Saturday, October 13, 2018

Trek to Udayagiri Fort, Nellore Dist. Andhra Pradesh

What is the connection between the once magnificent city Hampi in Karnataka and a remote fort called Udayagiri in Andhra Pradesh?

Udayagiri was the scene of a number of violent battles between the Mighty Vijayanagar Kings of Hampi and the equally strong Gajapati Kings of Orissa. Finally King Krishnadevaraya, the most able of the Vijayanagara Kings managed to defeat the Gajapatis and drive out them out from Udayagiri. To mark this victory Krishnadevaraya took a sculpture of Lord Krishna from Udayagiri and took it with him back to Hampi and had it installed in a new temple he had constructed. Presently this sculpture lies in the Chennai Museum in Tamil Nadu.

Udayagiri lies just 100 km from Nellore so a couple of weekends back I decided to check it out. The Fort lies at the top of a hill so I heard its quite a climb to the top. This made me doubly excited. Hills plus a fort. Its a combo on offer and I couldn't resist.
Our target was reaching that speck at the top 
My colleague from work, Dwarka joined me on this trek. We reached Udaygiri by 8am and after a good breakfast started looking for an auto to take us to the starting point of the trek.

After much searching and some dead ends we finally reached the starting point of the trek. There were stone steps rising away, which disappeared into the thick forest after some distance. These were engulfed by shrubs and trees all around. I stopped here and noted the altitude. It was 300 MSL. Time 1100 Hrs. We started the climb aiming to go as high as possible. We had been warned that going in twos was quite risky as there was the danger of wild animals attacking. The villagers had told us that a group of 4 or more is the safest. Keeping this in mind we decided that we will stop whenever we feel its not safe to proceed further.

The day was cool and the sky was covered by a carpet of clouds torn here and there revealing the clear blue of the sky. The sun was peeking between the clouds now and then. Overall it was an excellent day for a hike.  So on we went on the stone steps. As we gained some height on the towering cliffs of the hills came into proper view. We were surrounded by the hills on three sides leaving one side offering views of the surrounding plains.The sides of the hills were red in colour, characteristic of the soil in these areas. After about 20 minutes we met another group of hikers resting under a tree. They were a bunch of middle aged guys who looked as if they lost steam and had settled down to have a rest. They inquired about our target and we said we were aiming for the top even though we know it was quite late to do that. Inspired by our intent they decided to join us. They offered us some snacks to eat which proved heaven sent to me later in the day.

So with the middle aged guys joining in were now a team of seven. The trees around us kept getting dense and the top of the hill still looked far away.The stone steps ended near a small water stream. It cannot be called a water stream exactly as it was just a sheet of water flowing over a huge overhanging rock and narrowing down to a trickle of water. The middle aged guys were saying that during the rainy season there is much more water. A couple of them had done this climb before hence the information. Here we rested for a while before moving on. We still had a lot of climbing to do so there wasn't much time to indulge in long rests. The next stop came at a spot where there was a long fortification running along the side of the hill. There was a gateway through which we entered and found ourselves surrounded by the stone walls on two sides, one wall running along the right and one in the front like two adjacent sides of a square. Here the views of the surrounding plains were stunning. As we stood at the corner of the square I mentioned before, in front us, to the right, was the side of a hill on which stood a lone watchtower jutting out from the undergrowth. On the opposite side, to the left was the gentle slope of another hill making a rough V in the middle offering views of the plains ahead. The sky and the land merged into each other far away. 

From here we resumed our climb in earnest,our spirits boosted by the wonderful views. We passed by a number of ruins of other structures scattered here and there. The sky was getting a shade darker and now and then a gust of wind was blowing. Seeing this the middle aged guys were getting a bit agitated. The top was still out of sight and they worried that if they push for the top they wont be able to return to the bottom before dusk. So they had a discussion and decided to call off and head back. Dwarka and myself decided to push on regardless. Luckily for us just as were there standing there another group of three appeared and after a brief talk with them we joined them. Finally after going through another stretch of thick forest, the object of our trek came into view far away. As we emerged from the forest cover into an open land,in front us, there lay a structure exuding a mystical and dark appearance. It was a greyish decaying building rising above the growth surrounding it. At the two front corners stood the sturdy bases of towers. It looked like an English castle and reminded me of the Tintin Comics I used to read when I was a kid. Climbing over the rocks which littered its approach we finally reached it. The time was 1330Hrs. Altitude 856 MSL.

