Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pooja turns two! Happy Birthday Pooja!

The Sunday of Jan 11th, 2009, turned into a festival for us as we celebrated Pooja's 2nd birthday. This time we decided to do the function over our Apartments and leverage the flat's basement area for dinner/lunch while we can do the rest of the party in-house.

Here are the snaps from the event. Thanks to Harish for his set of snaps.
So it all began with our buying the Birthday dress for Pooja while we were on our Trip to Udupi and other places. On a brief stop over at Mangalore we bumped into this Kid Store where a beautiful dress was hung on one of the window panes. That's it. One thing led into an other and before we knew, we had bought this silk-ish white and glossy red-brown Midi-frock for her.

Back in Bangalore, Soujanya had this desire to distribute printed birthday invitation cards and so we fired the Internet to find some cool applications that we could use. Thanks to 'Smilebox', we were able to create our online invitation in a jiffy.

After successive discussions (a.k.a. arguments with fist fights), we finalized on the caterer (Kaveri Caterers) and most importantly, the menu. The same day, we also booked the cakes from 'Kaggis', the new posh outlet that has started close to our house. Pretty good range of designs I must say.

Soujanya always wanted the birthdays to be filled with loads of balloons and colours and cartoon characters. So we called up these event management folks to come over and give us their designs. Even before I disconnected the phone, the folks from 'Showtime' was at our door, ready with their portfolio of all kinds of designs and decorations. After an hour long discussion on the specifics, we finally decided on a design that liked and customized to our requirement.

On the early morning of 11th, we decked up Pooja and visited home and along with Anna and Amma, visited the 'Panchmukhi Ganesha Temple' at Hanumanthanagar. In one hour, we were back in the apartments for getting ready for the function.

The 'Showtime' folks were on time with their stuff and started working immediately. With a Vacuum cleaner fitted with a modified/customized air outlet, they started filling the balloons one after the other for about a thousand or more. One of the other person, got down to do decorating the stage. This went on for about an hour and before we knew what was happening, the full house was decked up with wall hangings of colourful balloons everywhere. The stage was decorated with a Blue background canvas fitted with a whole lot of cartoon characters from the little mermaid to snow-white to other angels. Tall pillars of Balloons mounted on a frame were placed on each side of the Diaz. Just at the door entrance of the door, another angel cutout stood there calling out loud that Pooja's Party was here. The blue-orange-green-white-pink-red-yellow balloon drops continued from our door and stretched on till the main gates of our apartments. Overall, it was such a beautiful sight and I have to admit, it was looking very pretty. Soujanya was delighted to see the way the way our house had transformed. It was a riot of colours everywere with an atmosphere of festivity all around.

Pooja had slept for a couple of hours by then and woke up completely fresh. Very vital for kids to have a decent nap before this event. By 3:30 PM, All the kids in our flat came down and the party began. To the cheers of all the kids and to some good music, Pooja cut her cake all in smiles, while lighting a candle. The kids had a great time with Samosas, Chocolates, Chips, Ice Creams and cakes. A few games of Passing the ball kept them occupied between another round of snacks. Soujanya had pre-packed and readied the return gifts for the kids. Pooja had a great time playing with all these kids even though most of them are elder to her by an year at least.

Once the kids left, we got ready for the next set of invitees. All our families, relatives and friends. And by 6:30 PM, our house had turned into the most festive place ever. Everybody turned up for the birthday and it was a very happy occasion for us. Pooja was looking grand wearing the new dress that we bought from Mangalore. The good thing was that she was not perturbed by the presence of so many people around and was as normally naughty as ever. For her it was just another day! But one thing for sure, she was enjoying all the attention she was getting and maxed it to the limit.

All the lights in our house was switched on and the Diaz was looking bright. The L-Section in the hall provided just the exact offset that was required for setting up the Diaz so that we had the Diaz on one side and the folks on the other.

The birthday cake was prepared in the shape of a Book with one of the cartoons on one page and the greetings on the other. By about 7:30 in the evening, Pooja cut her big Birthday cake to loud cheers and wonderful birthday song and to the claps, blessings and wishes from all the family, relatives and friends who had gathered around. Such a pretty sight. Flash lights did not stop for the next 5 minutes till every movement from every angle was captured from the folks. (Including mine!). As always, my camera was working overtime to capture the best moments. From Kids, to kids at heart, aunts to uncles to grannies to grandpas, all were there for the photographs.

