Away, I went to meet the sun in heaven!

It was my Bangalore room buddy’s birthday and we celebrated it the typical guy’s way – cake cutting followed by ‘birthday-bums’. Birthday-bums is the ceremony of lifting the birthday boy by his arms and legs and others taking turn to kick his butt. I've always wondered why guys do such crazy things? I mean, there are other ways to act crazy… Pack your bag one fine morning, hit the jungle and get lost and finally find your way back; greet your girl with a wicked grin, say “hi, care to go for a ride”, get her on the pillion seat of your bike and just go somewhere… anywhere… That’s what appeals to me as being crazy. Ah! But no five fingers of our hand are the same, right? Anyways… When the others gifted him with wrist watch, t-shirt and other stuff, I had an entirely different idea about his birthday gift.

“Care to go trekking?” I asked them.

It was past midnight and everyone stared at me as if I blurted out a bad joke.

“Guys, stop staring at me like that. I mean, what I said”

Moonlight trekking at Skandagiri is what I had in my mind.

There were twelve of us including two girls (girl friends of two of the guys) on seven motorcycles and it didn’t take us much time to pack our bags. In fact there was nothing much to pack except to load our camera with fresh cells, pull over our winter coats and fill a couple or three of flasks with steaming black tea.

I had planned this surprise adventure trip in advance and made myself familiar with the route in Google Map. Well, gazing at the trailing yellow lines on Google Map and a night trail along it are entirely different things and we did have little difficulties finding our way up to the foothills of Skandagiri Hills at Kravarahalli Betta, around 65 kms from Bangalore.

The major part of the ride was through NH 7 and was comfortable except for the December chill seeping in through our sleeves. We had our pit stop at Chik Ballapur and had the black tea from our flasks. From there we took a detour and followed the country roads through rustic settlements, sometimes asking for directions to chance encounters on the way. Getting lost and finding our way back, we reached the foot hills of Skandagiri at a quarter past 2 at night.

I was surprised to find a few other adventurers who stood huddled around local guides who were to help us climb the treacherous rocky surface and reach the top. We started our trekking by around half past 2. Though the silvery hill under the moon looked inviting, the climb was very difficult with slippery slopes inclined at nearly 60 degrees. My mind went back to those two girls. “May be I should have left them behind in the comfort of their homes”. I turned back to see how they were fairing and guess what? It was pitch black. I wouldn’t have known if a grizzly bear stood and chuckled its shoulders right behind me. Well, that was quite scary!

I called up one of the girls and waited for her response. She answered and suddenly the numbing silence of the night was clamouring with those typical feminine giggles. I let out a sigh of relief and continued climbing until I reached a plane ground. The mist kept sweeping in front of me and through that I saw a faint glimmer of a fire. I walked towards it and was too glad to find some of us sitting around a canvas tent and steam rising from it. I was even shocked to find the two girls sitting and smiling at me. I must confess that the sight was a light blow to my macho ego. It was a refreshment camp of sorts set up by the locals and they served us with omelets straight from the frying pan and black coffee. Thinking back about it I still can’t help but feel that the tent, the fire and all that were just figments of imagination from a dreamy night.

We reached the top of the hill by around 4 in the morning. There was a bright crescent moon plastered on an indigo sky over our heads and I could see silhouetted figures moving around me through the mist. Each of us rested our tired bones at whichever spot that we found appropriate for us; the lover birds seeking their privacy behind the upturned rocks and boulders. Leaning to the wall of some stone structure and gazing at the star lit sky filled me with a sense of romance and bliss so deep that I really missed the presence of a lover girl who could have been by my side at that moment.

Sun rise in heaven…

I don’t recollect whether I slept off because the next thing I remember is seeing the sunrise breaking behind the horizon not too long after I settled down. I stood up and saw the golden rim of the sun slowly coming up from behind what appeared to me as thick mist. But I was wrong in thinking of it as mist for, within a few minutes I saw the sun glowing bright orange and floating above beds of clouds and not mist! It was a spell binding view. I’ve never seen a sunrise like that before! It was like in a dream or, as if I was standing in some fairy land. There were clouds around me, bellow me, above me… Clouds being swept to my face by the mist laden winds… Oh mine! I’ll keep referring to this moment as “witnessing a sunrise in heaven” because the experience was nothing less than heavenly. I felt like 'Bruce Almighty' standing at the doors of heaven.

The day light showed us what was left to be seen at the top of that misty-hill. There was a little stone temple, a sacrificial stone which was once stained by the blood of many innocent animals and now washed clean and smooth by the changing weathers, a statue of Nandi (Lord Shiva’s holy bull) carved out of a rock and many other rock structures.