This stucture was a mosque. It stood at the edge of the hill with its front facing the edge. It was a small mosque with one arch in the middle clubbed in between the two towers, the tops of which were destroyed and only the bases remained. The location was breathtaking. We stood here, near the crumbling mosque at the edge of the hill at 856 MSL and took in the views. Directly below us lay the town of Udayagiri. Above, the clouds shone bright white against the clear blue sky. A hazy air hung around the horizon merging the sky and the land indistinctly. Here and there a low hill rose above the haze and revealed itself. The whole land was spread with square cuts of agricultural fields. In all, the view was magnificent. The mosque had a spiral staircase going around one of its towers which I attempted to climb but the dilapidated nature of it made it risky and I stopped midway. After taking some videos from here I climbed down.

We still had the 2 hour climb down and there were chances of us getting lost so without much delay we started our return. It was imperative that we reach the base before it got dark. So we retraced our steps to the best of our abilities as the path had no markers to guide us. By 1530 Hrs we reached the base without any incident and we were relieved. Just as we were going back we spotted the middle aged guys having lunch. They invited us to join and we accepted the offer gratefully. To our tired and hungry bodies this was heaven sent. The lunch comprised rice and dal with mutton fry. It was lip smacking. And a perfect finish to our grueling trek of 6 hrs. 
The Chota Masjid as its called
View from the steps of the Masjid



Here's a short video I made of the trek. Enjoy! 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Chennai Port Heritage Walk

Heritage walks always interest me. So when I saw a post on a Fb page announcing a heritage walk in the Chennai Port, my eyes lit up with excitement. Its not everday that you can gain entry to the port. This was a good chance to do so and I made up my mind not to miss it.

On the appointed day I trudged up the starting point near the Reserve Bank of India Building(Near Fort St George). As always I was very early to the place. Dawn was just beginning to break and the streetlights of the desolate roads glowed yellowish against the blue of the morning sky. I passed the time aimlessly walking around. Slowly people started gathering at the point and I joined them. By the scheduled time of start a sizable group was gathered but our host from the Chennai Sailing club was nowhere to be seen. He arrived a full hour later apologizing profusely as he got stuck in some blockades due to a marathon that was scheduled that day. Later I found out a lot of the people who joined later were stuck in the same jam.


Our star guide for the walk was Mr K R A Narsiah, a historian and a Marine Engineer. The walk started off with a long and detailed summary of the history of the area. Later we moved on the Chennai Port Trust Building.Here there was a small talk about the foundation stones laid out. Next, inside the building was a bust of the famous Mathematician Ramanujan. I was perplexed. What is Ramanujan doing in Chennai port, I thought. Narsiah sir cleared things up. Ramanujan, I was fascinated to find out once worked in Chennai Port Trust as 'Class III, Grade IV accounting clerk, making 30 rupees per month'. A short talk about Ramanujan later we moved further ahead to finally do the thing I was eagerly waiting all this time. Enter the Port.

But before that, a Fun Fact - What's the connection between Yale University and Chennai ?
Answer - The first British Fortress in India was founded in Chennai(then Madras) in 1644. Its first president was a person called Elihu Yale. This guy Yale amassed a fortune while here in India and later donated a huge amount for the setting up of a college in Connecticut,US. Initially called The Collegiate School, it later changed its name to Yale.

