Saturday, December 29, 2018

A trip with dad to Medak Fort and Church, Medak

Forts, Hill stations, Forests, Rivers, Beaches, Mountains and heck,even a cyclone (I was too small to remember anything), my dad used to take us to see many a wonder. We took in all the wondrous sights, wide eyed, amazed and craving for more. We are three siblings. A elder bother and a younger sister. Dad took risks but the results were always worth remembering for a lifetime. I can safely say we had an amazing childhood thanks to our dad! 

Before moving abroad for studies I had a chance to go on a trip with dad. We decided to spend a couple of days in our ancestral home in Lingampet and check out the nearby forts and other old relics of the past like step wells and some old British era mines.

At Lingampet, after our plans to visit those mines were unsuccessful we decided to check out the Medak fort instead. So off we went on a dreary morning in our rundown Maruti 800. The maruti was our backup vehicle in Hyderabad and we used it quite often. Without AC, sometimes, when the day is hot our shirts would be drenched with sweat. It did not matter when we were out on an adventure like now. The day was warm with just a little bit of humidity. We started from Lingampet, drove through the village back roads, at one point stopping for 30 mins on the road as a tractor was being loaded with sugarcane crop, and reached Medak by afternoon. We had lunch in one of the many restaurants on the main road just in front of the famous Church.

We then moved on to the Medak Church. After parking our car, as we entered the church complex. I was awestruck by the size and beauty of the building. I stood in the middle of the path leading to the church. It was enclosed by a fence running on both sides with tall trees beyond it, obscuring the rest of the building and leaving only the spire in view, framing it perfectly. The architecture conforms to the Gothic Revival style and it was built by Charles Walker Prosnett around 1924. The front bell tower or the spire is 61 mtrs tall which makes it taller than the Charminar in Hyderabad.

We walked ahead and seeing that we can enter inside we made our way inside. It was magnificent. This was the first time I was inside a church. There were some people praying at the front. We stood in silence behind them and saw the stunning stained glass on three sides of the front part of the church. These depicted different phases of Christ's life. Though I could not understand the significance of the events depicted, the artwork was spellbinding. The glass gleamed in the sunlight and the effect was magical. The total area inside was quite big. It can house 5000 people at a time, I read somewhere. One more interesting fact is that Medak Diocese is the second largest diocese in the world after the Vatican.

From here we made our way outside and strolled around the church. Overall it is quite a beautiful structure. Finishing our walk we went back to our car and started for the Medak Fort. It was after a long time I was going on a trip with dad and I was enjoying it. 

After many wrong turns we found our way to the entrance of the Medak Fort. The Tourism Dept can at least put up some proper pointers to the place as it runs through narrow lanes of a settlement. On driving up a couple of hairpin bends we reached the starting point. Here, there is an old palace, now renovated and open to tourists. Called the Mubarak Mahal, guests can spend a night here. The location is excellent and views on offer are spectacular. There is a small sitting area in front which is bordered by the boundary of the fort. Beyond the boundary, the town of Medak is in view with its white rooftops spreading out over a huge area. Breaking this cover is the Medak Church, jutting out above the cover of trees surrounding it. This little sitting area with its quaint tables and chairs looks like one of the those exotic roadside cafes in Bond movies where shootouts happen.
Here we rested for a while, had some coffee and took in the views. We chatted leisurely, with dad clearly enjoying the atmosphere and the location. It was around 3pm and I wanted to have a quick look at the fort so I reminded dad about the fort about which he had lost track of, so immersed was he in the present. He didn't want to come as he was tired and was not up to the task of climbing the stairs. So I told him to wait there and rest for a while and I left to explore the fort. 