The climb down

The climb down was even more treacherous as our untrained muscles were aching out of the strain of the night’s climb. It took us around an hour to reach the foot of the hill and we were welcomed by little kids selling tender coconuts. At the foot hill was the Papagni Math (Aashram) with the inmates living in harmony with the nature around them and some monkeys jeering at us. And that’s more or less of what you'll find at this place.

Returning to our dingy old rooms in Bangalore, stretching out on our beds and slipping into blissful, dreamless slumber is all I remember.

Well folks, if you’re someone living in or around Bangalore and thinking of a weekend getaway with your gang of friends, Skandagiri is the right place for you. That is if you wouldn’t mind a little crack in your heels and a little scratch on your skin because it’s worth all the pain. I can guarantee you that Skandagiri would make your weekend a most memorable one.

Note: The trekking fee is Rs. 15/- which you can pay at the forest office at the foot of the hill once you come down and the guides charge you for their service too.

Some more interesting pics. taken at Skandagiri.

Incomplete rocky structures at the hill top.

Mountain ranges around us blanketed my clouds.

The dilapidated Shiva temple (front) and a mysterious stone structure (back).

Dew drop.

The climb down.

Info. board on Skandagiri expedition site.

Original post:

Skandagiri Factfile:
Altitude: About 1350m above sea level.
Nearest town/medical help: Chikkaballapura (5kms)
Nearest airport/ railway-station: Devanahalli, Bangalore (60 kms)
Accommodation: Come on! No one goes there for a stay over!

For more details, visit:

Away we went to the 'Princess Hills' - Kodaikanal

Ah! This is one trip I'd always cherish. It was the best bike trip of my life time till now. I wonder whether I'd ever enjoy such a ride again! Probably never... Ever again...

Day 1

It was half past 5 in the morning when the soothing November drizzle made little patterns on my winter coat as I kick started my bike. The city of Coimbatore was sound asleep, seeking warmth and snuggled under the blankets. Me-self, my g'friend and a few stray dogs were probably the only creatures awake at that hour of that cold winter morning. Even my bike showed signs of laziness as it took me a few extra kicks to start the cold engine.

I got a gift voucher for a 3 days, 2 nights stay for two at Kodaikanal with my new mobile and this journal starts from Coimbatore 'coz she was working there and the travel enthusiast that she was, she readily agreed to join me. Besides, I thought of staying over at Coimbatore for a night before I could maneuver my bike along the winding climbs of Ghats.

Kodaikanal is around 175 kms from Coimbatore and we reached Pollachi, 50 kms on our way, braving the chilling morning breeze and without any pit stops, in an hour. After a brief break there, we continued our journey. The next 60 kms till the foot hills of Palani was driven by my g'friend. To my surprise I found her a fairly good driver though she was taking to wheels after a break of almost three years  and we covered that distance in less than an hour and half. Palani is a famous pilgrimage town where more than 7 million devotees visit the Palani Murugan Temple every year. This temple draws the largest number of devotees in Tamil Nadu. I should not fail to mention here that the ride along the NH209 was very comfortable as the roads were free of any pot holes and were well maintained.

The watch around my wrist said a three quarter past 8. We stopped at Palani for our breakfast which we had from a little road side restaurant. The hot dosas, the spicy sambhar and those hot spongy vadas… Ah! My mouth still waters at the thought of that modest breakfast in that busy little town.

Another few kilometers ride through the country road and we passed the sign board that said “Princess Hills Kodaikanal Welcomes You”. The ride from this point is something worth accounting for. As always the Ghat roads were a pleasure to ride along - the winds, the hair-pin bends, the blind bends, sometimes along the edges of steep slopes and some times through the woods... A few hundred feet above the sea level and we were already blanketed by mist. It was difficult to see what lay ahead even with the sun right above our heads. The silver oaks on one side and the steep fall on the other made the ride one of the best in my life. It was fun… thrilling…

After a ride for about a couple of hours I found my hands numb because of the cold and I very badly wanted to take a break and warm up. But we were at the middle of what you can call as ‘no man’s land’ and there was nothing around us save the tall oaks, wild shrubs, frozen boulders, a fallen tree trunk and the blinding mist. I slowed down the bike as soon as I realised that we were at some clearing. I parked the bike at a side and she served me with hot coffee from the flask that she had brought along (very thoughtful of her). I lit a cigarette and we had a little chat over the hot coffee. To look back at that moment it seems to me like a leaf out of some romance novel – two young lovers sitting side by side on a fallen tree trunk, the mist flying all around, the blue sky, the silver clouds…

We sat there for a little past half an hour and the mist suddenly started to clear. The sun shone brighter and we got the shock of our life. A couple of meters away were a little settlement with little thatched shops on either side of the road and cattle grazing about in the near vicinity. I sat there shocked looking at a cow munching at the leaves on a nearby shrub.

