Brindavan Homestay, Sakleshpur

The Brindavan Homestay at Sakleshpur holds the true essence of rich flora and fauna which Sakleshpur offers. The amazing hospitality and the delicious spread offered to their guests is the icing on the cake. It is a perfect place to spend a weekend away from the hustle bustle of the city, in the lap of nature enjoying the freshness of the air and aroma of coffee.

IMG_2907Sakleshpur is a beautiful hilly town in the Hassan District of Karnataka. It is surrounded by coffee, cardamom, and pepper plantation, etc. This was our first unplanned trip to the Sakleshpur and turned out to a memorable event to cherish always. Thanks to the place and the people we encountered!

We, a group of six people (five adults and one toddler) were on the Halebidu and Belur (12th Century Hoyasala Dynasty Archaeological sites in Hassan District ) when we decided to add a dimension to our one day trip and explore Sakleshpur, which is 54 km from Hassan. Being a last-minute decision and the already clock was indicating late afternoon, we were skeptical about getting any booking in any decent homestay or hotel. After calling few homestays and hearing ‘No’ from them, we were in dilemma of how to conclude of the trip, whether to go back or stick to our plan. Meanwhile, I got a call from Mr. Satish (owner of Brindavan Homestay). He informed me that he got my number from the owner of another homestay whom I called a minute back. He told us that they have a large room with five beds available for tonight and after negotiation, we agreed on a very reasonable rate inclusive of food, bonfire and other rejuvenation facilities available in their premises.

Brindavan Homestay is approx. an hour from Belur and 20 minutes from Sakleshpur town.  The road is well maintained and en-route views are mesmerizing. We were welcomed by the staff and two dogs, an adult and a cute little puppy. Staff gave us the room keys and showed us to the parking place to park the car. As told by Mr. Satish, room was big, spacious, neat and well maintained, with everything in the proportion of five!

After relaxing for 15-20 minutes, our inquisitve nature could not bound us more in the room and we started our quest to explore the beauty of the place. Temperament and theme of the place was in absolute sync with the surroundings and the minimal lights in the homestay were making the place well camouflaged with the rest of its world. Meantime, the youngest traveller of our team was enjoying her share of fun with the puppy. In fact, she gave a couple of pet names to him and instructed everyone call him with that names only. 🙂 whereas grown-ups, on the other hand, were enjoying the drinks and unlimited snacks in the warmth of Bonfire. Also, we were informed that whenever we are ready for dinner, let the cook know 10 minutes before so that he can make hot chappaties for us. At, 10:00 PM, we had our dinner. The food was delicious and a balanced spread of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food as well as a combination of pure south Indian and contemporary food. After enjoying the mouth-watering meal, we took a short walk within the premises of the homestay and finally rolled-up in our beds with the eventful memories of that day.

Next day, we woke up with the chirping of the birds and streaks of morning sunrays piercing through the clouds and falling on the dewdrops, which were spread like glittering pearls on the grass bed.Along with few other early risers, I took that opportunity to take a small walk in the surrounding coffee plantation. Pepper vine growing around high rise betel trees, and surrounded by multi-year old coffee trees were making the atmosphere mysteriously attractive.

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Later, Mr. Satish also took us for the meadows walk in a part of his 22 acres coffee estate and educated us with the kinds of coffee beans, the effect of rainfall on them and the rich flora and fauna of the area as well as exposed us to the waves of mountains covered with clouds and sceneries of cows grazing the pastures. Lastly, after the sumptuous and delicious south Indian breakfast, it was the time to say goodbye to our host. Saying bye is never easy. Leaving Brindavan Homestay was the sad moment for us as every part of it had deeply touched us. But as they say- “We say Goodbye to meet again”. So with fun-filled memories and we left the beautiful homestay on our way to Bangalore.