The stone stairs beside the Mubarak Mahal lead to a Massive Gate which is the one of three Gates leading to the centre of the fort. This gate, called the 'Simha dwaram' features two lions on opposite sides of the archway. The fort was built by the Kakatiyas somewhere around the 12th century. Later it passed into the hands of the Musunuri Kings and then eventually to the Qutub Shahi Kings. I passed through the gate, gaining in height and then reached the next gate, the 'Gaja Dwaram', the Elephants gate. It featured two elephants on either side of the door. Crossing this I quickly moved on to the highest point as I had very less time on my hands. I finally reached the top which has a Masjid there. Also there is a police outpost here to, as I later learned, prevent any untoward communal incidents. The Masjid was nothing but a smallish structure with two minarets and three archways. A typical Qutub Shahi structure. Behind it was the roof of a structure which I guess was a prison because it had three chambers with no entry points, only there was a hole at the top.  I strolled around here for some time taking in the views and and some pics as well. The top of the minars were painted a pretty shade of green and it looked beautiful against the spotless blue sky. Since dad was waiting for me I didn't explore much. I quickly retraced my steps and started my downstairs walk. 

I made a couple of detours to see if there are any more things to see and one of them lead me to a Canon, perched atop a watchtower. It was a sight to see. Thrilled, I looked for any inscriptions on them. Sure enough there were a few, all of them I assumed to be in Arabic but which later I learned were in Persian ( Dad told me it was in Persian when I showed him the pics later). Going down, there were many good points which offered good views of the countryside. I stopped at a couple of them but quickly left. 

I joined dad exactly an hour after I had left for the top. So a quick tour of the fort won't take longer than an hour. Again after a short break in the awesome Mubarak Mahal courtyard we left the place around 5 pm. It was beginning to get dark and we didn't want to get stuck in the village roads after dark so we quickly drove and reached home in time for a hot dinner. Quite a memorable trip with my dad! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Weekend with friends in Panchgani, Maharasthra

Times change. Circumstances change. For the last five years I was lucky to have gone on a number of trips with my childhood friends. The time between graduation and marriage is the best time for trips. Young and free, rough travelling is the thing to do and we did many. Over time some friends got married and some went abroad for studies and work. In all probability the rest will get married next year. I too was to leave for Canada for studies. All of this meant the likelihood of trips will drop drastically. With that in mind we planned to have a good trip before we part ways for the time being. So we decided to go on a weekend trip to a Hill station near Pune, as a couple of our friends live in Pune.

Panchgani is a pretty little hill station sitting at an altitude of 1200 MSL. Having a rich history of people of Mumbai and Pune settling here from the times of British, it is an education hub as it features a number of top class boarding schools.

On a bright Saturday afternoon , my friend P revved up his Baleno and off we started for Panchgani. There were 5 of us. First off, Abhishek, who had an epic journey when he missed his train at Hyderabad and took a flight to Mumbai and then a train to Pune. Then Bhanu who came from Bangalore. The two Pune residents were Deepanjan and P. And yours truly.

The drive was event-less and we only stopped when we reached our Hotel in Panchgani. The road was nothing much to write about as it was littered with dhabas, restaurants and hotels. Bhanu rightly commented that it was over commercialized killing the joy of a good ride through the mountains. Our hotel though was a different story. Built in the 1920s, the Mount View Heritage Hotel sits at the edge of a hill offering spectacular views. The hotel itself features victorian architecture and had this warm and cozy atmosphere about it. There was on old Mercedez Benz sitting in a rundown garage nearby and it only added to the charm of the place.

We checked in to the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to see our room. It was much better than what I had in mind. Featuring the classic British dimensions of the time, it featured a high ceiling with support plinths holding up two ceiling fans. The walls were bare with two windows at the front side and two at the rear. A small door led to the room. Four beds were spread over the room with two of them double beds. The room can be booked for 6 persons. A small door at a corner end led to the washroom. All this classic look was a perfect setting for a horror movie.

Well, we got fresh and went outside for a walk in the neighborhood. We had no set agenda and the only thing we wanted to was to have a good time. We strolled around aimlessly. Deepanjan was the  photography enthusiast in the group and he stopped every now and then to take a pic. Sometimes the far off mountain views interested him, other times a butterfly sitting on a flower. With his stopping and starting we moved along with a gentle pace on the road which ran hugging the slope of a hill. The views were spectacular. The air was cold and the overall mood quite pleasant.