Checkout the Video here:

By 8 PM, we all moved downstairs for the dinner. Avarekai-Alu-Methi-bath, Cucumber Raitha, Dry Jamoon, Rava Vada, Rice, Rasam, Curd-Rice and IceCream along with Cakes were served on buffet. Coffee was made available right from the early evenings so that people don't have to escape the building in search of one or a 'by-two', having traveled a whole lot of distance to our house. Not to mention the cold outside would have warranted to go in for the other 'by-two' as well!

Pooja collected a whole lot of gifts from everybody. Not sure if she understood why she was getting all the gifts, but anything was okay, as long as she was on the receiving side! We were delighted to see the way she carried herself without any hassles.

Overall, a wonderful day to remember. All of us liked it. And it would not have made the event such a success without all the people who came over to bless the litttle one. Thanks everybody for making Pooja and us feel so very special.

The next day, with most of the balloons on the floor, we moved about a 1000 plus balloons into Pooja's room. Pooja enjoyed a great deal playing with the balloons and it was an awesome sight. She had not seen (including us!) that many balloons and infact she gets lost under them while playing.

Its almost a week now, as I type this blog. There are a few balloons still hanging over the walls and we have let it hang there, just so that we can keep remembering and relish the good time we had. Every time I look at the balloons, my heart goes Happy Birthday Pooja (and Soujanya ;-) )

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Trip to the Beaches and Temples of Coastal Karnataka

This time around, I wanted to enjoy the annual vacation (of 2008) to the fullest. Initially, the plan was to spend a decent time at Kanyakumari, but with the 'Aiyappa' season @ Shabarimala, all the tickets to everywhere on all modes of transport was booked and very few options were open for us to choose. Finally, we decided on visiting a few beaches and temples on the coastal side of Karnataka.

Following, is the travel-log-commentary of our Trip to half-piligrimage, half-sun-sands-beaches tour. We (Soujanya, Pooja and Myself), were accompanied by Souji's parents and my parents.

Click here for some of the best snaps and a few videos of our trip.

22nd Dec, Monday
~ Departed Bangalore by 7 AM.
~ On the way, visited temples of Yediyur (Siddalingaleshwara), Kaala Bhaireshwara (Adi Chunchungiri).
~ Roads till Sakaleshpura are fine. Beyond Sakaleshpura till you reach Dharmasthala, God save you and the vehicle. 100s of hairpin bends with 1000s of ditches all set to give you a bumpy ride. Welcome aboard the Shiradi Ghat section of the Western Ghats.
~ Spent about an hour at the Nethravathi River, next to Dharmasthala temple. Really good and clean water. If anybody wants to enjoy lazing around a river, this is the best place to do so.
~ Visited the Dharmasthala Manjunatha temple by about 6:30 PM. Temple reopens for public at 7:15 PM.
~ The queue was pretty long and took about 1.5 hours to complete and come out.
~ *__ Important __*: If you are visiting this temple (or any other temple on this side of Karnataka), you will need to be dressed in a dhoti and a shalya. Trousers, Shirts and Banians are not allowed.
~ Yes, you will need to pull of your banians too! Any questions, you can get the divine interventions from Lord Manjunatha himself.
~ Left Dharmasthala at 8 and reached Subramanya Temple at 10 PM.
~ Got accommodation at 'Sri Niketana' Lodge, just 50 meters from the temple.
~ Took two 2-bed rooms. Each costing Rs. 250. Decent place, *Clean* toilets, Spacious, and good enough for spending a night. Hot water facility for Rs. 8 per bucket.
~ *__ Important __*: Only 1 medical shop for the whole of the town. Closes at 8 PM itself. Just couldn't believe it. Pooja got travel sickness and my assumption that there will be some medical help available (at this time and age) proved us wrong and costly.

