Monday, December 28, 2020

Year-end getaway to 'Chilumey' Homestay'!

After a day of fire-drill planning, Pradeepa recommended 'Chilumey Homestay' @ Somwarpet - Coorg as the place we were going to spend some peaceful time. Shashi too confirmed he would be joining. It has been an unprecedented year of extreme challenges and we definitely needed a break to reset and restore some sanity. 

Dec 25, 2020 - Friday: 'Christmas'

Kickstarted the day, as we left Samruddhi at 5:30 AM and reached Pradeepa's house. We crammed our backpacks and 'Kurku-Murkus' in their Innova and left their house by 6:30 AM. Shashi and family joined us at the exit of Nice Road Junction on Peenya - Nelamangala Road.

It seemed like all of Bangalore wanted to take break and the traffic was chock-a-block. We thought during Corona pandemic, there may not be many of them, but we were wrong!

An hour and half into the drive, we stopped for Breakfast, at Siddalingeshwara Mess at Kunigal, where we had delicious Thatte Idly, Vade, Avarekai Pulav, Coffee and Tea. Thanks to Pradeepa's knowledge of these hidden gems as we avoided long waiting times.

We then drove pretty much non-stop via Hirisaave, Hole Narasipura, Shanivarasanthe and reached Chilumey Homestay at 1:30 PM, a beautiful house surrounded by lush green Coffee Plantation. Our Homestay folks [relatives to Pradeepa] recommended us to have lunch at Kalyan Bhavan Mess, which was just less than a kilometer away from the homestay. The food at the Mess, was quite good and hygienic too! 

Back in our rooms, we took a nice little break to relax after a 6 hour drive. The huge balcony on the first floor opened out to acres of Coffee plantations all around with nothing but just pure oxygen.

A couple of hours of relaxing, we were treated to Piping hot, straight-from-the-plantation and freshly-brewed coffee which was sensational and got us turbocharged to make the most of what the light could offer. We drove off to 'Honnammana Kere', a serene little lake about 5 Kms from our Chilumey. The Sun was already dropping down as drove to the 'Belur Bane', a grassland meadow, which actually is a huge Golf Course that has unending green carpet cover of grass. But the light had dimmed quite a bit and we really needed more time with this beautiful place. We decided to make revisit this place the next day as well. 

We drove back to Chilumey and spent the rest of the evening over there. Pradeepa had brought along a huge 'Bose' Bluetooth Audio Player with Mike and Karaoke. The Campfire was lit and so was the mood. The Chilly evening turned red-hot, as bollywood dance numbers started rolling one after other. The dance-masti was ignited with the first load of Lip-smacking delicious Capsicum and Hirekai Bajjis, with fresh batches arriving at the turn of every new song. Everyone danced as if there was no tomorrow and we had a gala time. 

A couple of hours later, the dinner was served in the ground floor which had 'Ukkarisidda Akki Rotti, Ennegaai, Red Chilly Chutney, Jeera Rice, Koorma, Kashi Halwa' the traditional Veg-dishes of the location. This apart from the regular Curries, Rice, Sambhar, Rasam, Curds and Pickles. 

We continued the Musical session, which moved indoors in the huge hall on first floor with Arnav, Ruchir, Prathyusha and Pooja taking center stage. The songs went till late in the night. After brining the roof down with Bose Speakers at full volume, and with not enough energy left, we hit the bed at midnight!

Dec 26, 2020 - Saturday:

After a good night sleep, we all got ready early in the morning had a good breakfast of Avalakki, Dosas, Red Chutney, and Spicy Sambhar. We left the homestay by 10 AM and drove towards 'Kote Betta', about 25 Kms. from our Homestay. The drive was great as we saw the beautiful landscapes of Coorg and in all it's glory. We reached Kote Betta, which had a little temple at the foot of a 20 floor high rocky hillock. Along with the kids, we trekked to the top of this hill, which opened out to the vast expanse of the low lands below. The kids loved the trek and the cool breeze at the top.