We saw a high hill ahead of us where a number of people were headed to and we casually turned our walk in that direction. We sauntered on the winding road leading to the top. The sun was setting down and the blue skies were slowly turning to orange turning the whole area into a delightful mosaic of different shades of colours. It felt wonderful. Friends and a good location. What more can one ask for?

We reached to the top and found out this was called the Sydney Point. It was almost dark now. The views all around were astounding. There was a DJ playing the latest hit numbers of Bollywood which,personally for me, spoiled the overall mood. We sat here taking in the views and the atmosphere. We left the place when it got totally dark. By this time the lights of the town were shining brightly against the darkening sky.

We strolled back to our hotel, meeting a street vendor selling strawberries on the way. Over a pack of strawberries he informed us that the property adjoining our hotel belonged to Amir Khan, the Bollywood actor. Trivia always interests me and this was a good one. For a brief period of time we were the neighbors of Amir Khan.

Later we went to the town for dinner. There was a main street lined with all kinds of shops. There were the usual Kirana, medical and hardware stores. A couple of Bakeries and cafes were what interested me. One, the Roach bakery was the oldest one in town and it displayed this fact in bold letters. It was established in 1902 making it almost 116 years old. Another small cafe with old and withered chairs inside wore an old world look to it. I was tempted to go and have something there but there wasn't enough time so we moved on. Later, back in the hotel room, while flipping through an informational booklet about Panchgani I found that Panchgani is steeped in history. It is actually a treasure trove for trivia hunters. To list off two which intrigued me, One - In 1939 when the Soviets invaded Poland, a lot of Polish people were sent to other countries and some of them made their way to India with an uncertain future. Fortunately for them, Jamsahab of Nawanagar came to their rescue and took them all under his care. Now for the connection, he sent a number of polish students to Panchgani to study. Second- Freddie Mercury, whose actual name was Farrukh Bulsara, studied in one of the schools here.

Coming back, we went to a restaurant and took some chicken dishes back to our hotel. Reaching our room, we settled around the dining table in front of our room and had a hearty meal. Cold weather and hot meals.And friends. Always a super combination.

The next day we woke up leisurely and checked out of the hotel. The day was again pleasant. From Panchgani we drove to Mahabaleswar and did a round of boating in the lake there. From there we moved to the Mapro Farm where we bought some stuff and had some light lunch. From here we started our journey back to Pune. We retraced our way to Panchgani, stopped for a bit on the tableland there and reached pune by night. After a quick dinner in one of the subway outlets we parted ways and returned to our respective places. For the first time I felt a bit of sadness while leaving as I knew I wont be around for the next 1 year and wont be going on any more trips with these guys.

Quick Facts
Altitude 1200 MSL
Distance from Pune - 100kms

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Weekend at Mamanduru Forest Stay.

'The Moonstone' is a 19th Century novel widely considered to be the first detective novel. The protagonist of the book takes a walk whenever he is an agitated state of mind or whenever he needs to 'clear his thoughts'. This was Victorian England and this habit of taking long walks was something I have come across in  a number of 19th Century books and I have read many. In a perfect coincidence I was reading 'The Moonstone' when I was staying in the snug little cottage of Mamanduru, which is an excellent place for taking long peaceful walks.

Situated 15 kms north of Renigunta at the edge of the Sri Venketeswara National Park, Mamanduru is an ocean of quiet and solitude. Even better would be to visit it in off season like how we did. Very less information is available on the net about this underrated gem. The official website of the place called Vanadarshini is a mess. Outdated information coupled with wrong pictures of the place is enough to put off potential visitors. Add to that the cyclical errors in the website do not help at all. It was my persistence that I could manage to land on the page where I could book the hotel rooms.