Outside a bus was waiting for us to take us inside the port. After a short ride of 5 mins and a thorough check by the security at the gate we were dropped off at the Passenger Terminal Area. We got down from the bus and looked around. One one side was the Jawahar Dock and on the other side was the Passenger terminal shed. A ship, MV Akbar was docked. It was the first time I was looking at a passenger vessel from such close range. I could practically touch it. Though it was towering over us it didn't make for a pretty sight.Because it was rusting everywhere. At first I felt like does this thing even move. Later I found out it does. Its a famous ship actually. Serves the Chennai - Port Blair Route. 
MV Akbar in all its rusty glory


After a short talk here by Narsiah Sir, we left the rusty ship and moved on to our next stop, the Royal Madras Yacht Club,the guys who were hosting this walk for us. On the way we stopped near a submarine. I was surprised to see a submarine just floating there in the water. Again Narsiah Sir came to our rescue. He explained that this particular submarine was bought here for the sole purpose of making it into a Museum along the lines of the Submarine Museum in Vishakapatnam. But due to some space constraints and other reasons the plan was held up and the Submarine called INS Vagli lies there just rotting away. The Hindu dated July 23 2017 states ''INS Vagli was commissioned into the Indian Navy at Riga in Latvia, which was part of the erstwhile Soviet Russia in 1974, and was decommissioned at Visakhapatnam in December 2010''.


INS Vagli

Next and last stop was the club itself. Here again there were some small talks by the club members and a Coastal Security Chief. After breakfast here, we were offered 45 minutes of sailing activity which I enjoyed immensely.



All of this nicely was organised by the Royal Madras Yacht Club. 
Shout out to you guys!!

Bonus- A video

For further reading
About our esteemed guide - https://www.thehindu.com/books/a-seafarers-story/article3527800.ece
About INS Vagli - https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/decommissioned-submarine-languishes-in-chennai/article19337125.ece

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.

Mahabalipuram is a small town situated on the southeastern coast of India, 6okm south of Chennai.It used to be a busy port around 1000 AD. These days it is famous for the World Heritage Site of a group of Temples built by the pallavas in the 7th century.


It was dawn as Kishore sir, my colleague at office and myself arrived in Mahabalipuram. The sky was a mosaic of different shades of blue mixed with red. As we walked the long stretch from where our bus dropped us to the main town the colour of the sky changed from the reddish blue to a clear blue. We searched for a good hotel and finally after a 1 hour search we found one. After taking some rest we made off for the World famous Shore Temple.

The snow white clouds were spread over the blue sky like the wild growth of moss on a moist concrete slab. The sun was shining gently, peeking over the clouds now and then. We entered the fenced and ticketed complex of the famous Mahabalipuram. The neat paved road ran along the boundary at the left while at the right a green and well maintained lawn glowed in the sun. Beyond that a section of sea could be seen.

Right ahead of us we could see the outline of the famous shore temple against the bright blue sky. Built around 700 AD this temple is almost 1300 years old. It was built during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava Dynasty. The actual temple complex is rectangular with the main temple in at one end. We sauntered around the structure marveling at its beauty. The passage of time had done its work blunting the features of the sculptures on it.

The lawn around it was enticing us to come and sit and we promptly did so. After spending some time we left and headed over to the Lighthouse nearby. We first made our way to the maritime/lighthouse museum. This was the second lighthouse I was visiting after the one in Allepey. Interesting objects on display here were a 5000W Bulb, a lamp changer, a Morse code repeater and a number of models of ancient boats. There was also a huge buoy.



Next we moved onto the hill nearby. There is an ancient structure on top of the hill which was used as a lighthouse in ancient times. We climbed up and marveled at the spectacular views it offered. Far ahead we could spot the Nuclear Plant of Kalpakkam. The place was milling with people. Seeing the crowds we dropped the idea of climbing up the lighthouse.


We left the place and went on a stroll to the other attractions.


The short trip ended with a sumptuous Crab Masala in dinner.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Return to Pondicherry!

A couple of years back I had the time of my life in Pondicherry doing scuba diving with my friends Abhishek and Bhanu. We returned again this year with one more friend swatchit joining the party. This time there were no plans for scuba diving just chilling out.