Another hour's ride and it took us to the gates of the resort hotel where we had a room booked for our stay. Switching on the heater and hitting the bed is all that I remember.

Around the Kodai town

A stroll for a couple of hours or three in the evening showed us almost the whole of what that dainty little town is all about. Being one of the major tourist attractions there was a market with numerous shops selling different things from aromatic oils, artifacts etc. to fancy jewellery. We got into one of the shops and I had my eyes on a leather gloves. She brought a jute handbag for herself and surprised me with the gloves that I was eyeing at. When I saw that the money in our purse was thinning I nearly pulled her out of the shop.

A steaming plate of spicy roasted lamb, chapattis and cocktails made our dinner and we walked around the place for another hour and finally found our way back to our hotel room.

Day 2

Kodai Lake

Just in front of our resort was the Kodai Lake. We rented a bicycle each and went around the lake a couple of times. Pony rides around the lake are also available for those interested.

We then went for the boating. We got into a pedal boat and we waded through the placid blue lake. She pointed her finger at a direction and asked me to look there. What I saw was something amusing. A sheet of mist was rolling down from nowhere and was moving towards us. The both of us agreed on the idea of moving against it and within a few minutes we were blanketed by thick, blinding mist. It was even difficult to see the water around us. We could only hear the oars of other boats splashing at the water. A good 20 minutes boating and we were back in the shore munching on hot spicy chilly bhajjis and sipping at steaming masala teas.

Other places of interest in and around Kodaikanal are the Bryant Park, Coaker's Walk, Bear Shola Falls, Green Valley View, Pillar Rocks, Guna caves, Silver Cascade, Dolphin's Nose and the Kurinji Andavar Murugan temple.

Now, I don’t want to go too much into telling you about the place and make this look like a typical travelogue. This journal is more supposed to be about the personal experience of the riders and not too much details about the place. Yet I can’t help but tell you something about the Coaker’s Walk and the Guna Caves because these two are my personal favourite spots in Kodaikanal.

Coaker’s Walk

Coaker’s Walk is around 500 meters from the main bus stand. Constructed by Lt.Coaker in 1872, this is a 1 kilometer paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai. The walk, winding around Mount Nebo, starts in front of the Van Allen hospital, running parallel to the Van Allen Hospital Road and joins the main road beside St. Peter's Church, providing a stunning panoramic view of the plains. Our fancies took wings and we said we'd get married at this Church and have our first kid in Van Allen's... Dreams, dreams, boundless dreams... What can they not tell us!

On a clear day, one can see as far as the Dolphin's Nose on one side, the valley of the Pambar River, Periyakulam town and even the city of Madurai. It is said that a fascinating rare phenomenon called Brocken specter can be witnessed here, when a person can see his shadow on the clouds with a rainbow halo. This occurs when the sun is behind the viewer and clouds and mist are to the front. There is an observatory with a telescope halfway along the walk. Entrance fee to the walkway is nominal and it is open all year.

Guna caves

Guna caves, made popular by the Tamil movie ‘Guna’, previously called Devil’s Kitchen, are deep bat-infested chambers between the three gigantic boulders that are the Pillar Rocks. The deep narrow ravines of the caves are now closed to public due to the tragic deaths of twelve youths there. These dangerous caves are highly protected now, and tourists can see sections of the cave system from afar.

Also the walk in the pine forest has left me with memories as green and tall as those trees. We ran around the trees crushing the dried leaves under our feet; lay flat on the ground looking at the branches over our head making intricate patterns, and what not? The two of us transcended time and became the little kids that we were back in our school days…

And here is a word of caution. The Green Valley view point, also known as the ‘Suicide Point’ is a spectacle that’ll behold your imaginations. I couldn’t disagree any lesser with the nick name – Suicide Point – given to this spot. Though now fenced and the people restricted from going to the edge, I bet many of us even in our best spirits would feel that the bed of clouds below are thick enough to hold your feet and that it is good enough idea to try walking on them! But the real danger of this spot is something else – monkeys! A gang of really unruly monkeys gather around this spot and if you are not there in a group and alone or as a couple, expect the little devils to cause you some trouble. Our experience was nothing different. The monkeys took a special liking for my g'friend and it was at the nick of time that a tourist guide walked in there, blowing his whistle and shooing the monkeys away!

Day 3

It was time for us to check out and we went for a final cycling around the lake. I did want to go boating a second time, this time in a row boat, but she disagreed to this idea. By half past 12 at noon, we handed back the key to our room at the hotel reception and started our ride back.

Now, wait! Did we leave Kodaikanal all that soon? No. Not for a hundred million good reasons! We checked into a cheaper hotel near the lake and spent another night and day in that misty wonderland. The evening walks around the lake, the rides through every other odd streets of that town ship... have all left me with memories to cherish forever!