Like most of my trips my friend Bhanu was joining me on this one too. Armed with nothing but the scarce information available on that pathetic website we reached the village of Mamanduru by taking a rural pallevelugu bus from Renigunta. The bus dropped us off near a gateway which had the words 'Mamanduru Forest Stay' written on it. Trees to the left. Trees to the right. Trees ahead, divided by a muddy road in the middle which vanished ahead as it took a left turn. We could see nothing else which suggested any signs of a forest stay. We decided to follow the path anyway. After a walk of around 1.5 kms we came across a crossroads. As we looked around, we spotted a speck of red in the sea of green to the right. It turned out to be the British cottage of Mamanduru, our destination. This had me all excited. True to what I have read about the British selecting the best locations for their forest cottages, the location here too was excellent. The road ahead of us lead to a small hillock atop which was perched this cottage with a gleaming red tiled roof. It was surrounded by thick cover of trees allowing only a small view of the cottage. The road ran around the hill enveloping it and gradually leading to the top. This was for vehicles. Since we were on foot we simply took a shortcut which climbed up straight ahead. To our left we spotted the cottages for tourist's stay.Climbing up we reached the British built cottage. From near, it looked even more beautiful. A man was standing in the porch who we assumed to be the caretaker.

Our guess was correct and soon all the entry formalities were completed. Meanwhile I sat on the sofa in the porch and looked around. The front of the cottage faced the south direction, with a south westerly path running in a straight line away from it to the village ahead. Beyond the village there is a railway line running from south-east to north-west.  The north, east and south were covered by forest. In this carpet of forest 5 'fire lines' cut across in different directions originating from the cottage. One of the reasons why I desperately wanted to visit this place was because in the 1930s the famous hunter Kenneth Anderson stayed in this very cottage and hunted down a man eating tiger nearby. His photo along with an excerpt from his best selling book 'Maneaters and Jungle killers' was prominently displayed in the porch. Around this cottage stood the whole complex which included around 5 cottages for tourists' stay and a little playground for kids.

Our stay
From here we were taken to our cottage which was called 'Harini'. We didn't know what to expect but the cottage turned out to be surprisingly good. The room was neat and clean. The AC was working. There was hot water in the bathroom. Overall much better than what is advertised in the website. We took some rest here and then decided to go for a walk. We circled around the hillock once taking in our surroundings and choose the northern fire line for a walk. There is a small gate here which leads out to the forest. The words 'Bavi line'were written on top in Telugu. 'Bavi' means well in Telugu.  Seeing this gate and the forest beyond reminded me of a scene from the famous Sherlock Holmes novel 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' where a character waits for another at a wicket gate beyond which lies the superbly described 'moor' and where much of the action takes place.
The Bawi line

We now crossed the gate and made our way into the jungle. To our left and right spread dense trees. A little bit ahead we came across the 'Bavi' . I peered inside the well but there wasn't much to see. Just trash and some water. This was perhaps the source of water in the bygone times. We passed this and continued on the path. This place was perfect for long walks. Bhanu and myself walked at a sedate pace, not in a rush to reach anywhere, just going where the path took us. We talked of office and our future plans. As I am about to soon leave abroad for studies this may perhaps be my last trip with Bhanu for some years. In all probability he will get married by the time I come back so we made the most of the opportunity and talked to our heart's content. Soon we reached a dry river bed. It was littered with pebbles and stones. The trees at the sides bent over the dry bed like water overflowing from a bucket. The stream stretched far away to the left and right but there was not a single drop of water in sight. 

