Sunday, December 31, 2017

Rail Museum Chennai, India.

A couple of weeks back I visited the Rail Museum in Chennai. There are both in house and outdoor exhibits in the Museum complex. The complex is spread around a small area, around which a toy train runs. I wanted to write a very detailed report of the models and exhibits but for now I will just post the pictures of the exhibits I liked the best.

I enjoyed the walk around the complex. This is a must for every rail enthusiast. 
Major plus point is you can actually climb into some of the engines and bogies displayed here.
To reach there just type 'Integrated Coach Factory' or simply 'Rail Musuem' into Gmaps. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Penchalakona Waterfalls, Andhra Pradesh

Tucked away in the Eastern Ghats,70 km west of Nellore, is the quaint waterfalls of Penchalakona. A nearby temple draws huge crowds and the adventurous among them trickle down to the waterfalls.

As one passes by the temple the huge face of the hill comes into view and one can only gasp at the beauty of the falls. Far into the distance one can see the thin outline of the water as it falls from the top on the hill and disappears into the vegetation surrounding the base.

The path to the waterfalls is through a rocky terrain. It is the downstream path of the water and in some sections one can see the crystal clear waters flowing. The distance from the temple to the falls is around 3kms. I was there with a friend and we had jolly good time as we walked over the rocks and strolled through the cool water. When we reached the base of the falls the sight meeting us was mesmerizing. The falls, though the water was less, looked imposing. There was a neat little pool at the base and there were some people already in the water and we too couldn't wait to get in the water too. So without wasting much time we got into our water wear and got in.

We spent close to an hour frolicking in the water. I had bought my Panasonic action cam and took some really nice videos. By the time we got out of the water the whole area was packed with people. Whole families came and hijacked the place. We left soon. It was a weekend well spent.


Here is a video I made of the trip.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Guide to the Historic town of Pulicat, Tamil Nadu.

Apart from the British, the other Europeans to have had a presence in India were the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Danes. Out of these the Dutch had a major presence in the South of India. At various points of time they held the towns of Cochin, Nagapattinam, Pulicat and Masulipatnam. Out of these the town of Pulicat in present day Tamil Nadu was one of the most significant. The Dutch occupied Pulicat in 1609 after defeating the Portuguese who set up base there in 1502. Till 1690 Pulicat served as the Capital of the Dutch presence in Southern India.Later the British defeated the Dutch and took over Pulicat.

Today only the ruins of the Dutch presence remain in the town. Pulicat is located 60 Km north of Chennai and at the southern tip of Pulicat lake in Tamil Nadu.  

A couple of weekends back I was on an official trip to Chennai when I happened to be in the vicinity and decided to check out Pulicat. I took a Tamil Nadu State transport bus from the town of Ponneri to reach Pulicat. The bus drops you right at the end of the main market street of the town. From here all the landmarks are at a walk-able distance.Though having a vehicle certainly helps. 

The first point of stop was the famed Dutch Cemetery. This is on the left side of the Bharatiyar Street. Very easy to locate. I made my way to the cemetery but was disappointed to find that it was locked. From the outside I could see the graves. There were around 20 graves with 5 of them having big tombs over them. Two of the five had obelisks. These tombs reminded me of the Victorian era tombs I often read in Gothic Horror stories. I had never seen tombs of this style before and I was excited to take a closer look. I went back and asked a couple of persons standing nearby about the it. They said it usually is opened in the evening around 1630 Hrs.This info lifted my spirits as at least I had a chance to take a closer look at the graves. I still had a couple of hours with me so I proceeded ahead to check out a Museum which was showing on Gmaps on my phone. 

This Museum I found out is housed in a couple of shop areas. This was set up by Art and Architecture Research Development and Education Foundation (AARDE). Though small in size it is a must visit for anyone coming to Pulicat. It houses a number of infographics about the early history of Dutch, of Pulicat and has maps of its layout. It also has an excellent summary of the things to see in the town. In addition to the above it has an exhibit of a large pot which was used by the people of Pulicat for water storage. 