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An evening with Kalaripayattu and Kathakali

100_1623100_1662Munnar-A hamlet in God’s own country, Kerala which is a pure delight to body and soul. It is a picturesque hill station with high mountain peaks, fearlessly piercing clouds and proudly enchanting the song of their strength and solitude, welcoming tea gardens, clouds making way through the windows, misty roads, and beautiful landscapes, etc.  My recent visit to this hidden gem proved a double treat to me. I not only got a chance to imbibe in the beauty of the place and live like a localite (thanks to the long weekend and friend’s reference!) but also witnessed something which was on my wishlist since my childhood days. A piece of marvelous Indian culture and tradition-Kalaripayattu and Kathakali. Both forms are centuries-old traditions and a highlight of the rich culture of South India.

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100_1747Kalaripayattu is an over 3000 years old highly scientific martial art. In fact, it is said that the famous martial art form kung fu roots are related to Kalaripayattu. Bodhidharma, a Kalaripayattu master who traveled from South India to Shaolin Monastery, China in 6th century founded the today’s world Kung-fu. Kalaripayattu focuses not only on physical agility but also on mind, body and soul’s energy sync. It is a synchronized combination of steps and postures and performed by using different kinds of weapons such as sword and shield, flexible sword, long staff, short stick, curved stick, spear, and mace.

800px-Kathakali_IMG_0281_by_Joseph_Lazer100_1723On the other hand, Kathakali is a beautiful classical dance form. It is a kind of story play which showcases various folk mythologies and religious legends. There is no clear proof of the roots of this dance form, but the most popular version says that it was originated in the 17th century. The highlight of this dance form is the distinguished, elaborated, colorful and bright makeup, and unique costumes.

 

At Munnar, there are many play theatres which conduct evening shows of Karayiapattu and Kathakali. We visited Kalari Kshethra, a playhouse which was approx. 3.5km from our resort. The one to one and half hour show not only introduce you to best of Indian cultural heritage but also the performers are so generous that they will happily allow everyone to get a photo clicked with them. Performances start with offering prayer to the deity.

Beaches, temples, hill stations, forests, and backwaters are indeed the attraction of Kerala but these famous ancient arts is a must visit to re-live ancient India’s rich cultural heritage.

 

Kamath Lokaruchi and Janapada Loka-Places to spend a lazy weekend

There are many blogs on the internet which gives comprehensive details about the options of nearby places around Bangalore for a one day trip. But from my experience, I can say that how much ever the short distance it is, one has to start early to beat the crazy Bangalore traffic and reach the place on time so as to have enough time in hand to return back before it is a late night. So, even a one day “short” trip becomes a tiring and exhaustive affair. For Bangaloreans like me, there are few options to entertain or relax on weekends i.e. either by resting at home, hop in a cafe or mall or gear-up for an exhaustive long one day trip. But recently I discovered a place for the days when you don’t want to struggle on the road but still wants to go out? You are already late to make a trip to “nearby” places but still, have a desire to taste something good and experience something new.  And, the answer is Kamath Lokaruchi restaurant and Janapada Loka. Both the places are approx. 58 km from Bangalore city in Ramangara district ( a place where the evergreen movie Sholay was shooted) and adjacent to each other.

With an intention to spend rest of our day in a relaxed yet fun-filled way we started our trip at 10:30 AM from K.R Puram and took the Vidyaranapura-Nanjangud road via Yeshwanthpur. It was the moderate traffic till the outskirts of Bangalore, so we saved ourselves from spending unnecessary time on the road, and the pleasant weather was also in our favor. We reached Kamath restaurant at 12:30 PM. To our surprise, there was the long queue of people to get the table, and it took approx. 10 mins. for us to get the seat. During the afternoon, there are limited food varieties available such as South Indian meals, Poori Saagu, Idly Vada, curd rice, and bisi bele bath. To make out the maximum from the available options, five of us ordered different varieties. Overall the food was good. However, Vada was not hot and crunchy.  We ended our lunch with a cup of nice aromatic filter coffee.