We later learned that in the months of December and January this is a very pretty stream with clear transparent water flowing. With nothing much to do here we continued our walk beyond the stream. Here the jungle got thick and there was no wide trail like before. Now we were in the region where the Man eater I mentioned before had killed its first victim. The thought did not disturb us at all and on we continued. Slowly the trail was disappearing till we decided it was enough and turned back. By the time we retraced our steps and reached near the entry it was beginning to get dark. On the way we met a forest officer who asked us a number of questions initially but calmed down when we said we were staying in the cottages. Back in the complex he joined us in a conversation and some tea. From him we found out that the southern side, beyond the railway line, was closed to the tourists as a group of elephants were roaming there and it was quite a risky business disturbing them. This was disappointing news as the forest beyond the railway line was where the main attractions lie. Also the tiger was killed somewhere there, near the railway line. But there was nothing we could so we decided to take another walk the next day in the south eastern direction.  For now we needed some stuff from the village nearby so off we went to the village.
Nearby was the railway station of Mamanduru. We walked over to the tracks where an engine was idling. I peered inside but there was no one inside the engine. This was strange. Nobody leaves a train engine just like that.  Looking around I saw the loco pilot having a snack with his assistant. I was relieved. Leaving the man with his snacks off we went to one end of the station and sat down on one of the many empty chairs there. The sun was slowly setting turning the blue of the sky into an orange hue. Far away birds were singing. Nearby the engine was idling. The whole picture was one of peace and calm. We sat there in silence enjoying this peace. I have mentioned in one of my previous blog posts about Ib (in orissa), that rural Indian railway stations offers some of the best placed of calm and quiet. 
By the time we started back it was completely dark and we had to turn on our mobile phone torches to find our way back. It was pitch black outside the village and the road leading from the village to the complex is perfect setting for a horror movie. In the pitch darkness we turned off our torches and all we could see was the faint glow of light from the cottage ahead. The whole scene was surreal.
Our cottage in the night

We returned to our cottage and took some well deserved rest. At round 8 pm we had our dinner in the small dining shed. The food was homely and delicious. It consisted of steamed rice and Dal along with a curry of ladies finger. Made as per our orders. After this filling meal we decided there was nothing much to do so off we went our cottage and turned in for the night. 

The next day we woke up at 5am and were ready for our walk at 6 am. Like we planned the previous day we took the south east fire line and a guide accompanied us this time. Of course there is a separate fee for a guide but we took it anyway. There was nothing remarkable about this walk which was similar to the one we took the day before, the only difference being we came across some water this time. In the morning coolness, the small lake, if it can be called that, was refreshing.
The shikari line
We spent close to an hour here before we returned to the complex. Here we had some nice breakfast and then we had nothing much to do but pass the time and check out at 2 pm. But the previous day while going to the village we had passed by a dilapidated cottage on which was written 'Rangers Bungalow'. On peering inside I saw that it housed a library. I asked about this to our caretaker and told him I wanted to visit it. He replied that it was closed and not open to visitors.Not convinced, I called the forest officer we had met the previous day and he said I can visit it if I wanted to. But to my bad luck the key
to the cottage couldn't be found for a long time and even after finally it was found the lock refused to open. It was rusted from the inside. I had waited for 4 hours for this and finally when it did not open I was exasperated but again there was nothing I could do. So we checked out of the complex at around 3 pm and went to the village where we waited for a RTC bus to take us back to Tirupati, from where Bhanu was to take a bus to Bangalore and myself to Nellore. We waited close to an hour for a bus and when it finally arrived it was packed with people and we had to stand near the door the whole time. The trip ended on an irritating note but the stay was wonderful and I would definitely recommend it to people.

Rangers Bungalow

Peering inside a window I saw this

- Mamanduru is 15 kms from Renigunta on the road to Rajampet.
- Here is the website link -
- Charges for guide and food are separate. Rs 300 is the charge for booking a guide. 
- Food is good. Non Veg is available.(Halal meat is not)

More Pics 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A boat ride through the Majestic Papikondalu Hills, Bhadrachalam.

My dad was intent on going. I was less enthusiastic. Dad insisted. I relented. So off we went to Papikondalu Hills one fine day.

I was visiting my hometown during the long weekend offered by the Oct 2 holiday. I had 4 days in hand so dad wanted to make the best use of it and go somewhere. We had many options but he was bent on going to Papikondalu hills. We had been there long back when dad took me and my brother along on an office picnic trip with this colleagues and their families. It was a memorable trip and I was awestruck with the whole experience. Going there again now, I was afraid that those warm and magical memories of the place from my childhood would be erased by the present. But seeing that dad wanted to go I agreed.