The ride back

Finally on the fourth day, we decided to go back!. The ride back was equally thrilling. But this time, more than the mist laden bends of Ghats, I enjoyed the plain country side ride through little villages and town ships of Tamil Nadu. The ride back took us around 7 hours and I still remember the wind mills against the evening sun at the country side…

Original post:

Kodai Factfile:

Nearest airports: Madurai (135 kms), Coimbatore Airport (180 kms) and Trichy (200 kms).
Nearest railway stations: Palani (64 kms), Kodai road station (80 kms) and Dindugal (100 kms).
By road: Limited bus service and taxi cabs are available from Palani.
Accommodation: From cheap lodges to luxury resorts charging you a few 1000's are available.

A bike ride to the foothills of the Fire Mountain

This was the most impulsive journey that I ever embarked on.

It was half past 9 on a Friday night and I was sitting at a 24-hour coffee shop in Bangalore with one of my friends. I was telling him about my motorcycle trips to the different places as I was discussing with him about the places around Bangalore that I’d like to visit. ‘Tiruvannamalai’ was a chance mentioning by him, but something that caught my imagination.

By 12'o clock at night the back packs were ready, the tank of my bike filled and we set off to the abode of Arunachaleswara.

Through the country road

The 90-km ride till Krishnagiri along the NH 7, which connects Bangalore to Salem in Tamil Nadu, took me two and half hours and was more than comfortable. Though the four-lane, well maintained National Highway was flocked by slow paced heavy trucks at night time, cruising, sometimes along with them and at times ahead of them was an enjoyable experience. We had only one halt on the way till Krishnagiri and that was at Hozur where we had omelets fresh from the frying pan at a road side stall. We reached Krishnagiri at around 2 at night. From there we had to bid adieu to the good old highway, take a turn and follow a trail of country road sometimes through what looked like jungle, and at times through little villages. The silhouetted trees against the moon, and the silvery hillocks on either side made us feel as if we were riding through a land in someone’s imagination. We reached Tiruvannamalai by around 6 in the morning and checked into a lodge near the temple.

Ramana Aashrama

This is the first place we visited. The aashrama of Maha Rishi Ramana is hardly a kilometre away from the temple. I'd have to write a book if I start writing about this enlightened soul. But I'm least bothered to take up that effort as there already a thousand and more books written on the life and teaching of this great saint. Instead, I'll tell you something about the aashrama. It is a quaint little place with a temple dedicated to Swami Ramana Maha Rishi and little other temples for various other Hindu deities. There is a restroom for the pilgrims visiting the aashrama, a book shop that sells religious texts and books written by Ramana Maha Rishi and other souvenirs. But the major attraction for me in this place were the peacocks that were roaming around so freely and without any fear of other two legged creatures like us around

Arunachala hill

Right close to the aashrama is this hill at the foot of which the town of Thiruvannamalai rests has an interesting story attached to it from the Hindu mythology. It is said that once Maha Vishnu and Brahma, puffed up with arrogance, sought to see for themselves the end and beginning of Shiva. Vishnu took the form of a boar and started searching Siva's feet, while Brahma turned into a Swan and looked for the head of ‘The Destroyer’. Siva took the form of fire just to snub their vanity. As the Lord had taken the form of fire, neither the crest nor the root could be approached. 'Aruna' means crimson colour and 'achala' means immovable. As Shiva stood in the form of fire it came to be known as Arunachala (Fire Mountain).

We trekked up this sacred hill and hit base by afternoon. After having a decent meal from a nearby restaurant, we took a nap.

Arunachaleswara Temple

By around 5.30 in the evening we got up, took turns under the shower and visited the famed Arunachaleswara temple.

The 11-tiered East Rajagopura rises to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls with 4 entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex. The Pei Gopura, Tirumanjana Gopura and Ammanaiammal gopura are the other three. The 1000-pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagara. Each of the entrances of the temple has a huge Nandi (the sacred bull of Siva) and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopura and Kili Gopura.

Just sit inside the huge temple precincts near the huge pond with your eyes closed and let the sanctity of the place seep in… Ah! That was such an unparalleled and elevating experience of my spirit!

Footwear stolen!

We got out of the temple to find out that both our sandals had been stolen. Both of us got very frustrated at this and called, who ever who did that, names never heard before. We then straight away went to a footwear shop in the town and brought a pair of brand new sandals each. But we had the laugh of our life time when we visited the temple the next day morning. We saw this person sitting at the entrance and he had sandals of people who had gone in lying around him. He kept the sandals for us for some tips in money and that, it seems, was his job. So we placed our sandals in his custody, least we wanted it to be stolen a second time. And while coming out I struck a conversation with this man and told him how our sandals got stolen the previous day. He just looked at me, opened a tin chest near  him, took out our sandals and asked whether we could recognize them? Now, this was something freaky funny. It seems that he watched over our sandals for us the previous day without our asking him to do that and when he couldn't find us coming out for a long time, he just kept them away safely in his chest. Tiruvannamali is truly a divine land!