There is a small shop within the premises which sells wooden crafts. But, I suggest if you are going towards Mysore. Don’t do the shopping from here as it is costly and has limited options compare to Channapatna shops (a place on the way to Mysore. It is known as city of toys and famous for its wooden products)


Our next stop was the Janapada Lokaruchi; it is an artificial village set-up where you can find many statues and set-ups reflecting the spirit of village lifestyle. There are two museums in the premise one which showcase the articles used by villagers in their day to day life, and another is the display of Yakshagana lifestyle. Yakshagana is a theatre dance form originated in the 19th century in South India where artist performs the Purana stories (ancient Hindu text) in poetic form. This is a famous dance form in Karnataka, North Karnataka Udupi, and Mangalore. This museum has a collection of dresses, jewelry and other lifestyle related stuff of Yakshagana group.

If you further want to explore Ramanagar distirct, then don’t miss the Sholay hills. It is approx. 4-5 kms from the Kamath and Janapada Loka and a good place for trekking in the mid of landscape surroundings.

In our case, our purpose of going out was solved. Hence, we started back around 3:15 and managed to enter the home by 5:30. All in all, it was the relaxed, fun-filled and an educational trip.

Bangalore to Tirupati Road Trip

 

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Tirupati Balaji temple. Photo courtesy: Avinashx

Tirupati is a world-famous Hindu pilgrimage place in Andra Pradesh, India. It is a place where people from all walks of life and different part of the world come to worship Lord Shri Venkateshwara.

I am a big fan of long weekends as these are the times when I get a break from my routine work and get a chance to explore the world. The recent long weekend (August 12-15) was a similar opportunity for me to plan a family trip and we zeroed on Tirupati trip. Though this was not my first trip, it was different from my last ones in many respects such as the time we spent on the Tirumala (upper Tirupati, where Lord Venkateshwara Shrine is located), witness different rituals of the temple and overall comfort we felt.

Before I get into the details of my trip, I would like to keep you informed about an important point, if you want to enjoy your stay at Tirupati, go for online booking of tickets. Now, TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam) trust has made everything online, and you can easily book darshan, accommodation and Seva tickets online.  This will not only help you to plan your itinerary in advance but also speed up the process of getting the required stuff quickly at Tirumala.

Tirumala is 267 km from Bangalore. As we had booked the tickets for 1:00 PM same day for the darshan, we started early at 5:30 AM from Bangalore and took NH75 and NH206 route. There is a double lane till Chittoor district, which is an easy ride. Post that it is a single road till the Tirumala entrance. There are many small restaurants on the way, but as we were running short of time, we decided not to stop anyway (except for bio break) as anyways we were carrying home-made food and snacks. The route is scenic with lots of hills on both the sides and ample greenery. On the way, we noticed the rows of terracotta and clay product shops. The rates in these shops were almost three times less than Bangalore price and there were plenty options to pick the stuff.


We reached at the foothills of Tirumala at 10:35 AM, it has a grand entrance with very tight security. It usually takes 15-20 minutes to cross the gate as all the time there is a huge queue of vehicles going towards Tirumala. The security guard asked us to remove all the stuff from the vehicle and cross them through scan machine and also asked us to go through the scanner for obvious security reasons. After the clearance and receiving the ticket from the entrance, we started our uphill journey of 22 km to reach the top of Hill (Tirumala). It is a beautiful scenery en-route, and one can feel the positive vibes of the surrounding.

There are lots of accommodation options both in Tirupati and Tirumala, but if you want to stay in Tirumala, you need to do the advance online booking of it. As we booked the accommodation in Tirumala, so our next action after reaching the top was to search for the place which we booked. We were guided by the police and security guard that we need to collect the accommodation information from a place near CRO (Central reception office). One can only book the accommodation in Tirumala only for 24 hours. So, while booking the accommodation tickets online, you will get two options, either to book a room before 12:00 hrs or after 12:00 hrs. You can select the timing according to your darshan timing. Since for us, it was 1:00 PM, we had selected after 12:00 hrs. For noon booking, the counter open at 12:00 and there are four counters (as per the different room categories-Rs. 150; 500; 1500 and 2000), everybody is asked to stand in the queue as per their room category.