Next on the itinerary was the 'Malhalli Falls'. By the time we drove to the falls, it was already 2 PM and the sun was burning bright. In order to view the falls, we had to get down 700 steps one way and considering we had with little kids, and it was past lunch time and we had already trekked, getting down 700 steps and climbing up was a big ordeal. So we just went down a few steps where we could see a glimpse of the waterfall and climbed back. 

We had lunch at 'Kannika Homestay', who were pre-informed of our arrival, by a few other relative-friends who were staying with us back at the home stay. The food was quite decent and filling, good enough to get us back on track. It was already 4 PM and the the heat was still on. Our next point to visit was 'Pushparigi' which was about 7 Kms further away. We discussed back and forth on whether to visit the Pushpagiri hills or not and finally gave it a miss, considering that it was already a tiring day. 

Instead, the plan was to revisit the 'Belur Bane Golf Course' where kids could get a of time to play in the greens. After a quick pit-stop for Coffee and snacks at Somwarpet, we reached the golf course when the heat had come down and offered perfect conditions for playing! We played Frizbee for quite a while on the open lawns. It was a fantastic expanse of greens all around and a beautiful place to just chill. Kids loved running around and so did we!

Pooja challenged me for a running race with so much confidence that she would win the race, heads down. Pratyusha also joined the race, which was officiated by Shashi and Pradeepa. We were to touch a tree 200 Mtrs. ahead of us and return back to staring point. A race of 400 Mtrs. in all. I started late, allowed the the kids to lead early, and after they were 25 meters ahead, I started moving, chasing them slowly from behind, running along with them for a few meters and leading them by 25 Mtrs. at the tree, which was half way. Just so that it was not a one-time lucky thing, allowed them to start their return back to the starting point and chased them back to the finish line with a comfortable lead. Pooja was in utter disbelief at what had transpired. Her loss was attributed to the 'cheating' I did by starting late, making her believe I was tricking her. So we decided to run again! 

The second race was just only till the Tree this time. The result was not very different and Pooja finally accepted that I still had a few years, before she could win a race with me ;-) I was just happy that I was still able to run and still be able to walk afterwards!!! Mind runs faster than the body can handle!!!

By the time we returned back to the Homestay, it was already 7:30 PM. We refreshed ourselves as sat chit-chatting in the front yard. Batches after Batches of hot and spicy Bondas of 'Seeme Badanekaayi, Sabsige Soppu and Nugge Soppu' kept coming! Very tasty and just perfect!

Dinner was served at 8:30 PM which had Sannas, Saagu, Veg Pulav, Raitha, Rice, Sambhar, Curds, and a sweet treat of Chandrahaar! We got back to the hall upstairs and resumed the Music session with Pooja and Pratyusha dolling out Kannada, Bollywood, English numbers.

We closed down the day at 10:30 PM and then went to bed.

Dec 27, 2020 - Sunday:

All of us woke up late and had a relaxing morning, with multiple sessions of hot coffee. A breakfast of Onion Uppittu, Chutney, Idli and Sambhar followed. We also bought a KG of their Coffee Powder and some Pepper as well. Right after, we all did a quick tour of their Coffee plantation walking around the fence and always being watchful of the snakes. 

We returned back, checked-out by 10:30 AM, greeted the hosts for the wonderful stay for the last couple of days and departed 'Chilumey Home Stay'. On our way back we wanted to complete the 'Pushpagiri' hill which took close to an hour and half to reach. The terrain was quite challenging and narrow. Pradeepa and Shashi drove very well too as we reached Pushpagiri. This hillock has a beautiful little temple with the presiding deity of 'Shantha Mallikaarjuna'.

Got to know that the other side of the Pushpagiri hill is called ' Kumara Parvartha' and a 22 Kilometer trek from Pushpagiri leads to Kukke Subramanya. We spent an hour at the temple and from their started our return journey via Kushalnagar to Mysore. Ranjini wanted all of us to join them and have lunch at her parent's home in Mysore.

