Papads, Juices which we ended buying back to our home and families.

With that, we returned back to our homestay by 7 PM and refreshed ourselves. We all got seated at the hexagonal verandah and played Anthyakshari for quite a while. The boys [Sanjeev, Pradeepa and myself] took on the might of Sarju, Souji, Usha, Pooja, Srivali and Prathyusha. Shrishti and Ruchir got busy playing their own games. The Anthyakshari went on for 2 hours well through the dinner as well. It was great to see the kids doling out popular songs from Bollywood while the boys went after songs of the Rajkumar and Kishore Kumars. Loved it!

We chalked out the plan for the next day and then headed to sleep.

Oct 21, 2018 - Sunday:

Sanjeev and family left for Sondhe Vadiraja Matha at 5 AM to ensure that they got the dwadashi darshan and other proceedings completed. Rest of us had left to the Sondhe Matha at 8:30 AM after our breakfast at the homestay. We visted the main sections of Vadiraja Matha and offered our prayers there. We stayed for about an hour and then drove to the near-by, 'Sahasralinga' spot on the river 'Shalmali'. A beautiful place where one can see carvings of Shivalinga on many rock faces across the section of the river. The river was quite full but there were some nice spots where one could dip themselves in the water. It started with Ruchir wanting to get into water and then Pradeep and then Pooja and Prathyusha. So each of them got into the river and played in the water for close to an hour. We had to literally drag them off the river and then bring them back to the shore. 

We returned back to our Homestay and found Sanjeev and family waiting for us for the lunch. The cooks had prepared their special local dishes of their choice and we loved every one of them. The Kheer, Tambooli, Sambhar, Sweet Kadubu with Honey and Appehuli were just excellent. 

It was already 1 PM by the time we were all set to leave. We bade our wonderful hosts good-bye and started our return journey back to Bangalore. On our way, we stopped briefly at Davangere for having a quick bite of the Authentic Davanagere Benne Masala Dosa at the very hotel it all started - Shri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dose Hotel, which was right opposite to the Kasturba Medical College Campus. 

We also did a dinner stop around 8 PM at 'Purohit Dhaba' right after Sira, where we were treated with lipsmackingly delicious Rajasthani dinner. We endured a mile-long traffic jam at Nelamangala junction, post which we took the Nice road and then reached home 30 minutes past midnight. 

Overall, a wonderful trip where we say the beautiful places in and around Sirsi with the company of two lovely families. A very good and memorable trip. Looking forward to many more such trips. 

Click on the photo below for some selected photos from this trip.

A 3 day getaway to Sirsi and beyond!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Year-end vacation to the hills of Kodai!

Our 4 day vacation to the hills of Kodai!

With ever-growing list of things to do, vacations are getting squeezed to less and less number of days. This time around, we could plan for only 4 days. With most of the near-by places already covered, very few remain to be seen. One such place was Kodaikanal, which I have already visited personally, but Souji and kids have not seen yet.

We rounded off on visiting Kodaikanal and booked the hotels a month in advance. Train tikcets were unavaiable even a month earlier, so we took the sleeper buses to and fro.

25 Dec, 2017 - Christmas - Monday:
We boarded the Sleeper coach (SAM tourists) right across Shantinagar BMTC Bus depot by 9:30 PM and rest of the journey was peaceful.

26 Dec, 2017 - Tuesday:
We reached Kodaikanal at 7:30 AM and it was as chill as a freezer. We asked around for 'Hotel Sivapriya' and thankfully, it was just across the bend and no need to travel any further. We took an hour to get freshened up and were ready for breakfast by 9:30 AM. The hotel was also one of the few ones which has a Pure Vegetarian restaurant, and that made our lives so much easier.

After a sumptuous brunch, we fixed the 'Valley Tour' deal through the travel and were off for sight-seeing by 10 AM. We covered various places like the Pine Forest Visit, Observatory, Mahalaxmi Temple, Palani View Point, Poombarai Village, Devil's Kitchen (Guna caves), Moier Point, Pillar Rocks, Golf Course, Upper Lake View and Kodai Lake. 

Observatory was not open to public, Gundar Falls has been closed for public, but we were informed by the driver only after reaching the spot. (We wish that the Travel desk should have informed us of this earlier, but they wanted us to buy the package) The Mahalaxmi Temple seemed to be very newly built, and seemed like an addition of one more #item to the itenary.

The Poombarai ('Poomparai') view point offers breathtaking beauty of a little village encircled by the mountains with terraced farming on one side and the hamlets on the other, making it a picturesque marvel. A picture perfect location that looks like a dream. A must see and most recommended.

The village itself has the Murugan temple which apparently is next in order of priority to that of the Palani's Murugan temple. 

The Palani view Point, was another view of the mountains which was completely covered with clouds and couldn't see anything other thant that. But the thin air and chill weather makes the drive and location absolutely enjoyable.

The Pine Forest was a visual treat. The lofty Pine Trees makes a beautiful forest scenery worth spending time. The clouds that caress the trees with the mountains in the background and a diffused sunlight makes this a must visit place for taking photographs. I believe many Bollywood and South Indian movies have been shot in these areas.