Original post:

Tiruvannamalai Factfile:

Nearest airport - Bangalore (220 kms), Chennai (170 kms)
Nearest railwaystation - There are trains to Tiruvannamalai from Chennai.
Bus services - Tiruvannamalai is well connected to both Chennai and Bangalore with regular bus services from both these cities.
Accommodation - You can find very cheap to economy lodges around the temple.

For more details, visit:

A bike ride to the peninsular tip of India

Fed up of the bustle of the city and tired of keeping pace with the life of a professional, the long unwinding roads beckoned my tired soul. If I could, I would leave everything in the yonder and hum John Denver's 'Country Roads….take me home…to the place...where I belong". And I did just that - I packed my overnight lug bag, filled up the tank of my bike and set of to Kanyakumari, known as the Cape Comorin on an early Saturday morning (7.30 a.m).

I wonder what the significance of this place is? I mean, why did Mahatma Gandhi wanted his ashes to be immersed here? Why did Swami Vivekananda travel all the way down to here, swim across the tumultuous sea to a rock away from the main land, do 3 days of meditation and had the "Vision of one India"? Later he wrote:

"At Cape Camorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock - I hit upon a plan: We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics-it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva used to say, `An empty stomach is no good for religion?' We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses."

I don't wish to dwell into the 'other' details of this land. After all, this is suppose to be a travel blog! So, here I go -

Kanyakumari is nearly 90 kms away from Thiruvananthapuram, which is the nearest city to this peninsular tip of India. It took me almost 3 and odd hours to reach there and that includes stops at road side tea shops and at places where nature beckoned me to open the shutters of my camera.

It was blazing hot when I reached Kanyakumari and I went straight to one of the Govt. guest houses where I had booked a room. There are other private owned accommodations of varying rates available there. The independent cottage that I walked into was more than I could have ever bargained for and that too at a modest rate of R.s 450 per night. The break fast at the canteen was decent. It was just something about being tucked away far from the reaches of civilization – ecstatic; soul stirring…the adjectives could go on.  It seemed as though I had never felt so relaxed and peaceful since out of my mother's womb; I could hear every bone and joints in my body letting a sigh of relief.

A good four hours sleep and I woke up to feel as though I was born again – so fresh, so rejuvenated… I got dressed up, put the recharged cells in my camera and went out to explore the land which is the confluence point of three seas – the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the great Indian Ocean. Another interesting thing to observe is that the horizon over the seas here is a stage for both the sun rise and the sun set, a rare site in this whole wide world.

After loitering around at the beach side my feet took me to the Gandhi Mandapa. Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were brought to this place to be immersed in the sea confluence and homage was paid by millions to his ashes at this spot back in 1948. An interesting fact about Gandhi Mandapa is that the sunlight through a slit at the roof falls on the Peeta (the spot where his ashes were kept in a pot) on the 2nd of October of every year, the day the Mahatma was born. The view of the sea and the surrounding from the balcony of Gandhi Madapa was simply breath taking as it is built very close to the sea.

But the major attraction of Kanyakumari is not the Gandhi Madapa but the Vivekananda Rock memorial which is about 400 mts into the sea from the shore. There are ferry services connecting the island to the mainland but I had to wait till the next morning to get there as the ferry services stops by 5 in the evening.

The Kanya Devi temple is adjacent to the Gandhi Mandapa. The temple is dedicated to the virgin goddess Kanyakumari. What interested me was the mythology behind it - Kanya Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, was to get married to Lord Shiva at this place. The marriage never solomnised as the Lord never turned up and thus Kanya Devi remained a virgin and later on was hailed as a goddess by the population. Note that 'Kanya' refers to virgin and 'Devi' refers goddess.

The evening was spent ambling across the market place, watching the shop keepers selling artifacts – sea shells, conches – gifts from the sea bed.

And here is a tip-off for those who cannot keep their hands away from their purse when on such outings – brush up your bargaining skills because these vendors are there to sell and make profit, though marginal I should say.

There are enough places out there to satisfy your gastronomical urges – I recommend the local flavored seafood over the namesake continental dishes. I have always believed in this simple saying – 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do', or maybe, eat what a Roman would eat!

Vivekananda Rock Memorial:

The ferry service to the Vivekananda Rock starts at 7 in the morning and I arrived at the boat jetty by around half past 8. The ride in the crowded boat across the rocking sea is an experience of a lifetime. It is believed that in the year 1892, the spiritual reformer, Swami Vivekananda swam across the sea and meditated on this rocky island for three days. Vivekananda Mandapa and Sripada Mandapa face each other in mighty glory. The smaller rock called Sripada Parai (Sripada Mandapa) is revered as a sacred spot where Goddess Kanyakumari did meditation. The rock has an impression of a human footprint, which is revered to be that of Goddess Kanyakumari.