On the way, we stopped for some thirst quenching Cucumbers and they did their job! We reached Ranjini's parents house in J P Nagar area of Mysore by 5 PM, where we refreshed ourselves. We spent some time with their family and also met Ranjini's brother as well. Lunch was served and we had the Authentic 'Puliogare', Bisibele Bath with varieties of Happala which was just awesome! To top it all we had Sakkare Pongal and Curd Rice as well - Just too good! The Cuppa was just perfect too! We wished them goodbye and started towards Pradeepa's Malavalli Farmland. Shashi and Ranjani joined as well, while Arnav and Vibha stayed back with the Grandparents.

We reached Pradeepa's farmland at 7:30 PM. Pradeepa had kept 'Chandra' the care-taker-worker at the farmland to await our arrival in 1 hour from 3 PM onwards!!! It was dark, but with the help of mobile phone torch and assisted with beautiful moonlight, we walked all around the farm as he explained about the plantation. Chandra had already plucked and readied the Tender coconuts. The sweet and tasty tender coconuts were just awesome! Wonderful experience!

Shashi and Ranjini returned back to Mysore as we made a quick pit-stop at Usha's brother's under construction farmhouse/land at Malavalli. It was 8:30 PM when we started again towards Bangalore via Malavalli, Halagur, Kanakapura and back to Bangalore. We reached Pradeepa's home by 11:30 PM, where we hopped back onto our car and drove back home. 

3 days of unadulterated fun and peace, away from the pressure cooker world of office and Corona/Covid 19, this little outing of 720 odd Kms, was really a much needed break and many thanks to Prathyusha, Usha, Pradeepa, Vibha, Arnav, Ranjini, Shashi for their wonderful company during this outing! We had some great fun and will cherish this outing for a long time!

Here are some snaps from our 3 day get-away!

Year-end Getaway to Chilumey Homestay

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Birthdays of 2020 and the 'Corona Effect'

Nov 28, 2020 - Saturday:

2020 has been an exceptional year in the sense that nobody in the world expected anything like this. The 'Covid-19' Pandemic that started in China has affected every country across the world and devastated the lives of billions. 

India as a country and every other person has had to endure hardships one way or the other. Despite all these disturbances, life goes on, sometime as usual and some time takes a different path. 

Below is how we celebrated our Birthdays during the year with a glimpse of information on how the Corona played its part during these days.

Jan 11, 2020, Saturday

Corona Pandemic had not even hit India and it was just still as an insignificant headline  on the news, back then. Except for Pooja's birthday, all other Birthdays this year was under lockdown. Lucky bum!. 

On the morning of her birthday, she was pampered with a bunch of goody-gifts. Souji, Amamma and Ruchir enjoyed the gift-unveiling ceremony.

We then did a quick visit to Vinayadeep, where she got the blessings from her Ajji and Tatha.

In the noon, we took her to the Hero Cycles Showroom in BSK II stage and bought her a new shiny Bicycle of her liking.

Pooja wanted to celebrate her birthday eating out the best North Indian cuisine, at a hotel. Her wish was granted as we celebrated her Birthday at the 'Subz' accompanied by Sanju, Lavanya and Harish  

The cake was on the house and the buffet spread was out of the world. Tasty food and she was very happy!

Feb 2, 2020 - Sunday

By this time, Corona is now a big thing and countries are already thinking how to handle this pandemic. All news channels are covering Corona and our Government is also planning on how this pandemic is going to affect India and the next steps. Scary times. 

Since it was a Sunday, we all were there at Vinayadeep. Anil joined along with Putty Aunty along and she being just there was the greatest gift, Anna could have asked for on his Birthday. It has been quite a while since they had met with each other.

It had been 3 or 4 months since Anna had stepped out of the house, ever since he has been having knee pains. It was a good catch-up overall.

We got a Cake for Anna and as usual Ruchir spared no time in inviting this little friends to joint his grandparent's party. 

Afternoon, I took Anna and Amma on a whirl-wind 'View-from-car-window' tour of all the temples in and around Hanumanthanagar, Gandhibazaar, Basavanagudi areas. We started with Panchamukhi Temple -> Rama temple in Ashok Nagar -> Puttige Matha, Raghavendra Swamy and Sreenivasa Temple next to BMS College, Anjaneya Temple opposite to Gandhi Bazaar' and then returned home!