The Devil's Kitchen (a.k.a Guna Caves) was again thoroughly fenced and could hardly see anything. Apparently these are crevices in the land mass that have formed these caves. This caves were picturized in the Tamil movie 'Guna' and since then have been named as 'Guna caves' which earlier was called Devil's Kitchen. We heard some people have lost lives while the caves were open and since then have been fully closed with iron fences. 

Moier's Point was another view Point, which was covered with hovering clouds. We couldn't see a thing, but am sure should offer a good glimpse of the deep valleys.

We spent a couple of minutes at the  Upper Lake view, a point where one can see the Kodai lake and city from high above the valley.

We returned back to our hotel by 6 PM, freshened ourselves and had an early dinner at our Hotel. The mercury dipped to 'Unbearable' by 7 PM and we covered ourselves with thick layers of blanket and hit the bed by 8 PM.

27 December, 2017 - Wednesday:
We got ready early and had a heavy breakfast at our hotel. We walked to the Iconic Kodai Lake which was about 5 minutes from our hotel. We took a boat ride at the lake and spent quite a while enjoying the picturesque location. The boat-guy took us to the middle of the lake and informed us that the current circuit is upto that point and that he will return back from that point, unless we pay him extra if we want to see even more beautiful locations up the lake. Basically enticing/fleecing the tourists by paining a beautiful picture of what lies ahead that is not already covered in the current plan. And we had to take the bait, for not wanting to miss out on that beauty that lies ahead.

Well except for a few beautiful hoses near the road and a canopy of a bending tree, there was nothing extra to what we had already seen. Anyways, tourism survives on these hypes, doesn't it?

After the boating, we hired 2 cycles (one for Pooja and other for Souji) and a cycle assisted with trainer wheels for Ruchir. The route around the lake took close to 1.5 hours (5.25 Kms). Mostly having to push Ruchir's cyle all around the lake! We took some nice pictures wherever possible. It was a memorable drive!

We took a walk around the Shopping streets around the lake, Byrant's Park, Coakers Park and Coaker's walk. Coaker's Walk offered another beautiful views of the mountains. Good places to visit.

We checked out of Hotel Sivapriya after a sumptuous lunch and took the taxi to Hill Country Resort, about 6 Kms from Hotel Sivapriya further away from the City Center. Souji had booked this place after seeing some photos on their Website and when we reached that resort, we found the Resort even more stunning! The resort had a lot of cottages, greens, beautifully landscaped and very detailed. Surrounded by mountains, and very well maintained, this place was definitely luxurious. 

We took loads of pictures exploring all the spaces inside the resort. We played Badminton, football, Table Tennis, for some time in the evening till it became freezing. Thankfully, the window of our room overlooked the Amphi-theater and the huge lawns that carpeted most of the resort. Just sitting in our warm room, we could see all the activities around the resort and that was the best part of our stay here.

In the night, the resort's discotheque got us dancing to all the party songs. Ruchir danced away to glory and had a ball of a time over there. With tired legs and a long day, we got back to our room late in the night for a tight sleep.

28 December, 2017 - Thursday:
Morning breakfast at the Resort was outstanding! With tummy full, we took the bus out of the resort to cover a few more places around Kodai. We hired a Taxi at the Kodai lake area for the next better half of the day to go around the 'Picnic Tour/Trekking' package as they call it, which covers 'La Saleth Church', Dolphin Nose trek, Echo Mountain, Mountain View Point, Pambar Falls (Vattakanal Falls) and Lion's Cave. 

We drove past the 'La Saleth' Church  and did not spend much time there. A drive through the forests for about 30 minutes got us into a hilly region where we had to get down and walk the mountainous slope for visiting the Dolphin Nose and Echo Mountain and Mountain view points. 

The slope was quite risky, with very few man made steps. Rest of the steps were the fibrous roots of the trees that have spread far and wide across the mountains. Very uneven, unwieldy and quite arduous. Physically it was very challenging to get down the slope, forget even climbing back up! First stop was the Mountain view point, which offered pretty much the same clouds and trees across the viewpoints. Completely covered with clouds, we could hardly see anything. 

By this time, the knee joints were already making loud screeching noises, and we had just 15 minutes into the descent. The folks who were returning back after their full tour looked like zombies and that worried us a lot considering we had to descent 1.5 Kms further down the mountain to reach the Dolphin Nose Point and others. Our biggest concern was that of Ruchir, all of 4.8 years and whether he could pull it off. 

After another 30 minutes of climbing down the hard terrain, we made it to a Rocky edge of the mountain that somewhat looks like the beak of a Dolphin. The edge of the beak is again a suicide-spot and offers a view of the mountainous backdrop and the huge cliff. We spent a few minutes taking some pictures on reaching the end point. Very next to it was the Echo Point, another cliff where one can shout and hear an echo. However, it did not echo. May be they had gone out for a vacation as well.

After spending some time taking snaps all round and sinking in a liter of water, we looked at the unending, 60 Deg Ascent through the hills and our hearts lost a beat a beat or two more.