23rd Dec, Tuesday
~ Visited Subramanya Temple in the morning
~ River Kumardhara was good, but not as crystal clear and beautiful as we had seen when we visited this place 20 years back. That time, there was nothing except the temple and the river, but now, a town itself has come up, totally contrary to my expectations.
~ After a good breakfast, we left for Subramanya by 10 AM and headed for Mangalore.
~ By noon, we were in Mangalore. Didn’t expect this much of heat and sultry weather in Mangalore. Unbearable heat in peak winter too. (That is probably because of being Bangaloreans)
~ Shopped a great dress for Pooja. Costed a bomb, but looks good on her.
~ Never thought Mangalore has such posh outlook. Good buildings, hotels. Every single hoarding atop every building is about Jewellery! So definitely a cash-rich population.
~ Lunch at Hotel Utsav was great. Highly recommended for budget minded travelers.
~ Cancelled plans of visiting 'Ullal beach' supposed to be good and ice-creams at ‘Pabbas’ (Highly recommended by others).
~ Left Mangalore at about 3:30 PM and headed towards Udupi.
~ Brief stopover at 'Panambur beach'. Nice and calm beach. Whole lot of fishing activities. Stayed there for half an hour and moved on.
~ Reached Udupi by 5 PM and headed straight to 'Sri. Krishna Dhama' just behind the temple, next to Geetha mandir. (Co-incidentally, the same place where we stayed 20 years back!).
~ Got this tip from our Driver that Malpe beach closes by 6:30 PM and Police would drive people from the beach by that time. So hurriedly left for Malpe beach.
~ So much has changed since the last time I came here (With Shashi and Ande (1995~96)). Not a single soul was around that time, and now, this beach is not short of any other beaches in Chennai (Marina), except that Malpe beach is 100X cleaner.
~ White sand, beautiful sunset, good mix of all types of people, no bad odour of dried fish [except passing through the fishermen colony, on the way to the beach].
~ One of the best beaches I have seen so far. Highly comparable to beaches in Goa. Not too crowdy, not steep. Highly recommended.
~*__ Important __*: There is a 'Pay and use', really neat and clean toilet facility just 20 mts from the Beach. Happy to see that there.
~ Beach also offers street-side coffee shops, snack bars and light foods. Mineral water bottles available everywhere.
~ By 7:30 PM, we headed back to our lodge and found it in good shape. Clean and tidy room and toilet. Costs Rs. 150 per day. Took 2 rooms.
~ Refreshed ourselves and had a quick tour of the temple town by walk. Nothing changed much around the temple. Brought back nostalgic memories of our previous visits to Udupi.
~ Dinner at 'Mitra Samaja' was good. Hit the sack by 9:30 PM

24th Dec, Wednesday~ Visited Sri. Krishna temple by walk.
~ Easy no rush, no mess temple. Ample time for darshan. No fuss or non-sense. Generally felt good visiting this place.
~ Parents and In-laws too liked the temple very much.
~ Due to 'Dwadashi', lunch was served at 9 AM itself. We were made to run around the temple from pillar to post, as nobody was guiding us to the location where the food was being served. Finally, we made it.
~ Free food, so no complaints. Very filling. Need to take off Shirt and Banian while having food. This was a bit strange considering the fact that people are allowed to visit the temple with Shirt and Pants, but for having lunch, we are supposed to remove Shirt and Banian.
~ Next we left again to Malpe, for visiting the St. Mary's island.
~ By 11 AM, we were at Malpe beach again. Got to know from locals that the ticket to St. Mary's Island needs to be bought at the port harbour itself.
~ It’s a 5 minute drive from Malpe beach to the Port. One straight road that you cant miss.
~ Inside the port, ask for the ticket counter to St. Mary's Island and the security officer will direct you.
~ Ticket costs Rs. 70 per head. No queue at all, inspite of the holiday period.
~ Got transferred into a ferry along with 30 other people.
~ Took 25 minutes to reach the Island. Very nice and comfortable ride. Clear blue water. ~ No foul smell over the ferry, no dirty seating, comfortable and enjoyable. Good crowd.
~ St. Mary's Island is a small piece of land. Beautiful place. Must see and highly recommended. Good white sand. Very clean and hardly any people.
~ *__ Important __*: The far side of the island is very scenic and beautiful. Good mix of rocks and beach. Pristine water.
~ *__ Important __*: Beach has a deceptively sharp gradient. Huge pull from the waves.
~ Pooja enjoyed a great deal here.
~ Unfortunately, misadventure by 3 schoolboys got them pulled into the sea.
~ *__ Important __*: No security guards, life guards, and very few people.
~ After huge efforts from the ferry operators, 2 were rescued early. 3rd kid was rescued quite a while later as he was farthest from us. Believe me, that kid was not looking good. Traumatic experience. Finally, the insane teachers/organizers of the school trip left the place back to Malpe in emergency mode as the 3rd kid had to be hospitalized due to breathing problems.
~ We spent about a couple of hours and posed for snaps. Inspite of the happening, this place is highly recommended for anybody visiting Udupi. It’s worth the salt.
~ *__ Important __*: Do not get into the water unless you are an expert in swimming. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the view.
~ Our return ferry came back to pick us up and another 30 minutes, we were back at Malpe beach.
~ Visited 'Dianas' Restaurant at Udupi. Again, food was very affordable, delicious, no garlic, and ice creams were awesome! Highly Recommended. Good varieties on the menu.
~ With tummies full, went back to the lodge and packed just as much stuff required for our trip to Horanaadu and Sringeri.
~ Left Udupi at 3 PM and were at Agumbe by 5 PM. Waited for Sunset, but the sun was in no mood to get down and hence moved on wasting 30 minutes.
~ Touched Sringeri bypass by 7:30 PM and moved further towards Horanaadu.
~ Pooja was showing signs of travel sickness and dysentery.
~ Absolutely nobody on the roads, no other vehicles moving in the same direction as of Horanaadu made us believe, accommodation would be easy.
~ When we were just a kilometer away from Horanaadu, saw 3 buses standing one behind the other and that’s when the panic set in.
~ All this while, we had confirmed accommodation, except Horanaadu, and when reaching the town realized, it was turning out to be the mistake of the decade.
~ There were atleast 150 buses, same number of cabs and a huge Christmas holiday seeking crowd all moving helter-skelter looking for reservations.
~ All the hotels were booked and on waiting list.
~ Our cab driver asked us to enquire at hotel he knew and luckily, we got a single 3-double cot room for Rs. 600. In the circumstances we were in, we were more than happy to log in.
~ Accommodation was decent with attached bathroom. Hot water facility from 6 AM to 8 AM. Need to fetch water from a tap next in the corridor space just outside our room.
~ Pooja health seemed to deteriorate over the night.
~ *__ Important __*: Got to know that there is no pharmacy at Horanaadu. Really irritated me. So much people and not a single pharmacy / medical store. General medicines are available in shops close to the temple, but not the antibiotics or other types of medicines. Nearest pharmacy is at 'Kalasa' a bigger town, 11 KMS away. (It’s on the way to Horanaadu).
~ In-laws opted out to stay back with Pooja in the hotel, while Souji, parents and me, had a darshan, and prasad (night dinner) at the temple. Temple was as resplendent as ever.
~ Huge loads of people arriving every hour of the night.