The Vivekananda Mandapa houses a colossal statue of the Swami who stands on a high raised pedestal with folded arms and overlooking the three seas. It is rare that you find this aura of majestic elegance and spiritual complacence in a structure but which is true to the very essence of Swami Vivekananda who is none other than the one who said, "Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached". Looking at the statue, one could see what the Swami meant when he said he had the "Vision of one India".

On another rock in the sea, not too far away from the Vivekananda Rock stands the Tiruvalluvar statue that  stands 133 feet high and is a stone monument. It was completed in 2000 and is built in memory of the great Tamil poet and saint Tiruvalluvar, who taught the quintessential words of wisdom through his philosophical work 'Thirukkural', a treatise in Tamil on the Indian way of life. The ferry service to the Vivekananda Rock also takes you to this sculpture of modern times that stands amid the blue waves and leaves a lasting impression in your mind.

Bidding adieu to that sea kissing land was not that easy. More so, to a land which reaches out to your soul, touches every chord in you, without realizing, you are caught in the magic of the land which mesmerizes you and works its magic so much so that you run out of adjectives to talk about the land. The last glimpse of the setting sun had me kick starting my bike back to life and with John Denver still on my mind, I started my journey back only to return to the hectic, buzzling days ahead.

Original post:

Kanyakumari Factfile:

Nearest railway station: Kanyakumari Railway Station
Nearest airport: Trivandrum (90 km)
Accommodation: Anything from cheap lodges to luxury hotels that would charge you a few thousand INRs.

For more details about the place, please visit:

A bike ride to Coonoor

It was the middle of the night and the silence of my room in Bangalore was shattered by the ring of my mobile. It was my girl friend from Coimbatore. I wondered why she was calling me at such an odd hour of the night.

“Hello,” I said sleepily over the phone.

“Sorry to be disturbing you at this hour. But I really need to talk this out to someone,” she said.

Her voice quivered over the phone and I knew this was something important.

“Give me a minute,” I said. I got up washed my face in cold water and went out to the garage so that I could speak with her without disturbing my room mates.

“Tell me. What is it? What’s troubling you?”

“I think I’m going to quit my job. I couldn’t stand the pressure at the office. It's driving me crazy. I'm completely stressed out. I really wish I had you near me now,” she said.

"Just relax, ok? Go to sleep and be ready with your bags packed. We're going to take an off and go some place where you'll feel good".

"Really! Are you coming down?", she sounded all perked up at once.

"Why not? You said you wanted me to be there, right? Or, did I hear it wrong?"

"But... Where are we going?"

"I don't know. I haven't thought yet. But you needn't worry about that. Just leave it to me and pack your bag and be ready in the morning. I'll give you a call when I reach there and be ready for a surprise. Now, just go to sleep dear", I said and kissed her "good night" over the phone.

Now, you might be wondering whether this is the beginning of one ‘Mills and Boons’ tale. Well, it might sound like one, but no. This is about how a bike ride, the mist laden breeze and the intoxicating aroma of the Coonoor tea gardens helped my girl de-stress.

A few minutes in front of the internet and figured out where we'd be going - Coonoor. I looked for a descent hotel for the us to stay over the weekend, took down the phone number, freshened up and by 4.30 in the morning I filled the tank of my bike and set off to Coimbatore. Coimbatore is around 400 km from Bangalore and I reached there by half past nine. My idea of giving her a surprise flopped as she very well expected me to turn up on my bike knowing my passion for long rides. She was thrilled, all the same, at the idea of a long ride with me.

Coonoor, located at the head of the Hulikal ravine at an altitude of 1,800 meter above sea level, is a quaint little hill station in the Nilgiris, 75 km from Coimbatore en route Ooty. Ooty is another 19 km from Coonoor. It took us 4 and odd hours of leisurely ride to climb all the way up with pit stops for refreshment at the little tea stalls on the way. We reached Coonoor at around 2.30 in the noon and checked into the hotel where I had booked a room. I could see that the ride and the cool air of the Nilgiris has already begun to do good for my girl’s nerves. I noticed an air of peace about her as she stood at the balcony of our room, gazing at the lush greenery stretching all around us. I was obviously tired after the long ride and I drifted into a deep dreamless slumber.

A good 3 hours sleep and I was wide awake, refreshed and at the very best of my spirits. It made me happier to find my girl all freshened up after a wash and smelling pleasant of the bath soap and shampoo that she use. She was sitting by my side, lost in ’11 minutes’ by Paulo Coelho. She has always been an avid reader and never forgets to carry around some books to read.