April 3, 2020 - Friday

Covid-19, was in full rage across India. PM Modi had ordered total lock-down for almost a month now. Everything except essentials were available. No schools, colleges, sports, entertainment like Theaters, Malls, or Social engagements like Marriages, Parties or functions.

Ruchir was really hoping the lock-down that started in March would be lifted, but that did not happen. But that did not happen. He was so looking forward for a good cake, lots of friends and relatives, lots of gifts, but none of these were possible. Nobody was allowed to move outside of their house. So visiting grandparents, or they coming over was also not possible. We were able to connect with them only via phone.

That said, instead of having 1 big Birthday, we made small celebrations, multiple times all at the confines of home :-) Such an adjusting kid he is, despite that relenting feeling of having a good birthday with Friends and Relatives, he was able to understand that this time we had to manage without one and he was able to take it in! 

Souji and Ruchir baked a neat cake and decorated it with icing sugar and Cadbury Gems. Pooja prepared a lovely Greeting card. Souji also gave new Shirts. We also got him a Sketch-Pen set, a Picture filled encyclopedia that had lots of info on Dinosaurs, his latest craze off late. He also got a 'Mechano-set' as his gift.  

In the evening, we all went over to the terrace of our apartments at Vishnu Residency and had a Roof-top Picnic! Souji had prepared Ruchir's favourite Tomato Bhath, French Fries, Milkshake, Noodles and Cake all home made and as good could be. Ruchir loved the outing and so did we too!

April 14, 2020 - Tuesday

Every week, we were hoping the lock-down got lifted. But it did not. By this week, we were able to sneak out to the backside of a bakery and order a little cake for Soujanya. 

We moved the dinner table to the hall, under the chandelier, and that became our Birthday Table. We invited Ruchir's friends in the apartment and they were more than delighted to come over and be a part of rare outing of sorts from their house to ours!

In the name of Souji's Birthday, Ruchir cut the cake along with his friends in the apartment. Ruchir enjoyed the spotlight he was hoping for and surely made his day. And Souji too graciously enjoyed the Birthday that were hers in the joy of Ruchir's celebration.

For the special dinner, there was Vegetable Pulav, Culets, Raita, Rasogullas, Milkshake, Fanta, Masala Papad and Carrot Halwa! And the Cake of-course!

May 10, 2020 - Sunday

There were news of lock-downs getting lifted in phases, but the fear of infections were on every ones mind. But the roads were opened out for movement during the weekends, and it being a Sunday, we were able to visit my parents as well. Mango trees in our house had a bumper yield this time and so was that of our neighbors. So much mangoes this time that they are raining mangoes right on our terraces every day. One can simply pluck it out of our bare hands, just standing on the terrace, a beautiful sight to see!

Pooja and Ruchir made very beautiful Birthday card for me. Just so happy that they are able to pen their thoughts and express their feeling. Such a beautiful phase of life it is. 

We had also bought my favourite Ice-Cream Cake from Ibaco, and this time it was Mango-Almond Duet. I loved the ice-cream cake ever since Souji got it many years back on my Birthday and ever since this has remained the best Ice Cream Cake I have had so far.

For evening dinner, Souji had prepared Samosas, Butter Naan, Alu-Corn-Mattar Subjee, 7-Cups Sweet and the Ibaco special Ice Cream Cake. 

Thoroughly enjoyed the day! Thanks to Souji and Kids for making it special!

Aug 9¬10, 2020 - Sunday-Monday

Harish, Lavanya and Sanju had visited our house, now @ Samruddhi. It was late evening on the 9th and a good opportunity to celebrate her Birthday, the very first of many at Samruddhi! 

We chit chatted till mid-night and at the stroke of 12, Sanju cut her Birthday cake on Aug 10 " 12:00 AM - A perfect start to a new year! 

Black forest cake and Hot Samosas summed up for nice Birthday party.

Oct 26, 2020 - Sunday

Lockdowns have been completely off now and things are turning towards normal. But wearing Masks whenever in public, Hand sanitizing as many times as needed and social distancing have been the norms.

Since 27th was a Monday (working day), we all went to Vinayadeep on Sunday 26th itself and then I took Amma and Anna to visit Jaggu Maama's house. It was close to 6 or 7 months since Amma and Jaggu maama have seen each other, except on the phone.