On the opposite side of the road is a large swamp. This was the area where the Dutch had built their Fort known as Fort Geldria. It was built in 1613 but was later destroyed by Hyder Ali in the second Anglo Mysore War.  Nothing remains now. I moved on into the village to look at the second cemetery, that of the Portuguese. Using Gmaps for guidance I reached the place after strolling through the narrow streets. When I finally reached I was greeted by a solitary signboard and lots of garbage. The place was overtaken by bushes and rubbish and there was no way for me to look at the graves. 

It was already 1630 Hrs and I hurried back to the Dutch Cemetery. Here I again asked a couple of people standing nearby and one of them said he will go and get the keys. I was delighted now. After a couple of minutes he got the keys and opened the gate and asked me to come inside. I stopped at the gate for a couple of minutes. The gate has an arch on which something is inscribed in a language which I assume is Dutch. On each sides there is a sculpture of a skeleton. The one on the left has a gaping mouth and has on its head what looks like an hour glass maybe signifying the limited time we have on earth. But the more hideous of the two was the one on the right. It has a tilted head and one of its hands is resting on the skull of a smaller skeleton which one can only assume belongs to a child. I have no idea what this means. There was a third skull right in the middle of the arch. The whole picture looked a bit grim.  

I walked inside. There were around 20 graves inside. Most of them were pretty plain like the one pictured here. Rectangular in shape with an engraving on the top. I especially like the badge designs on the top. The ones which really stood out were the five I mentioned before. Out of these two had obelisks and no sculptures on them. Two others had no sculptures. Only one had sculptures of two angels flying. I took a few pics here and strolled around to look at the engravings to find anything interesting. But most of the writing was in Dutch so there was no such luck. I found one in English. It was the tombstone of a certain Henry Fortan, who died in Pulicat in 1864.I assume this man was British.All the while the man patiently waited for me finish my walk. After I was done we walked back together to the gate. I found out that he was the designated caretaker of the Cemetery and it was maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. His name was Mohammed Hussain. He informed me that there was no particular time of opening of the cemetery and if one wishes to go inside one only has to ask him. He can be contacted by asking for him at the dwelling located to the left of the gate. I wanted to thank him by giving him a tip but he refused stubbornly.  

Following the map I found in the museum I decided my next stop would be an Old Dutch Building. This was located on the way to the light house on the left side just before the bridge starts. The old dutch building was nothing much to look at. It was being used as a store house by a hospital nearby. 
Heritage buildings falling prey to Government apathy always brings out the lament that we Indians as a whole simply don't care about our past. 

I walked out the place and continued on to the bridge to take a look at the light house and the beach. This bridge runs over a lagoon formed here.The walk on the bridge presented wonderful views of the sea and the number of fishing boats plying. Pulicat is a fishing town and this is where you can look at the evidence. On the right side of the bridge a huge number of fishing boats were parked. The walk was soothing and relaxing.It was getting dark and the evening breeze from the sea only made the walk more refreshing. I walked to the lighthouse but found out that it was closed for the day for tourists. Its timings were from 1500 Hrs to 1700 Hrs. I next made my way to the beach. There were not  many people were around. A game of cricket was in progress and I stopped for a couple of minutes to look at the action. After enjoying the cool breeze for a while I started my walk back to the town. I returned to the area where the bus had dropped me earlier to catch a bus back to ponneri. Soon a bus arrived and I was on my way back after enjoying a wonderful day at the charming little town of Pulicat. 

A guide map displayed in the AARDE Foundation Museum 

The one on the right side of the red gate is the museum

Things to know
- Lighthouse timings 1500 Hrs to 1700 Hrs
- If the cemetery is locked just ask for Mohammed Hussain at the dwelling just to the left of the gate. 
- Nothing much to eat in Pulicat. Better to bring in your own food. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Pulicat Bird Sanctuary, Near Sullurupeta.Andhra Pradesh.