A good long bath, making benevolent use of her shampoo made me presentable enough to go out with her. We went out for a stroll in the town. We walked around aimlessly visiting a Ganesh temple and spending few quite minutes at one of the churches. Later in the evening we visited the local market place, all bustling with life and munched on fresh-baked pop corns and chilly bhajjis and vadas. The freshly brewed Nilgiri tea at a local tea stall is something, the taste of which will linger in my taste buds for a long time. A pleasing dinner at a local restaurant and we returned to our room.

We woke up rather late the next day and after washing up and a modest breakfast of toasted breads and omelets, we set off for the site seeing. Well, the site seeing was not a part of our agenda as the prime aim of this trip was to be away from the regular mundane routine and to relax at leisure and pleasure.

We first visited the all popular Sim’s park, walking all the 2 km from our hotel to that spot. A CafĂ© Coffee Day on the way bid us in and my girl being a coffee aficionado, we spent a good one hour there over cold coffees and a Black Forest pastry. Now, here is something - have you ever tried cold coffee sitting at a place where the temperature outside is close to 10 degree celsius? If not, try it once. I bet it would be an experience unparalleled.

Spread over 12 hectares, the Sim’s park was more than any other parks I’ve visited before. It had lush green grass spread all over and the lawn mowed to perfection. The winding paved walk-along through the woods is another attraction of the Sim’s Park. There is also a little play area with swings and see-saws for kids and a lake with a boating facility. Does it sound like a very big place? Well, it is not. As I told you, it is only a 12 hectare plot and is only large enough to house a hundred varieties of trees, plants and flowers and small enough for a comfortable walk around. Sitting at one of the park benches, humming an old Hindi song, “Tum ko dekha, to ye khayal aya…” and my girl gazing at the little kids on the swings is a picture-perfect that will remain etched in my memory.

We then visited the Lamb’s Rock which is a trekking spot around 3 km from Sim’s Park. The view of the valley from atop the Lamb’s Rock is breath taking. Other classical view points in and around Coonoor are Dolphine’s Nose and Lady Canning’s Seat. We didn’t visit all the spots as we were not in any sight seeing expedition. After ambling along a tea garden, hand in hand and love in the air, we returned to our hotel room.

Another major attraction of Coonoor is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The toy train ride along the winding hills is something that had captured the imagination of many movie makers all around the globe. The “Kasto maza…” song sequence with Saif Ali Khan, a guitar in hand, in a train full of kids in the movie ‘Parineeta’ is the one that comes to my mind when I think about the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (I’m not too sure the song was shot here). The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in July 2005. This railway links Coonoor to the town of Mettupalayam at the foot hills. Coonoor was the original termination point of this railway, before the line was extended to Ooty.

Anyways… we started our ride back at 6 in the evening and reached Coimbatore by 11 at night.

“You’d never know how good you made me feel…,” she said on reaching back.

Now, tell me dear readers, isn’t this a wonderful way to de-stress on a weekend? Well, she forgot her idea of quitting her job and said she just realized the need for a change when life gets too routine and tiring.

Original post:
'Motorcycle Diaries' compilation in MSN India by the same author

Coonoor Factfile:

Nearest airport: Coimbatore (80 km), Tamil Nadu, India
Nearest railwaystation: Mettupalayam (46km), Coimbatore (80 km); Tamil Nadu, India
By road: Regular buses from major cities like Bangalore (Karnataka), Mysore (Karnataka), Calicut (Kerala), Kochi (Kerala), Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu)
Accommodation: From home stays to luxury hotels (economy, budget and luxury)
Activities: Bird watching, tea plantation visits, sight seeing, hiking etc.

A joyride to the Golden Peak, Ponmudi

It was the month of August and the monsoon season in my place was coming to a close. And that means occasional showers when we least expect it and quite sunny, the day around. I had a particularly tiring week at my office and wanted to break away from the routine and relax. But as fate would have it none of my friends were in town and I was left all alone with a long uneventful Sunday ahead of me.

For no reason I woke up early in the morning and sat in front of my computer browsing through every odd stuff. Soon I got bored of that and I shut down the system and lay on the bed with my empty eyes on the fan on the ceiling. The blades made uninterrupted circular motion, slicing the air in a regular rhythmic and monotonous pace. And suddenly the idea struck me and I wasted no time to get into my trousers and t-shirt.

“Wouldn’t she be sitting alone and bored too”

I rang up one of my lady friends and asked her whether she’d be interested to join me for a ride to Ponmudi. And there begins a joyride to the Golden Peak, Ponmudi.

Ponmudi is a hill station, around 60 kms from my home town, Trivandrum. Unlike other major hill stations like Kodaikanal or Ooty, Ponmudi aka. The Golden Peak is rather a little place known for weekend stay overs, picnicking, hiking and trekking.