While coming back, I got the Jolada Rotti Oota parcelled from the famous Uttara Kannada hotel on MES High School Road, just behind 4th Block Bus Stand. We had also packed some Sakkare Obattu and Pedha's from 'Holige Mane' on 9th Main. 

We spent a good time at Hanumanthanagar and then left back to Samruddhi in the evening.

Birthdays of 2020 and the 'Corona Effect'

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Deepavali 2020 - First one @ Samruddhi

 Nov 14 - 16, 2020

Corona or No Corona, Deepavali did not stop this year too, being the most loved festivals on our calendars. This time, it was the first one at our new house and we did a few things that was very close to our hearts. Decorating our house with a lot of Lights! 

Nov 14, Friday: Neer-thumbo Habba

We brought both our Parents and Parents-In-Laws a day early to stay with us during the festival. Souji prepared awesome lunch and dinner on the Friday, Nov 14. I took Anna and Amma over to a long pending visit to Putty Aunty's house where they spent a good time. Souji and I bought a lot of Crackers. The prices have of crackers have just sky-rocketed and can't believe that a sack of them easily crosses  6-7K. 

Not sure if our Kids love crackers or not, we definitely love firing crackers. Now to all the people who must be thinking of the ecological apocalypse we have bought, sorry... This is the best ever Festival for all ages and 'Pataki Habba' without Crackers for us is like Ganesha Habba without Ganesha.. So please leave this one alone. I am sure you would have loved burning crackers while you were kids.

In the night, we switched on all the LED serial sets we had painstakingly put in place. Thanks to Pooja, Ruchir and Souji who put in a lot of efforts in running the LED ropes right from the Main gate of ground floor though the stairs. And from the Room in the first floor to the Pooja room and across the hall (step level) and around the TV and then climbing all the steps to the 2nd floor Cut-out section. Our First and Second floor balconies facing the Street, the first floor balcony next to the Pooja room was also LED roped in!

We switched on the lights and our house turned magical. We had always wanted to decorate the house with LED ropes, and this time we were able to make it happen. Our house looked Fantastic! Real Deepavali treat to the eyes!

Nov 15, Saturday: Narakachaturdashi

We all woke up a little relaxed in the morning and performed the 'Enne Pooja' ritual. It has always been an integral part of Deepavali at our house. Spent a lot of time having great conversations, discussions in the morning. We had the food catered from Vittal (Kaveri Caterers). Souji and I went to Katriguppe and picked it up from there. Before going there, we had dropped Anna and Amma at Jyothi Aunty's house, so that they another long pending visit got fulfilled. On our way back, we picked them and reached our house.

Lavanya, Harish, Deepu, Asha and Nisha too joined us for lunch. We arranged the lunch at Ground floor. Lunch had Capsicum Bhath, Tarakari Kootu, Tomato Saaru, Happala, Rice and Curds. For sweets, we had Kashi Halwa, Shavige Payasa, Boondi Laadu, Jalebi, Badam Burfi. Crisply fried Maddur Vade took care of the hot and spicy section. Everyone loved the variety and considering that there hasn't been any other function/marriage/event in the year, where we could have enjoyed these dishes, thanks to Corona.

We all rested and relaxed afternoon and lazily watched some English movie on Amazon Prime. In the evening, we all refreshed ourselves and as the sky turned dark, we again turned on the LED Lights and the spirits rose high yet-again!. Everybody loved the way these LED lights transformed our house. The Mild Yellow hue running across the house both inside and outside, was just majestic! 

Pooja, Ruchir, MIL lit a lot of crackers!. Anna and Amma watched the show downstairs seated in our First floor balcony. Our neighbors too did justice by lighting the fireworks. Most houses in our street had one form of decorative lighting or the other. A beautiful night and making it a perfect Deepavali.

Dinner was served by 9 PM and Deepu, Asha, Nisha, Harish and Lavanya returned back to their bases. We all missed having Sanju this year. 

Nov 16, Sunday: Lakshmi Pooja

Woke up late and relaxed and spent a good time watching all the photos we took. Souji had prepared Super Duper Upittu for breakfast. Amma had brought our childhood photos along which was keenly watched by our InLaws and kids. 