Our room was in Sankumitta Guest House (SMGH), it was a spacious guest house, and each room has two big rooms (2 beds in each room) and an attached bathroom with the 24 hours hot and cold water facility.  After briefly relaxing in our room, we had our food and decided to get ready for the darshan. The way to reach the darshan queue from the guesthouse was hardly a minute away. In order to save time, it is a good idea to keep our belongings (shoes, bags, etc.) at room because everything has to go through a scan before entering the temple premises and considering the crowd it easily takes few minutes to half an hour to pass through the scan process with stuff.

May be because of afternoon time, it was not much crowded. Om Namo Venkatesaya and Govinda Govinda chanting were extruding powerful positive energy and giving strength to every devotee to keep walking and feel energetic and enthusiastic. Hours of wait and walk is worth to get a glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara. The aura around deity is so powerful and tranquil that in spite of seeing the Lord in front of you, it does not seem enough and it develops an excitement and thirst to visit next time. As per current rule, with each ticket one can get only two Tirupati laddus, the taste of these laddus are so unique and famous that these laddus have got the GI (Geographical Identification) status.  It is good to carry a small poly bag to collect the laddus to avoid standing on queue else you can also buy a polybag from the counters (each bag cost two rupees).

There is an Anjaneya temple (Hanuman) exactly opposite the main temple, people go there to light a lamp and pray. We were able to finish everything by 3:00 PM, and after that, we decided to return to our room for some rest and then for an evening walk around Tirumala town. Evenings are pleasant with the chanting of Venkateshwara in the air. Tirumala is a clean and well-managed town; there are lots of vegetarian food joint, parks and shops to purchase souvenir, clothes, fancy stuff and toys.

 

We decided to get up early next day and take a visit to the temple premises. It was a great feeling to see the calm, composed and divine atmosphere. Hundreds of people were sleeping in the premise of the temple with all their luggage and family, also few groups gathered in front of the temple to perform some rituals.


On the way back to Bangalore we saw the array of seven hills which were making the face of a human (or may be of Lord Venkateshwara). It was a blissful and memorable trip.

Halebidu and Belur Trip

Halebidu and Belur are two small towns in the Hassan district of Karnataka, India. They are approx. 210 km away from Bangalore and an ideal place for a one day trip. Both the places holds a significant historical importance not just because of its unique architecture but their glorious history before the invasion from the west. Halebidu was the capital of Hoysala dynasty and enjoyed the status of the cultural, political and economic epicenter of the 12th century Hoysala dynasty.

The temples of both the places are built by renowned architect Jakanachari, a legendary architect of the 12th century. He is credited with building various temples of Chalukyas and Hoysala dynasty. Temples are carved with Indian mythological stories. It is said that it took over 100 years to construct the Hoysaleshwara temple of Halebidu. Currently, there are not many temples are present in their original form except  Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebidu and Chennakeshava temple in Belur. Lord Shiva is prayed in Hoysaleshwara temple and Lord Vishnu in Chennakeshava temple. These two temples are living example to the architecture epitome achieved several hundred years back.

My recent visit to Halebidu and Belur temples was an amazing experience as was a chance to relive the 12th-century architectural wonder. The intricate details of Indian mythological stories and complex expressions of human emotions were so magnificently described that one will be just stunned to look at those larger than life scriptures. The walls of both the temples were layered with intricate carving of Indian mythological stories from Upanishad, Puranas, Ramayan, and Mahabharat. It is a landscape of complex expressions of human emotions. Every part of the stories is so magnificently described that one will be just stunned to look at those larger than life scriptures.

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If you are from Bangalore or nearby places and have a plan to visit these places, you may find the following itinerary handy to plan the trip:

Start Early- Ideal time to start from Bangalore to Halebidu is early morning around 6:00 AM via Nice Road. It will not only help you to avoid city traffic but also enjoy the fresh morning air 🙂

Road Condition- Road is in very good condition and broad on the way to Hassan. One can find less to moderate traffic on their way. One has to drive further 32km (approx.) after reaching Hassan for Halebidu. Belur is approximately 18 km from Halebidu through the main road. It is advisable to take a link route to reach Belur as it will save the time and helps to avoid the 5-6 km of a stretch.