25th Dec, Thursday
~ Pooja's health was really worrying.
~ In-laws did the early morning darshan of Annapurneshwari and once they were back, we did our 2nd round in the morning.
~ Idea was to get closer to civilization as early as possible, keeping into mind Pooja's health condition.
~ FIL administered doses of Homeopathy medicines to take control of the emergency.
~ Later called up family doctor and got some allopathic medicines administered at Kalasa on our way back to Sringeri.
~ By 12 noon, we reached Sringeri and made a quick darshan of the temple. The weather was getting hot and humid.
~ We stopped for lunch at 'Akshaya Mess', a home which serves pure vegetarian lunch just 500 meters from the temple. Same place we had visited 20 years back is now bigger and better. Food was homely, tasty and filling.
~ We left Sringeri by 3 PM and the tired souls opened eyes only when we reached Udupi by 7 PM.
~ Staying at the same rooms of 'Sri. Krishna Dhama' lodge, we quickly freshened up and got a quick darshan of Udupi Krishna.
~ Relaxed the remaining part of the day at the lodge.
~ Pooja's health started to improve. Very rare to see the chatterbox going silent for a whole day.

26th Dec, Friday
~ Pooja was looking better. But we all made a decision of cut down the trip to Karwar and Goa.
~ Instead, we planned to short-circuit the rest of the tour through Kundapur, Anegudde, Maravanthe, Murudeshwar and reach Saagar. (Heggodu, Asha (SIL) place).
~ We packed our luggage and said bye to Udupi by 9 AM and visited Anegudde Ganesha temple, a beautiful Temple on the highway.
~ Next was the wonder spot, "Maravanthe", where the national highway road seperates a river (Netravathi) from the sea for about a kilometer. On one side you have the Arabian Sea and the other side you have the fresh water river. Amazing sight. There will be very few places in the world like this. Must visit spot, right on the highway.
~ We reached Murudeshwara by about noon. The weather was hot and sultry. So wanted to take some rest. Inspite of loaded tummies, we went into the Naveen Beach hotel and had lunch by the Sea. Amazing view of the sea and a must visit hotel. Food is crappy, but the experience of having lunch over the sea was awesome.
~ Compared to my last 2 visits to Murudeshwar, one 10 years back and the other 5 years back, this place has improved for the better. The beach sand was clean with no human or animal landmines. Huge loads of people and children. Water scooters, Speedboats, and colourful fishing boats made a merry sight.
~ Overall, great improvement in cleanliness and tourism development. Highly recommended.
~ The queue at the temple was too long and hence opted to stay back with Souji and Pooja, while parents and in-laws disappeared into the long and winding queues.
~ While Souji and Pooja took shelter from the scorching sun, I pulled out my camera and click-click-click went the snaps.
~ By 4 PM, we were all done visiting the small hillock with the huge Shiva statue just behind the temple.
~ Pooja was getting stable but still had a whole lot of weakness in her.
~ We all got back into our Qualis and headed towards Saagar.
~ By 8 PM, we reached Heggodu's Honnesara, the residence of Asha's Parents. Thanks to Anna for his acute sense of direction and night vision in guiding us through untrodden roads under zero visibility.
~ We anchored at this place for the day and Asha's parents had made all arrangements for a comfortable stay. A good dinner followed. For the first time in 6 days, we came in close contact with a TV. Discussions on Politics, Mumbai Terror Attacks and Cricket Mania took over for the next couple of hours before we all hit bed.