Pooja decked herself up with the new Langa-Dhavani, and Gejje. Took a lot of photos of her knowing that she does not like wearing heavy dresses and jewelry. 

For lunch Souji we kept the menu light, with a lot of previous day items including all sweets. Fantastic innings!

Around 3 PM, both Parents and Parents-InLaw were dropped back to their respective homes, longing for having them again for a longer period of time. It was a fantastic time we spent together. The elders loved being with the Kids and and Vice versa. It also gave a lot of rest and company to them. Deepavali is best celebrated together as it certainly did this year.

Sanjeev, Sarju, Srivali and Shrishti, visited us in the evening. With our LED lights on, another round of photo sessions took off. We played Dumb Charades and Anthyakshari. We switched on the new LED mini-Disco Lights which transformed our hall into a Dance Room!. Srivalli and Shrishti performed some amazing dance moves to some Bollywood numbers. 

The evening was a little rainy, but with all the fun and noise we were making, we scared the hell out of the rain gods, who ran away. We got downstairs and enjoyed the crackers and fireworks for a full hour and half. Kids had a wonderful time and so did we.

A wonderful night, well spent! By the time we slept it was already the next day!

Nov 17, Monday - Balipadyami

Back to the Monday grind, I did not feel like working after the continuous fun we had been having. So took the day off from office and just spent time relaxing. It has been quite hectic at office and I definitely needed some break. A much deserved one.

Souji's mobile phone had gone dead, so we visited the Samsung service center in Jayanagar and left it there for repair. We returned back to home and stayed indoors mostly. Evening we lit all the Diyas and all the remaining crackers along with our neighbors. 

After 4 days of non-stop action, Deepavali of 2020 ended gracefully making it one of the most memorable festivals of the season. A special one this time as it was the first at Samruddhi! 

Thanks to all for making this festival of lights a wonderful one to remember for a long time!  

Here are some photos and videos we took during this festival.

Deepavali 2020 @ Samruddhi

Trek to SRS Betta with Harish and Lavanya - Oct 3

October 3, 2020 - Saturday

A lazy Saturday afternoon transformed into a beautiful trek as we made an unplanned visit to the Sri Revana Siddeswara Betta (SRS Betta). Completely unplanned till the last minute, we made plans on the fly and just took off.

We had been to Harish's home and decided to do this trek in the last minute, we made plans on the fly and just took off. Pooja, Ruchir and Sanju stayed back at Harish's home itself. What a miss!

We reached this place in about an hour's time driving through Mysore Road. Google Map gives the perfect location.

The Temple was closed and the gates to the trek was also closed by the lady police guard. But coaxed her into opening the trek route by promising that we would be back in an hour max. 

The climb was definitely steeper with lot more steps compared to the Gudibande hill. Each step, you climb 1 feet!. Quite a steep climb, but quite safe. Kids will need help as there are some risky sections, even though the authorities have ensured guard rails every where. 

It took us a good 45 minutes to get to the top and as they say, 'The view is from the top'. Fantastic views of the location. Lush green everywhere. A beautiful spire has a 3 metal bells hanging, making it a beautiful scenery when these views merges with the open horizon in the backdrop.

We spent going around the flat top of the hill and also checking out the little temple tucked a few steps below and behind the far side of the hill. 

After about an hour on top, taking loads of pictures till the batteries drained out, we descended to the base in about 30 minutes. We thanked the Lady Police profusely at the entrance, for allowing and waiting for our return.

Funny part - I mentioned this new discovery of ours to Dr. Pradeep (my friend, just in case if he was not aware of this hill). He scolded me, 'breathless' and non-stop for the next 30 minutes. SRS Betta and temple happens to be his 'Mane Devaru' and got to know, they visit the temple every year without fail ! The scolding was for the fact that he could have arranged a full fledged meal and VIP entry to the hill, had we told him we were visiting. No worries, Pradeepa. Now we know!

On our return drive back, we stopped briefly at a beautiful Paddy field taking a few pictures. 