‘Everything that glitters is not gold’. Ponmudi used to be a favourite haunt for the cupid struck and honeymooners but now, not much people visit the place owing to the lack of descent amenities. The place does have a Govt. Guest House and a couple or other private accommodation but for some reason or the other, it has ceased to be a preferred destination for travelers. Lately, I heard that the KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) is coming up with a premium resort at the top of Ponmudi Hills called the Golden Peak. If that is so, you can be assured of a descent stay if you'd care to spend a couple of thousands for a weekend getaway.

Coming back to the literature of the ride, we started our ride at around 9 in the morning with not much preparation other than me loading fresh cells into my camera. Hoping on the pillion of the bike my friend said she’s out with me for a joyride and that she didn’t want me to touch more than 40-50 km/hr. Ah! And there’s a perfect co-traveler for I never like to ride fast when I go for long rides. Besides there’s only 60 km ahead of us to travel and an entire Sunday stretching in front of us. What’s the hurry anyways?

Fifteen minutes of ride through the not so heavy traffic, but with annoying stops at every red signal, we reached the outskirts of the city. Another few minutes ride along the country road and I stopped at a rustic tea shop before we started our 910 meters climb. There’s always something good about the tea from such places – it taste really fresh. Maybe because they make it with the leaves fresh from the garden or maybe it's 'coz of the thick milk, fresh from the cow at their homes.

A brief 10 minutes break, gazing at the laid back country life with dogs lying around the road-side, unmindful of the occasional motorists who speed past them; the little kids, naked and running around their houses and the cattle grazing around in peace and chewing, chewing and chewing all the time, we resumed our ride.

Meandering along the winding climbs of Ghats we started to have a spectacular view of the lush greenery around, bordered by hills running along each other and little silvery streams trickling down the hills and disappearing behind the thick of the woods at the foot of the hill ranges. 25 km of ride without a stop and we broke the ride at the edge of a hairpin bend. The view of the green-green valley from there was splendid.

I did look around for a tea shop but gave up for two reasons – firstly the place was quite deserted with only the tall trees around us and secondly because my friend started showing annoyance, without any assumed sophistication of a new age girl, at my “odd” fondness for tea. She prefers coffee over tea and so do most of the people that I come across. Many of them go to the extend of taking lectures on how one should have that “fine taste for things in life” to enjoy coffee, and enlighten me to the fact that there are more coffee lovers around the globe than lovers for tea. Arguments apart, I still cherish the lingering taste of that really strong tea made of thick buffalo milk that I had at a rural settlement called Yelandur en-route to Coimbatore from Bangalore via Satyamangalam on one of my bike trips.

It was only another 15 km to reach the hill top and as I’ve told you earlier, we were in no hurry and we took another 40 minutes to cover that distance. It was 10 minutes to 12 at noon and our stomachs started whining for replenishments. But the only restaurant at the hill top of Ponmudi, which is the Govt. Guest House canteen, would start serving lunch only by 1 and we were informed that it was too late for break-fast. I was quite amazed that the canteen couldn't even serve us with something like bread & butter or maybe a serving of steaming omelets. Yet, luck wasn’t so hard on us as the departmental store near the restaurant was open. We brought biscuit packets and soft drinks to fill our empty stomachs.

We loitered around the place with a few prying eyes at our back and finally reached the spot where the picnickers hang around. This is a flat space at the top of the hill from where you can have a grand view of the valley and the rolling hills all around you. There were more people there than we had expected and what more? There was the shooting of a musical album going on. Initially, we were quite amused and even found it very odd to find a young couple in bright and colourfull outfits dancing around hand in hand. But seeing the camera focused at them from a distance cleared all the “oddity” in our heads.

A couple of hours there with the mist and the cool breeze to sooth our body and soul made us feel that the purpose of the ride was served. We started back at around half past two. I rode steadily for close to half an hour and we reached the thick of woods with the sound of a stream trickling by somewhere around the bushes. I parked my bike by the road side and we found the stream that added harmony to the silence of the woods. The water was cool enough to send a chill through my veins at the first touch and my friend had a good time splashing and playing in the water, becoming a 10 or 13 year old that she once was. A bunch of raving studs howling and whistling at us from a jeep ended all the fun and we hurried back to my bike.

We had our lunch at a township on the way and we hit the city by around half past 4. Dropping her back at her home I returned to my lonely room to spend the rest of the evening revisiting that winding Ghat road, those rolling green hills and the serene little stream in the woods.

Original post:

Ponmudi Factfile:

Nearest railway station/airport: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India (65 km)
Accomodation: Try your luck
Activities: Trekking, Hiking, Sight Seeing, Good place for a couple of good nature pics.