Ruchir was tired but was still carrying on. Pooja was remarkably doing fine for herself. Souji and I were barely surviving at this point of time.

The uphill trek of took 1 hour to get to the top. We took little breaks wherever we were out of steam. Thanks to the small shacks conveniently located all along the trek, that gave us some rest, water and snacks which helped immensely. 

Remarkably Ruchir was able to manage the trek all by himself without us having to Piggy-back him. Pooja was a trooper and a super sport and helped Ruchir and herself right through the trek and engaged him all along. For Souji and myself, our Knee joints were almost dead and demanded replacements. 

Overall, the trek to Dolphin Nose Point and Echo mountain, seemed that it was mostly for testing self endurance rather than the view points themselves. We were very happy to get back safely and still able to walk on two legs.

Next point was the Vattakanal Falls (Pambar Falls). This falls is quite close to the driveway and quite close to the road. In about 1 minute after getting down the car, we were awestruck with the beauty of this wide and cascading water fall. It seemed very child friendly, with no slippery stones and was not even ankle deep at the foot of the falls. The falls itself was beautiful and mesmerizing! 

Just that the water was freezing and playing with it would be bad mistake. Ruchir initially wanted to play in the water, but after his feet touched the freezing water, he did not want to even come get close to the waterfall, lest play over there. A few minutes of acclimatization, he started letting his feet down!

We spent quite a while here enjoying the beauty of this falls. Another point Lion's Cave/Den was across the same falls, but we were too tired and also got to know it was little risky for kids. So we dropped that point.

It was about 4 PM in the evening and it was already getting cold. We had a good lunch at Woodlands and then returned back to our resort. We struck the deal with the same driver to drop us at Madurai the next morning.

Back at our resort, we played Badminton and Football for some time and then went around the resort checking out all the other things we had not seen. We were very tired with all the trekking and our bodies were crying foul for not giving any rest. We hit the bed pretty early, as we had to check out and move towards Madurai the next day.

29 December, 2017 - Friday:
We got up early and after an early breakfast, checked out of Hill Country Resort. Our driver picked us up by 8:30 PM and we were off from Kodai to our next destination, Madurai. On the way, we took a break for 15 minutes, checking out Silver Cascade Falls. We drive to Madurai took us about 3.5 hours and reached the city by 12:30 PM. 

On the way, I had just called Prabhakar (my McAfee Colleague) to say Hi and inquire how to get around the Meenakshi temple, as he was from Madurai. Prabhakar, being so generous, got a room booked at 'College House' Hotel, and also got his car to take us around Madurai.

We refreshed ourselves at the hotel and then Prabhakar took us to a super Authentic Madurai Plantain Leaf Lunch at 'Sabarees' restaurant, right across our Hotel.

Later, we got into his car and he gave us Whirlwind tour of Madurai's must see hotspots, covering 'Perumal' temple, Murugan temple, Outer ring roads, his Cricket grounds, famous other landmarks in Madurai like Taj Hotel, Honeywell, HCl and other Industrial areas. We also checked out a few other localities inside the core city as well.

Next we visited at the 'Thirumala Nayak's Palace which was just awesome. People including me, mostly associate Madurai with Meenakshi temple, but thanks to Prabhakar, who gave us some insights and history of Madurai and the Pandian kings whose capital was Madurai. 

The palace itself is worth seeing for it's well maintained durbar hall, the huge pillars, the lovely aritisty on each of the pillars and the domes that form the palace. The museum adjacent to the Palace has a huge collection of all items related to Madurai and its history and is definitely worth visiting. All credits to Prabhakar for guiding us on this journey, which otherwise we would have completely missed. 

Prabhakar dropped us back at our hotel which was just about a KM away from the Meenakshi Temple. It was already 3:30 PM. So we quickly refreshed ourselves and then by 4:15 PM we were off to visit the famous Meenakshi Temple. 

We entered the temple by 4:30 PM and took the Rs. 50 Special Darshan tickets. The day being Friday and coupled with 'Vaikunta Ekadashi', the temple had long queues by the time we entered. The magnificent Gopuras were visible from a long distance. We got into the West Tower and then the unending queue took us about 2 hours before we could complete the darshan of Godess Meenakshi. 

By the time we came out of the temple it was already 7 PM and we ensured we got exited from the same west tower which was closest to our hotel. On the way, we quickly grabbed some food and then checked out of our hotel by 8 PM.

We walked to the Periyar Bus Stand, about 5 minutes of walk from our hotel. Our bus got delayed due to traffic jam by about 30 minutes. We departed through Royal Travels by 9:45 PM through a sleeper coach bus.

30 December, 2017 - Saturday:
We reached Bangalore by 6 AM and got dropped at Lalbagh's Double Road Entrance. We took a OLA cab and were back home by 6:45 AM.

Overall, the trip was quite refreshing and we had a good break from the monotony of official duties. The kids too had a good time and everything went well as planned. 

Here are some photos and videos taken during this trip for anybody interested.