As they say, great things comes in small packages and this trek was surely one of those kinds!

Below are some pictures and videos from this trek.

Gudibande Trek

Trek to Gudibande Hills with Rajesh and family - Sep 20

September 20, 2020 - Sunday 

The Corona / Covid 19 Pandemic had kept us contained in our homes for 7 months now and all of us really needed a break from the monotony and just get out and enjoy the nature. Somewhere where you can get a breath of fresh air and also get a new perspective. 

What better place than a trek to a near-by hillock 'Gudibande' - About 2 hours from Bangalore on the Bangalore - Hyderabad highway. Pushpa suggested that we all go and do this half day trip and so we started! 

Breakfast and Lunch were prepared at home and carried to this picnic trek of sorts. Roads to Gudibande were just super. The weather was overcast and was raining hard, when we reached Gudibande. We looked around for a while for a decent place/shelter to have our breakfast and finally found a Temple under a huge banyan tree which was a Kilometre away from the Gudibande Hill. It was the only decent shelter from the pouring rains. Thanks to 'Edugalla Akkama, the temple godess' for this. There was nobody around and the cement plastered temple corridor remained dry for us spread a mat and have our Picnic breakfast!

Hot and Spicy Uppittu and Coffee. The backdrop of the Gudibande Hill, A temple under a banyan tree, surrounded with acres of green cultivation, early morning rain. Not a single other soul near-by! Just perfect ! We couldn't have asked for more.

We were at some point contemplating to return back as the rains started to lash hard, but we had come too far to go back empty handed. So we persisted and the rains too stopped. We asked the locals the starting point of ascent and drove our cars to the bottom of the hillock. Our upward trek took us about 1.5 hours to the top. The hill was decked with beautiful green bushes, glistening in the sun that had just came out, amidst the Vibrant yellow and orange flowers. Occasionally we passed through some nice little rock cut entry points, constructed by the then chieftain Byreshwara Gouda, who constructed these pathways. 

The view from the top was just outstanding. It had a beautiful fort and a temple (closed due to Corona) on the top. The near-by villages looked so tiny in comparison. The cloud formations with the sun playing hide and seek made watching the horizon look spectacular. We also saw the Byrasagara Lake from over the top which we passed by before we reached Gudibande. 

The hill itself was super clean. It seemed as if it rained to clean up the hill, in anticipation of our arrival! Nature, in all it's glory was very kind! We spent an hour or so taking in the fresh air, beautiful weather and the pristine surroundings. We started climbing down and reached the base in 45 minutes. We drove back to the same temple and had lunch. 

For lunch we had Tarakari Bhath, Mosaranna, Chips, Ras Kadam from Kanti Sweets, Yummy Cakes that Sanjana had prepared. We left Gudibande by about 4 PM, and drove back to Namma Bengaluru. On the way, we stopped briefly for Tea at Pushpa's house before reaching our home.

Overall, a beautiful day well spent with Pushpa, Rajesh and Sanjana. Missed having Vishal around. Here are some Photos and Videos from this trek.

Gudibande Trek

"Samrudhhi" - "Gruhapravesha" of our New Home!

Gruhapravesha of our new home - 'Samruddhi' 

An activity that started with the 'Guddali Pooje - ['Ground breaking'] on Dec 3rd, 2018, reached completed state when we conducted the 'Gruhapravesha' of our new home which we have lovingly named 'Samruddhi'. 

'Samruddhi' is a state of mind which exudes a feeling of having everything. Great Parents, Family, Friends, Health, Wealth, Peace, and Satisfaction. 

April 25, 2019 - Thursday:

We left 'Chiguru' by noon and immediately got started on getting the house decorated for the grand function. A full load of relatives from our house left in multiple cars and all the luggage dispatched through a carrier. Rajesh and Pushpa joined us and helped garlanding the house with loads of 'Shamanthige' Hoova [Chrysanthemums]. The 'Tenginagari Chappra' got done by 4 PM and the Caterers arrived with Coffee and Snacks right after.

The 'Shamiyaana', and the external decoration lights arrived way later than agreed and caused a lot of anxiety. But once the lighting was switched on, the house was looking gracious. Loved the view!