Eating Joints- There are many good options on the way to Hassan. To name a few-Mayur Restaurant,( on the way to Hassan), A2B, Polar Bear-Ice cream joint, etc. Outside temples you will find several vendors selling juices, fruits, artifacts, etc.

[Note: There are no entry fees for Halebidu and Belur temples]

Chikka Tirupati-An alternate destination for tonsure ceremony

Tirupati Balaji temple is a Hindu shrine dedicated to Sri Lord Venkateshwara. It is a world famous pilgrim place for Hindu devotees. Over ten lakhs people from all walks of life visit temple every day. One of the important ceremonies which are deeply associated with Balaji temple is tonsure. Every day thousands of people get tonsured as a symbol of the sacrifice of their false-ego in the form of letting go their physical beauty by chopping their hair. For kids and babies, this ritual is followed as a part of the century-long tradition to devote hair to Lord to make a contribution to the promise which Lord Venkateshwara made to his mother, Neeladri. It is a free service from TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Trust).

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However, considering the crowd Tirupati manages every day, many people have a worry of how they will manage with small babies in the long and crowded queue with hours of waiting. Chikka Tirupati located in Malur taluk in outskirts of Bangalore is an answer for these worrisome questions. Chikka Tirupati is well connected with Bangalore and approximately an hour drive from K.R. Puram railway station. Being comparatively less crowd and at par with Tirupati Balaji in regards to management and required facilities, makes it an ideal alternative of  Tirupati Balaji Temple who have the desire to offer prayer to Lord Venkateshwara but have limited time or concerns over the crowd.

At the entrance of the temple, a free vehicle parking space is available. You may park there or check with flower shop owners at the entrance (they are an excellent guide for any queries). There are lots of prayers items, toys, and snacks shop inside the premises. You can get a good deal based on your negotiation skills. In the left side of the premise, there is a separate hall for the tonsure ceremony. You need to purchase a ticket at the entrance of the hall and stand in one of the multiple queues for your chance. At any point in time, you will find approx. 4- 5 barbers in action.

The set-up is not great in terms of hygiene, but to ensure the medical safety, barbers use a new blade all the time before starting any tonsure. It is good practice if you carry your blade and ask them to use it on your turn. There is a possibility of small cuts here and there on the head while tonsure, for which barbers apply alums and suggests to later apply sandalwood after taking a bath. There is a designated place for bathing outside the tonsure hall with a proper supply of hot and cold water. Also, you will find lots of vendors with sandalwood paste; you may ask them to apply the paste on your head. It is advisable to apply sandalwood paste post tonsure as it helps to keep the head cool and heal the cuts fast. As per the TTD rules, tonsuring and getting water for bathing is a free service but people are happy to give offerings to the helpers as a gesture of gratitude.

Chikka Tirupati celebrates all the occasions similar to Tirupati Balaji. To get the Lord Venkateshwara darshan is a quick affair here in case you are not planning the visit on one of those auspicious days such as Bhramotsavam or Teppotsavam etc.  The architecture of temple exteriors is different from the Tirupati Balaji temple, but the appearance of sanctum sanctorum is more or less the same. Also, comparatively the time you can spend here in front of the Lord is more.

In total, Chikka Tirupati is a good option to get the darshan of Lord and for tonsure. But definitely, it is not a substitute of Tirupati! Whenever you have time, ensure that you pay a visit to Tirupati Balaji. Whoever goes there once, only those understand the aura of it and are compelled to make the next visit as early as possible. 🙂

 

 

Road Trip to Ooty from Bangalore

The long weekends are always an excuse for me to plan out a trip to escape from the city hustle, and enjoy my “me” time. Last weekend was the same occasion, and we zeroed on Bangalore to Ooty road trip.