Last week my father was in town for a couple of days. We decided to check out the nearby Pulicat Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary starts from a place called Sullurpeta and is a pleasant 2 hour drive from Nellore. We booked an Ola Outstation from Nellore. On the way we spent time alternating between talking and napping.As it was November it was a cool,pleasant day. Quite different from the usual hot days that Nellore experiences for the majority of the year.

Pulicat lake is a brackish water lake that is spread over a huge area in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The sanctuary is situated in the Andhra area near the town of Sullurupeta, which lies on the Nellore Chennai Highway.The lake starts just outside the town. I was following Gmaps for assistance and I could see there was an island in the lake which was showing as the sanctuary. We decided to halt there. As we were going we could spot a huge flock of birds. There were maybe thousands of them and they were very near to the road. But we thought this was just the beginning and maybe there were still more birds to come ahead. At that time we did not realize how wrong we were. We moved on ahead to the island and stopped near a building complex. I went inside and inquired about the sanctuary.There was a caretaker there and he said there is a small Museum there but it was closed as it was a sunday. We spent some time there and had some snacks.

Meanwhile our driver did some asking around of his own and told there was a Dargah nearby. I looked it up on Gmaps and this Dargah was in the middle of the lake on another island nearby. So I thought why not give it a shot. I wasn't really interested in the Dargah.I just wanted to check out the location. This route starts just beside the complex cutting perpendicular to the Main road. The road was bad and the location of the Dargah even worse. It was a waste of 2 hours of our time. By the time we returned to the complex area it was beginning to get dark. So we went over to the area where we saw the birds earlier in the day and thankfully the birds were still there but they were a bit afar. Nevertheless we stopped and walked over to the edge of the lake and observed the birds.My dad had bought with him his much loved Russian binoculars. We spent an hour there looking at the birds with the binoculars. It was as if I was watching a documentary on the National Geographic or Discovery Channel.

Soon the orange skies slowly turned dark and it was time to go. We left the way we came. It was a good day I spent with my dad, the one who imbibed in me the love of travelling.

Note- The main stretch where you can spot the birds during the season is the road which runs from Sullurpeta to the main gate of ISRO. No turns anywhere. Just the main straight road.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Belum Caves, Andhra Pradesh.

Last week I visited the Belum Caves near the town of Tadipatri. From my place it is around 250 kms. I took an overnight bus from Nellore to Tadipatri.

Tadipatri is a small rundown town. It has nothing much to offer. Fortunately for me one of my college friends was from this place and he had recommended an hotel for me. I headed straight for this hotel as soon as I reached Tadipatri. It was good enough for the time being.

After a rejuvenating bath and a nice breakfast I made my way to the Bus stand to catch a RTC bus to Belum Caves. After a journey of around 40 mins, I found myself at the entrance to the Belum caves.
Opposite to the entrance there are a couple of eateries. Apart from them the whole area is quite remote and barren. I went inside the premises.Its a long walk to the actual cave entrance. On the right I could see a number of cars parked. There was public after all.

I went over to the counter bought the ticket and went over to the opening in the ground which was the entrance. I descended into the opening through a flight of stairs. To the left the caves started but before is was a spectacular opening in the roof. Sunlight was streaming in and lighting up the whole place. A couple of benches were provided here for the visitors. From here I moved on to the actual cave complex. A narrow entrance led to a broad opening which eventually expanded to a huge opening. There was no sunlight now and everything was lit by the bright orange colored lamps.

These caves are around 1.5km long are the largest cave system open to public in India. These were extensively explored and studied by a German team in 1982. The size of the passages inside range from huge to narrow to the point where you have to crawl on all fours.

The day I visited there were a lot of people inside which was leading traffic jams. I stopped at junction where I had to wait for almost fifteen minutes while the people in the opposite direction moved along.It turned quite suffocating with the damp earth and the number of people there. There are two exhaust fans pumping

There were a few highlights on the system the best of which was the Kotilingalu area. Millions of stalactites glistened from the roof there. Though not very sharp or pointed they looked almost magical in the light. After strolling for almost an hour and a half I finished my walk and went outside by retracing my steps. The fresh air outside felt very refreshing.I walked back to the main road and waited for a bus. Eventually one arrived and I was on my way back to Tadipatri at around 1 in the afternoon.