Papikondalu Hills are a series of hills running along the River Godavari spread over Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. There are motorized boats running along the length of the river. These start from a place called Kunavaram near Bhadrachalam and end around Rajamundary. There are 1 day boat ride packages available to get a glimpse of the river, the hills and the people living along the river. One can also opt for a journey to Rajamundary from Bhadrachalam or vice versa.
We started early morning in dad's car. The day was wonderful with bright sunshine and a clear blue sky. We reached Bhadrachalam where we bought our tickets(Rs 700 per person) from one of the many agencies running the boats on the river. They are all located near the entrance to the Main temple of Bhadrachalam.

From here we headed to a place called Pochavaram which is near Kunavaram. Pochavaram is the place from where all the boats leave for the trip. There is ample parking space near the entrance for the vehicles of tourists. As we descended the steps to the river, we could see around 15 boats anchored one after the other near the banks. All the agencies club their tickets and boats and fill up the boats on first come first serve basis. According to the line we were allotted a boat. We trudged across the sand towards our boat. The sun was shining a bit more harshly now forming drops of sweat on my forehead. We boarded our boat and choosing a good spot, sat down. I looked around at the other occupants. It was a fair mix of young couples, college students, families and some elderly couples. The boat had a capacity of around 70 people with two 'floors'. One could either sit below in the relative shade and cool or sit above which offered much better views.

One by one the boats ahead of us left and after a frustrating wait of 30 mins our boat too was on its way. The motors whirred and the boat slowly glided over the mud brown water. A voice over the PA announced that the tour had begun and a brief narration of the place started. Whoever was doing the announcements was doing a good job of it as people clearly enjoyed his witty remarks and hilarious one liners in between the more serious talk.

We glided past small hillocks with quaint villages perched on the top, past cows lazily grazing on the grass covered hillocks, and huge cliffs overhanging the muddy turbulent water. Now and then the staff played songs from the latest movies to keep the people entertained.

After an hour the boat meandered towards a grass covered hillock and anchored near the banks. Above was the village of Perantalapalli. There is a famous Ashram here and we had an hour to visit it. Some people opted for the visit while some decided to stay on the boat. My dad did the latter while I disembarked and strolled around on the hillock. The top offered a spectacular view of the river and the surroundings so I sat here under the cool shadow of a tree and took in the surroundings. Had it not been for the hot sun now, it would have been a wonderful place to take a nap. From where I sat the river stretched from my left to my right. Directly ahead the opposite bank was a grassy hillock like the one I sat on but shorter in height. Our boat was anchored directly below me, its green top in stark contrast to the brown of the water. Far away I could spot other boats making their way slowly along the river.

Our one hour was up soon and I made my way back to the boat where I saw my dad looking around with his Binoculars. No matter where he always carries two things with him, his binoculars and a radio.

Our next stop was the Kolleru village where we were to have our lunch. It was very hot now and the thought of having lunch on that hot sand below and hot sun above was not enticing. But we had no option so we made our way to the shabby tent raised on the shores and stood in the line for our turn.We had our lunch standing there in discomfort.

After lunch we resumed our trip. From this point we were to head back to the starting point. Now started the entertainment routine of the staff. First three of them danced, then slowly they picked people from the tourists to come up and dance. They chose people randomly but in pairs like old couples, young couples, college students etc. It was good, the staff put in a lot of effort in that sweltering heat and the people loved it. Personally I would rather look around the natural beauty than watch a dance with the latest movies songs blaring in the background. Another 2 hours and we reached the starting point. It was around 4 pm now and we walked back leisurely to our car. My dad was happy with the trip and so was I.

Lunch on the Kolluru banks

Me and my dad

- Tickets are available at the number of counters near the main temple complex in Bhadrachalam
- There are two options to reach Pochavaram, the starting point. If you have your own vehicle the ticket price is around Rs 700 to 800. If you need transportation till Pochavaram the price is around Rs 900 to Rs 1000.
- You need to be in Pochavaram by 9 30 am. The trip ends around 4 pm in Pochavaram.