The others had arrived a day earlier and were fast asleep as I arrived early morning. Abhishek was the only one who was awake and he guided me to the hotel. As soon as I entered the room I gave a mighty kick to swat who was sleeping on the floor.This woke him up instantly. That's how you greet friends when you are meeting after a year esp when they are coming from abroad. After a lot of trading insults and swear words we were done with the pleasantries.

Next we decided to go to the beach and have a look at the sunrise. But to our disappointment the sun skipped the rising part and suddenly revealed itself in between the clouds. Dejected we just started to stroll aimlessly. After a short walk it began to rain. We ran from one building to another dodging the raindrops and finally reached our hotel. After a refreshing bath and a light breakfast we went off in search of a fish market. Yeah, a fish market. Because swat wanted to see one. I don't know what got into him but he was whining like a kid when we did not want to go. So to placate the kid in him we started off on our rented scootys. We zipped past narrow lanes, through some truly off the beaten paths to finally reach what we thought to be a fish market but which turned out to be a jetty. It was packed with small fishing boats all round. Though the sight was beautiful the whole place reeked of fish. We strolled around here for some time and left to continue our search for the damned fish market.

At around 11 am we realized we had to check out of our hotel and check in a different hotel.This was because of the unavailability of rooms. The afternoon was taken by this activity. By 2 pm we were well settled in our new hotel which was quite comfortable. We had our lunch in the hotel itself and soon departed for a swim in a nearby beach. We spent the next 3 hours here swimming and just lazing around. It was fun. Later we went back to our hotel and the evening was spent in just lying in the bed and just chilling. We ordered some pizzas and cold drinks and did nothing else other than talk and joke. When good friends gather time flies past. We drifted off to sleep around 1 am late into the night.


The next day morning it was abhishek who woke us all up insisting we go to Auroville. I was against the idea as I thought there was not much to see and do there. Bhanu was of the same opinion. But abhishek won the day and we went off to see Auroville. After an hour's ride and lots of walking we finally had a glimpse of Auroville. Though it was magnificent, like I said before there was not much to do for a bunch of guys not much interested in spirituality. We left the place with abhishek avoiding our angry gazes all the way back to the hotel. Mid way we had one of the most memorable lunches ever in my life in a hotel called Junior Kupanna. Memorable not only because of the delicious food but mostly because of the company I had. I remarked that this may be the last time we all meet as bachelors as it is highly likely that abhishek and bhanu will get married soon.


As I had a bus to catch in the night we just went to the beach and spent the evening strolling and just aimlessly strolling around. We ended the trip like we started it. Without a care in the world! 



Here is a video of the whole trip.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Kerala Trip. Day 2. Kochi

It was the sound of somebody knocking on the door that woke me up. Bright sunshine was streaming in from the window. I got up lazily and opened the door. It was the hotel service guy asking if we wanted our breakfast. After he left I woke up bhanu and we got ready for the day ahead. Our plan for the day was to have breakfast in Allepey in our hotel and immediately depart for Kochi and to check-in in a hotel by afternoon.

We took the state RTC bus from the bus stand. An hour later we entered Kochi. As I sat looking at the city passing by I saw a huge Church which was followed by a huge Temple and then a little later a huge Mosque.Unity of religions is very strong in Kerala. A little bit later I saw the Lulu Mall, said to be the largest mall in India.Soon we reached the Main bus stand. Guided by the zomato app, from here we walked around to a nearby restaurant called the Taimur Kachi Biriyani. The outer glass panels had this huge portrait of the king Taimur. I wondered about this strange choice. We marched in and found ourselves in a small swanky looking space. It was deserted with no customers as it was still quite early for lunch. We sat down and nonetheless and asked for the Kachi Biriyani with a couple of side dishes. It was delicious. 