27th Dec, Saturday~ Woke up lazily in the morning and spent a whole lot of time with Anil (Asha's brother) and parents.
~ Our idea of leaving back to Bangalore post lunch session was anulled the instant it was conveyed to Asha's parents and they wanted us to stay atleast till Monday.
~ Completely overwhelmed, we bogged down and Anil made all the plans about how to spend time in Saagar.
~ First Anil, took us all around the Arecanut/Beetlenut farm.
~ Next he took us to the headquarters of 'Charaka', the place where the cotton is weaved into a fabric and then later garments are made and export to Charaka outlets all over the country. This institution makes use of local people, talent and technology to create contemporary Cotton garments, wallets, pillows, dress materials, bedspreads and other accessories. The cost is very reasonable and stylish too.
~ The proprietor, who was Anil's friend, gave us a complete walkthrough right from the dyeing of yarn to the center where garments are exported.
~ Later he showed us the way to the location where we could buy a few of their products from their outlet nearby.
~ And that's exactly when the apocalypse happened. Souji shopped for a whole 2 hours, picking up whatever came into her sight and she had to be literally dragged out, just in time for me to escape bankruptcy.
~ With pockets bearing only vacuum, we visited 'Vardha moola' temple (birth place of river ‘Vardha’) about 10 Kms away. A small village fair was around the temple and made a brief stopover to check anything interesting.
~ We came back to our home away from home and had a sumptuous lunch and a much wanted nap.
~ In the evening, we made a quick trip to Saagar town and then took a stroll to 'Hongirana' a residential school close by where an annual day celebration was going on. Found that event not very interesting and also that it was getting colder and breezy, and opted to return back to home for another session of great dinner.
~ Hit the sack pretty early.

28th Dec, Sunday~ Last day of our tour.
~ Much needed break for Pooja, to get back to normalcy. Pooja was enjoying her stay.
~ We all got up early and had a fantastic breakfast.
~ With goodbyes and handshakes to Asha's parents and Anil, We left Heggodu by 10 AM on our way back to Bangalore.
~ The journey was comfortable and did a stopover at Tiptur for lunch followed by a brief stopover for tender coconuts on the way.
~ Reached Bangalore by 5:30 PM, all in good condition.

Overall, a full week of journey, temples, beaches, fun and wonderful memories, worthy of a vacation. Great company and a trip to remember.

Sincere thanks to Sri. Narasimha Murthy, brother of Gopi (Colleague at my office), who helped us out with accommodations at Subramanya and Udupi. Thanks to Priya (another Colleague at my office) for the accommodation at Goa, which we couldn't make it though. And our wholesale thanks to Kantaraju, our cab driver, who exhibited great and comfortable driving skills, support and adaptability both on and off the road.

Supplimentary Information:

Travel Period:22nd Dec ~ 28th Dec, (7 days - 6 nights)

Total Distance Travelled:
Approximately 1350 KMS.

Travel Route Plan:Bangalore -> Dharmasthala -> Subramanya -> Mangalore -> Udupi -> Horanaadu -> Sringeri -> Udupi -> Kundapur -> Maravanthe -> Murudeshwara -> Saagar -> Bangalore

Travel Route Map:

Travel route map
Mode of travel:Hired Toyota Qualis for the entire trip (Bangalore to Bangalore). -> Rs. 7 per km -> Driver Bata of Rs. 175 per day.

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