After a good nap in my hotel room, I left for Nellore by an overnight bus in the evening.

Friday, October 20, 2017

District Science Museum, Chemudugunta (Near Nellore)

A few weeks ago I set out to search and visit a museum whose existence I got to know from my colleagues at work. There wasn't much information available on the internet about it. So I had to go out with only two pieces of info. First that it lies on the Nellore Chennai highway and second that it lies not more that 15 km away from Nellore.

I  was on my way with this info and after crossing 10 kms I started looking around for any signs of a museum. But even after going past the 15 km mark I did not find any.At this point I saw a dhaba ahead.I stopped to have breakfast. I asked the waiter there about a museum nearby and he had no idea about it. A passerby heard our conversation and told he read about a museum in a local newspaper some days back and guided me the location. It was 5 km away on the same route I had come.I was a bit doubtful about the man's info but nevertheless I proceeded. At the village he mentioned I asked around and to my embarrassment I found that it was right on the main road with the gate clearly mentioning 'District Science Museum'on the top. 

I went inside the premises. A small three-storey building greeted me. There was a park in front of it containing many science models. I could identify the Pythagoras pump immediately. As I was parking my bike there, I saw a man walking over to me. I asked if the museum was open to which he replied it was and told me to first look around the park at the various models there ,which I did.

There wasn't much to look and the heat was getting me so after quickly taking a look I went inside. The man identified himself as Mr Siva Kumar, the Physical Education Teacher of the Govt School which was the initiator/caretaker of this museum.  He quickly showed me around each and every exhibit there. We went around all the exhibits on the all the floors. And were finished within an hour. The exhibits were good enough. But this was not in the strictest terms a museum. It was more of an Activity Center. Very good for the kids. A mildly exciting stroll for the adults.

Mr Siva kumar showing me one of the exhibits
Location- Beside Nissan showroom on the Nellore Chennai Highway.Just enter Çhemudugunta Science Museum' in Google Maps.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hampi,Karnataka. Day 2.

A warm sunny day greeted me as I flipped open the windows of my room.This brightened up my spirits.We still had a lot of places to visit, but like the previous day we decided to do it at our own leisure. We weren't looking to tick off places, we just wanted to have fun. After a quick breakfast we started our round.

Our first stop was the Achutarayah Temple.This is, in my opinion, the best temple among the Hampi ruins. It was largely empty when we went and the lonely atmosphere only added to the beauty. The main temple is in the middle of rectangular boundary of structures. The entrance reminded me of the Angkor Vat temple in Cambodia.(I have never been there.I am just talking about the pictures I have seen of Angkor Vat). After spending ample time here reveling in the solitude it offered we made our way to the Courtesan's street in the opposite direction.This was the fabled street where diamonds were sold on the street. Only patches of green and empty pavilions greeted us today. 

Next we passed by what must have been a tank. This place looked magnificent with the Matunga hill overlooking the landscape. From here we moved on in the general direction of the Vittala Hill. As with the dominant feature of the Hampi landscape, there were rocks everywhere. To the left crumbled rocks.To the right giant pieces of rocks. Rocks everywhere.

As we were walking we passed by the Two storied Gateway. It didn't look that exciting so we decided to skip it and continue heading towards Vittala Temple. But Bhanu insisted that we just have a quick look. So we proceeded towards it and I am mighty glad that we did. This place offers excellent views of the surroundings.We spent around 45 minutes here. We liked it so much. There was absolutely no one here apart from us and it was serene and peaceful.

We moved on from here and reached the King's Balance. It is said that the king was weighed on a scale here and equivalent amounts of gold and other stuff used to be handed over to the poor.