With all the near and dear ones, the evening functions were conducted at the ground floor starting with Ganapathi Homa, Vaastu Homa, Navagraha Homa. The functions ended in 2.5 hours and the dinner was served under the well lit Shamiyaana at the adjacent vacant site.

Souji's Parents and relatives from Adoni, Bellary and Hyderabad stayed overnight at the house. Bedding and all other arrangements were taken care of early knowing that guests would be staying back here would need these to be arranged for a comfortable stay overnight. We [My parents, Deepu & family] all returned back to our houses, as we had to enter the new house only during the right 'Muhurtha' between 4:40 AM to 5:00 AM.

By the time we prepared for the big day ahead, and took rest, it was past midnight.

April 26, 2019 - Friday:

We got up at 2 AM and got started for the long day ahead! We left Chiguru by 4 AM and reached Samruddhi by 4:30 AM! Our In-laws who stayed overnight had already gotten ready with everything that was needed for us to enter the house. Deepu brought Anna and Amma and joined us right on time.

A photographer whom we had hired for the day arrived on time, [After having reached some Gruhapravesha house in the same area by mistake!]

With the divine blessing of Gods, Parents, Relatives and friends we did the 'Pravesha' of our new 'Gruha' during the auspices time.

The function was followed by the milk boiling ritual. The milk overflew while the ladies sung 'Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma'. Happy coincidence!

We then did one more Homa that could not get completed the previous night.

Kaveri Caterers were ready serving breakfast of 'Masala Dosa', 'Avalakki Oggarane', 'Kashi Halwa', Coffee and Tea. Got to know by the feedback, that Masala Dosas were a fantastic hit!

We did few other regular rituals including 'Hoo Veelya', Hosilu Pooja and nailing the hosilu with the coin, seeing our newly constructed house in the mirror etc... by 9:30 AM.

Anna and Amma performed the 'Devatha Pooja' in the 1st floor followed by the Aarthi. We conducted the 'Satyanarayana Pooja' in the first floor which took another hour and a half. With all the folks assembled in the first floor, adjusting themselves wherever possible, our house had turned itself into a stadium of sorts!

It was so nice to see all the guests coming over and participating in the function. Souji's cousins from Adoni, Hyderabad, Bellary, Paddu Aunty & Balaji Uncle from Chennai had graced the occasion and infact had stayed over at our new residence overnight.

'Paada Pooje' function was held followed by Lunch at 12:30 PM. The South Indian lunch menu had 'Corn and Kadilekaayi Kosumbari', 'Alugadde Fry Palya', 'Sakkare Obbattu', 'Maddur Vade', 'Pineapple Gojju' apart from 'Bisibele Bath', 'Shavige Paayasa', 'Sandige', 'Happala', Rice, 'Tomato Saaru', 'Mosuru' followed by a cup of 'Ice-cream'. Packaged water instead of regular tumblers.

Anjanapura probably had never seen such a huge gathering of people ever! And we were happy to receive them all who had made time to come a long way that too during a week day to bless us all. Thanks to all of the guests!

We took a good break for a couple of hours before the guests in the evening started to arrive. The colorful serial lights of green, white  & blue, dropping from the top of our building made it a wonderful sight! Had always thought of having such type of lighting whenever we constructed a home and that time had come! Thanks to the ever-ready beloved wife without whom this would not have happened!

Dinner was served by 7 PM onwards so that visiting guests had ample time to visit and get back home before it got too late for them.

The function concluded by around 10 PM. Most of us stayed back overnight at the house.


April 27, Saturday:

All of us got ready lazily by 8 in the morning. Everybody participated in cleaning the house. 'Punarpooje and Aarathi' was conducted at both the floors. We were all done with all the activities by 11 AM. We dumped as much belongings as possible and left back to respective homes by noon.

Thanks to all the relatives who helped us during this marathon 3 days of efforts, without whom it would not have been possible to conduct this event. Our wholehearted appreciations. 

Overall - Great 3 days of non-stop functions, people, food and merry making. And a whole lot of memories captured through pictures and videos shared below.

Samruddhi - Gruhapravesha Photos and Videos

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.