After a hearty meal we immediately left for our hotel. Bhanu had booked this hotel online and we were a bit apprehensive about it. Our apprehensions turned out to be true. It was the creepiest hotel I ever stayed in. It was huge with total 5 floors and each floor having around 10 rooms. For the total duration of our stay I did not see any other guest except us. None whatsoever. Everything was neat and in order but simply no people. The coffee shop on the ground floor was deserted. The restaurant empty. It felt as if we were the only people in the hotel except the guy in the reception and a cleaning lady. The only sign of other life was when we were coming back to our floor after having dinner outside. I could hear the sound of laughter coming from somewhere in the hotel.We were not able to pinpoint the location.I could think of multiple horror movies which this hotel resembled. 'The Shining' was the best fit. Then there was 'The Haunting'. A perfect match. Just this thought sent a chill down my spine. I remarked to Bhanu that had I been alone at that time I would have checked out right then and there.

We took a short nap there in the afternoon and by 4 pm we went to the Fort Kochi area for a stroll. As our auto crossed the Willingdon island, I spotted a huge ship anchored nearby. I was thrilled ! I just loved this whole coastal city look! 


Near Fort Kochi Area the first thing we did was to go to the Maritime Musuem. It was mighty interesting with all the guns and missiles on display. I will write a separate post about it soon.Next,  we started off on a casual stroll along the Fort Kochi beach. The place was packed with crowds. To our right along the beach was spread a number of shacks and shops selling souvenirs and eatables. To our left was the sea. At some distance we saw the famous Chinese fishing nets. We went there and tried to understand the workings of the net.
There was a demonstration being given by a local to a couple of foreigners and we watched from our spot. As we were watching, a commotion just ahead of us attracted our attention. A small crowd had gathered and something was going on inside. We hurried to the group and I fought my way into the Centre. There was an auction going on. A man was pulling out huge fishes from a boat nearby, freshly caught and auctioning it off to the highest bidder. A metre long fish with a sharp pointy nose was the one which attracted the most curiosity and I which I assumed sold for the most.It had intense bidding. Nearby in a stall I spotted different types of sea creatures. There were many types of fishes, prawns, squids and even an octopus in a tub. This was certainly the highlight of our walk in Fort Kochi. The sun was slowly descending into the horizon and we started our way back. The fishing nets looked spectacular in the setting sun. A huge ship passed by creating waves in the sea. I squinted my eyes trying to figure out the name of the ship. Later when I googled it I got to know that it was heading towards Lakshadweep. Now I was standing in the mainland looking over to the ship.Someday I hope I stand on the deck of the same ship and look towards to the Kochi Beach. 

It was soon dusk and we took an auto back to the hotel. We had dinner in a local restaurant and soon checked out from that creepy hotel. I was spending the last day of the 3 day weekend in Bangalore so soon we left at 9pm in a private travels bus.

My first trip to Kerala was done and I had a wonderful time.




 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Kerala Trip. Day 1. Allepey

I arrived at the Kochi International Airport all tired and weary after a nights journey to Chennai and then to Kochi. It was a bright morning with the sun shining warmly as I walked out of the airport.After much asking around I caught a bus leaving for the city.It was the most convenient and cheapest way for me. Bhanu was joining me for this weekend trip and was waiting for me at the city bus stand from where we planned to take the state transport bus to Allepey.

We reached Allepey around 12 noon. The warm sunlight of the morning turned harsh now and by the time we walked to our hotel by the beach side we were soaked wet with sweat. After the formalities of checking in, we were greeted with the most awesome view of the beach from our room balcony. We just stood there for some time taking in the sight.

Later after a refreshing bath we went out to take a stroll around the canal ridden town. The sun was still strong over head and we started perspiring again. Presently we came across a juice vendor and we bought a bottle of mazaa. There we met a man in crisp shirt pant who asked us if we had done boating yet. Maybe he overheard us talking in Hindi and correctly assumed us to be tourists. We had a discussion with him and decided to hire a boat from him. We booked it for 2 hours and it cost us Rs 1200.

His boat was parked in the canal running right across the road. A 'driver' was waiting for us and after checking his credentials (just to be safe) we started off on our leisurely crawl along the canal.It was mesmerizing. At first we were in a crowded part of the canal. Our boat made its way past other boats parked along both sides of the canal and under a bridge. We passed by passenger boats run by the Government, then we spotted a couple of hospital boats that looked like they were abandoned long ago. Slowly we came out in the open into the huge Great Backwaters. The boat crawled along the smooth water in a relaxed manner. We were seated comfortably on a sofa and the calmness around me was lulling me to sleep.I even fell asleep sometime later only to be woken up by the horn of another boat passing us.There was only one stop at a small hotel where we had a nice strong cup of coffee. Our boat trip winded up 2 hours later and the boatman dropped us near the bus stand.