Next stop was Vittala Temple, perhaps the most popular of all the sites in Hampi. There was a group of people right outside the entrance waiting for a bus. Men, women, young and old. Everyone was here. We were wondering the whole day where the crowd was and here was everyone. We entered the complex and it was swarmed with people. We strolled around and noticed the famous Chariot in the middle. We took a closer look and it reminded me of the Chariot at Konark Temple in Orissa. Of course this was smaller in size but there were similarities in the structure. We waited for a while to get our chance to click some pics and after we got some we moved on to the Vittala Temple.

In the Vittala Temple the most striking part is the below ground passage that runs around the base of the temple. One can take a walk here. The light was streaming in from the sides of the temple walls and the sight was unearthly. We decided to end our stroll here and head over to the other side after crossing the small river. But as we were walking towards the village it started raining. We had our rain gear with us but we decided to wait it out. We ran towards a small shack sitting at the side of the river, selling some light snacks and tea. There was already a couple sitting there having tea. We took shelter under the thatched roof and ordered tea and snacks. As the warmth of the tea spread over inside I looked around. Far away on the river I saw a small coracle carrying a group of tourists. The rain was falling heavily now and the man rowing the coracle was making a commendable effort to take it to the bank nearest to him. I sipped at my coffee and looked at this race with trepidation. Thankfully the man guided the boat towards safety and the people quickly disembarked. The feeling of relief was visible in their body language.

The rain was not showing any indications of stopping so we decided to wear our rain gear and get going. Which is what we did. We went back to the Hampi village and asked around as to how to cross over to the other side. We were directed to a ghat from where boats leave every 30 mins for the other side. We took our cycles with us and booked a seat in one of the boats which was leaving.
It is a short ride. Within minutes we reached the other bank. It is a steep climb uphill here and we were assisted by two kids in carrying our cycles to the top. They wanted to ride the shiny cycles and we obliged. When we reached the top they were waiting. A tip and a thank you later they ran into the narrow streets.

I had hoped that this part of the town would be free of the commercial feel of the Hampi village. Oh boy was I wrong. This part was even worse. The whole left side of the street was lined with one resort after another.On the opposite side were fields of paddy. They did look beautiful in their yellowish glow but the whole touristy feel to the place ruined it for me. Though a bit disappointed we cycled on. After a couple of Kms we reached another river crossing. Here we saw an ancient structure which initially I thought to be a bridge but in fact was an aqueduct. We cycled to the main road here and it felt good to ride on the good solid tar road after riding on mud roads for the last two days. We went in the right direction(from the mud road joining the main road). We went a long way thoroughly enjoying the sights. It was a beautiful countryside studded with green fields nearby and rock hewn hill sides far way. We had made our plans about when to turn back but an unexpected incident changed it.

Bhanu was cycling much further ahead of me and I wanted to take a video of him from behind. Now I did not want bhanu to turn around anytime when I was taking the video so to tell him to not to turn around I shouted out his name. Now generally Bhanu doesn't do stupid stuff but at that time I don't know what got into him. He did two things he should not have done simultaneously though either of the action independently wouldn't have been much of a problem. He abruptly looked back and at the same time he tilted the handle of this cycle to take a sharp turn. This had the result of him being flung in the air and fall on the hard road. I was looking at the whole scene speechless. By the time I had reached him, Bhanu was on his feet trying to lift the cycle. I quickly took the cycle from him and parked it on the side. He was now checking the extent of his injuries. He had scratches on both elbows, his palms and on feet. The sight of blood was making him giddy so he lied down on the soft grass beside the road. Luckily for us I had a first aid kid with me. I quickly applied bandages and gauze wherever required but I knew we had to buy some more band aids soon. This would do for the time being. So we headed the way we came back and bought some band aids in a shop nearby.

After changing all the bandages we made our way back towards the river bank. We quickly boarded the 1700 Hrs ferry and went back to our hotel room.The ferry service stops at 1730 Hrs. Bhanu took a quick nap to calm himself. Later we packed and left Hampi by 1900Hrs. It was a memorable stay here and the fact is true that it is absolutely not possible to cover Hampi in 2 or 3 days.