Ooty is a small town in the Nilgiri mountain range in the Tamilnadu state of India. It is a famous hill station in South India and because of its lush green and mesmerizing landscapes, it is also known as Queen of hills.

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Picturesque Emerald Lake

Our road trip started from Bangalore at 7:00 AM (count it as late, the ideal time to start a road trip of over 250 km is by or before 6:00 AM in order to avoid the city traffic and keep sometime for roaming around the place). We took the Nice road which is the shortest and most preferred route to go out of Bangalore city in case you are travelling towards Mysore (to reach Ooty, one has to cross Mysore city). As we started late, we faced a good amount of traffic on tolls, diversions and on roadside restaurants.

There are many other good restaurants in every half a kilometre meters distance after entering Ramanagara district, you may choose the one suits your time and comfort. We took our first halt at Kamath Hotel, Ramanagaram. This south Indian restaurant is famous among all commuters for its authentic South Indian food, nice ambience and reasonable rates. After having sumptuous south Indian breakfast with juicy jalebis we headed to cover our rest of the distance. There are many worth visiting and famous places from Ramanagaram ( (Evergreen Bollywood movie, Sholay was shooted in the hills of Ramanagarm ) onward till we reach Ooty. To name a few, Channapatna (famous for wooden toys), Bidadi ( famous for Tatte idly), Mandya ( famous for sugarcane fields and  Kaveri river), Sri Rangapatanam (Tipu Sultan’s palace, battleground, martyr’s place, Sri Ranganathswamy Temple), Sangam, etc.

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Channapatna Wooden Toys. Photo courtesy: Pratheep

 

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Ramanagaram Hills. Photo Courtesy: Navaneeth KN

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Ranganathaswamy Temple. Photo Courtesy: Sujit

As our focus was Ooty, we decided to skip all and took a diversion from the outskirts of Mysore. The clock was ticking 12 and we were still good three hours away from the destination. Hence, with collective consensus, we decided to drive as much as possible without any halt ( bio breaks were exempted!). Another very famous place to cross on the way to Ooty is Bandipur Forest Reserve. On the way to Bandipur, one can see a lot of fields, coconut trees, watermelon, small shops and villages. Bandipur is a Tiger Reserve, which was established with the intention to control the falling tiger population in the year 1974. To see big cats, one has to go deep in the jungle with the help and permission of forest ranger. But if you are the one who is happy with deers, monkeys, and wild boar then you will see them enough though your vehicle while crossing the jungle. Bandipur is also an en route to enter Tamilnadu through Madhumalai forest range.

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Madhumalai forest range is a habitat of the same kind of animals as in Bandipur. After 20 minutes drive in Madhumalai forest, there is a junction which forked in two roads to Ooty. The long route is less steep, one can enjoy more time with nature and has a couple of tourist spots as well (Needle point, Pykara lake), whereas the other route is short, steeper, right through the mid of the hill with 36 hairpin bends. It is a ghat route and approx. 30 km less than the longer one. I have heard that police does not allow the downward journey for all vehicles from the shorter route. Hence, we opted for the shorter route to experience the adventure of driving through ghats.

 

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Courtesy: Irvin Calicut

 

The short route is surrounded by beautiful mountains, valleys and waterfall. Another fascinating scene was to see cyclists on that steep route. Profusely sweating, thoroughly tired yet determined to make up to the top. One more scene which attracted our attention was that many hatchbacks and sedan cars were standing after every few 100 meters with their bonnet open! Because of steepness, the engine got too hot to push in the cool weather. Thankfully, we were in the SUV and I believe that saved us from being one of those hot engine victims. So it is advisable to go in a vehicle with a powerful engine which is meant for rough roads and uncertain rides.

After driving for approximately an hour, we stepped in Ooty. It was a beautiful weather with cool breeze and drizzle. At quarter-to-three we stepped in our hotel. Cool and fresh breeze crossing us, assuring us that it was worthwhile to travel Ooty. It’s a great place to relax, unwind and get soaked in the beauty of a hill station.