After this relaxing boat ride we took an auto to the lighthouse. This was quite an old lighthouse. To our surprise there was a small museum attached there. At the top a few people were already there enjoying the evening breeze. We sat here for some time taking in the views. Later we checked out the museum. It is spread out in a small space, the size of a small room and contains equipment used in the old lighthouse. There was a long telescope which is the only thing I found of interest. From there we went to the beach nearby. There was a huge crowd here. We started walking on the beach in the direction of our beach hotel. As soon as we were just in front of our room we sat on the sand and waited for the sunset. Soon the sky turned orange and the sun set, slowly departing into the depths of the sea. This was a completion of a minor milestone for me. For many years I had seen the sunrise on the eastern beaches of Puri, Digha, Vizag, Machilipatnam and Mypadu. Now I had seen a sunset from the western beach. The loop was closed now.

From there we went back to our room.Got some rest and started planning for dinner. On checking the net we found that Halais restaurant was the best one to check out the local non veg fare. So off we went to Halais. We ordered some four different types of items including chicken,mutton,fish and prawns. Back in the hotel ,we settled down in the balcony and had a hearty meal. The food was delicious. All this food soon made us sleepy and we decided to call it a day and slept by 11pm.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Krishnapatnam Beach, Andhra Pradesh

Krishnapatnam is a small village 25kms south east of Nellore. It lends its name to the huge port nearby. Of the three beaches near Nellore, the one in Krishnapatnam is the best. It is situated on a curve along the coast till it reaches the port embankments. The actual beach area is still some distance away from the port but huge ships can be seen from here entering the embankments.

A couple of weeks back myself along with a couple colleagues from work visited the beach. It was a saturday and we reached around 4pm. There was a small crowd there. Enough to feel secure and also have some privacy. Much better than the crowds at Mypadu Beach, the most popular beach near Nellore. We walked ahead away from the crowd and selected a nice, quite deserted stretch of the beach. After some idle sitting and talking we changed into our water wear and dashed into the waves. 

The best thing about this place is that the depth of the sea increases gradually and not suddenly like in Mypadu. One can go a fair distance into the sea to enjoy the waves. In fact we ventured so far that the waves were forming behind us and we had a relatively quiet sea to play around with. We spent an hour in the water jumping, falling, and just letting the sea crash on us and throw us around. Soon we got tired and ventured out of the water and sat on the beach enjoying the solitude. We had bought some knickknacks to eat which we fished out from our bags and devoured hungrily.

After that refreshing snack we made our way to the nearby Lighthouse. A lot of people do not know that lighthouses are open to public for 2 hrs everyday. The usual timings are from 1500 Hrs to 1700 Hrs. It was 1730 by the time we reached the base of the lighthouse but the caretaker there graciously let us in. We climbed to the top and spent some time there. It has some excellent views of the sea but the other side is marred with the coal carrying conveyors of the power plant nearby. I struck up a conversation with the caretaker. He told us that this particular lighthouse is one of the least visited lighthouses among all the lighthouse situated on the Andhra coast owning to the ignorance of the people and the lack of easy access. True, access is a huge problem. The path from the krishnapatnam village to the beach is a 'kacha' one.

We left the place around 6pm and reached home comfortably at around 7pm.

Quick Facts
From Nellore, take the road going to Krishnapatnam Port. After crossing a Muthukur town, near a town called Gopalapuram, take a left. From there its straight to the Krishnapatnam Village. From there there is a right turn which leads to the beach. Ask around at the village since its a muddy road and you might wander off in the wrong direction. There are huge belt conveyors and other structures of the power plant nearby. Let that not confuse you. The beach is right there just ahead of the light house.