Thursday, December 11, 2014

Walking the Duder

It was such a relief to get over the assignments by the end of spring. Summer looked quite promising with the increasing temperature and the fluttering leaves on trees. The place which looked so pale so far started to show its true colors, in its literal sense. I was badly looking forward for the summer, so that I could pack my bags and explore this place which still seems so new to me. But now, it’s different, I am liking it so much more than before. Ah yea!! It’s the weather which is making the difference and my mindset too. I have finally got my mind convinced that, this is where I am now and I got to be here completely.

Well, now that the mind game was won over and the weather being in favor too, I received an invitation from my lovely host to go to Duder Regional Park in the south of Auckland. It is about 45 kms from the city and suggested to take a personal transport than taking multiple public transport and taxis to reach here. It is one among the 25 beautiful regional parks in Auckland. Ah!! You got to be guessing by now, Yes, I will make sure to visit all of them during my stay here.

It was a short and a beautiful drive towards Whitford village. The horse grazing in the fields adjacent to the roads reminded of a scene in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It was indeed a beautiful sight to see a herd of sheep grazing on the fields far on the hills. We soon reached the east coast. My first experience of seeing a beach in New Zealand. It is a perfect place to spend a lazy day on the beach reading a book. We dint stop at the beach though, Duder was further ahead. We parked our car outside the park. Make sure to take a map of the park from the notice board right there. The maps comes handy when you are there for the first time and in general very informative.

It must have been around 9 am and the walk was pretty short. It won’t take too long to walk around in this park, but bet you, the sight is so beautiful at the Whakakaiwhara point that you wouldn’t mind spending a whole day there. We decided to do the Farm Loop which is 4.3 kms and walk up to Whakakaiwhara point which is an additional 2.4 kms. There is a deviation to Coastal walk which is additional 2 kms if you have time. I’m sure every bit of land here is worth visiting. So indeed an ideal walk for beginners too. Sheep are in heaps grazing on these hills, we are intruders and so they make sure to stay in their safe zone. We quickly reached the tip of the park and sat for a while watching the boats sail, few gliders fly above us and the sea changing its color.  I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet time I got here. We listened to some beautiful music on our phones and headed back.

It was an uneventful journey except for an encounter of an angry bird.  A Magpie, an Australian origin bird, seemed quite offended by our intrusion and attacked us. Might sound quite funny though. Yea, the birds mostly attack if their nests are around and if they have li’l ones or eggs. It made weird noises as it flew above us, indicating an attack. We pretty much dint know how to handle the situation. All we knew was that it had strong beaks are definitely not a bad idea getting pecked. All we could do was to try and shoo it away with our hats. Hmmm, fortunately the bird spared us for once but kept flying up there above us. After a distance, it looked bad, it was targeting us for the second time. And we did the same thing again. We managed to run from that place as far as possible and probably must have managed to leave the danger zone soon. It spared us. From here it was a nice jog down the hill to reach the car park. It wasn’t even lunch time. We leisurely drove back home and then headed out to have a yummy and filling pancakes at a strawberry farm.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Climbing the Volcanic Cones around the city

It’s been more than 2 months for me now in this city and it still seems new. The Indian inside me still refuses to develop even the slightest belongingness to this place. That sounds strange to me too. I blame it on the cold weather. With the spring setting in, I am getting my wings ready to set off and explore this Island. The easiest and the cheapest way to see the place is by walk and there are innumerable bush walks, day walks right inside the city. My list is ready and will try to ignore any curses from my bank account for having cultivated an expensive hobby like travelling.

Auckland War Memorial, Photo taken by Lisa

Though a small country, there are endless beautiful places to visit, no dearth for adventure and wonderful people. History of this city is fascinating and anyone who reaches here will invariably be interested in exploring more and more about this wonderful place. The numerous museums and parks everywhere you go reminds how close to nature you are. A 15 minute walk from a house in suburb will take you to a bush which is no less than a thick forest and every corner of the park speaks loud of the attention it receives. This country is also famous for several volcanic cones and craters some of which are still active and makes news by erupting now and then. It would not be natural to write anything more about this country yet. I hope to write a dedicated post on this when the time is right.

After a long hibernation, I was craving to pack my bag and that’s when I joined Auckland hiking group. There was no effort to decide on which group to join as all of them are genuine and I just found one close to my place. And ever since I was here I wanted to climb the Volcano Mountains, just then there was a meetup to climb 8 volcanic cones around the city. 25 km was an ambitious one as I was walking for so long after like almost 6 months or more now. But I dint want to miss this opportunity and decide to climb at least 5 of the 8 mountains.

So all set on a bright sunny day, there were many others like me assembled in front of the Auckland war memorial. Just to make sure I keep up with the pace with group I intentionally dint carry the camera and wanted to just walk and clicked very few on my phone. The place we assembled itself was on a mountain. From here we started our walk and visited the winter garden which is right adjacent to the museum.
Winter garden, Photo taken by Stephen

On top of Mt Eden

After the garden, we walked towards Mt Eden. Suburbs around these mountains are named after these mountains itself. Mt Eden is one among the very affluent suburbs close to the city and flaunts old and large houses with wide roads lined with huge trees all along.

Reading the history of each of these mountains relates to the volcanic cones being used a fortification by Maori later as quarry and pasture lands and then to reserve water to be supplied for surrounding houses. Today most of these are protected as pasture lands and parks for visitors.

At Mt St John Photo taken by Stephen

We walked to Mt Hobson from here and on reaching every summit, Stephen, the meetup organizer would take a group picture before we head to the next mountain. I was blown away by this interesting fellow. During the introduction session we stood in a circle to say Hi to all with our names and the countries we come from. This fellow repeated all the 60 odd names without many mistakes and he continues to remember almost all his team members. This seems extraordinary for me as I am really bad at remembering names.

Photo taken by Ross

Throughout the walk there were so many people you would say hello to and share a small talk. As this was a big group and I don’t really like the big numbers I still managed to find some quiet time for myself and enjoyed the walk.

Photo taken by Stephen

Watching the cattle graze has been one of my favorite scenes ever since a kid. It is such a common sight here that I feel I am so close to my dream or rather I am living my dreams. A close look on a far away mountain, you will notice a herd of sheep and cattle grazing. Its such a beautiful sight.

From Mt Hobson, we headed to Mt John. Another beautiful scoria cone with a large crater. All these mountains have a Maori name like this one is Te Kopuke or Tikikopuke, but are seldom used. I assume this could be because of the difficulty in spelling them. But even now many places in New Zealand still have Maori names like Rangitoto, Takanini, Manukau. I initially found them to be funny and never could recall the names, later as I search for their meanings I realize how wonderfully they are named. I someday wish to learn Maori and for now I can only say “Kia ora” which means “Hi” or greetings.

                                                                                                                                                Photo taken by Lisa

Our next stop was at One Tree Hill passing through a beautiful Cornwall Park. This place is crowded with families spending some quality with their little ones. These li’l ones could be kids or dogs. Dogs’ looks more like dolls with all the grooming and care they receive.

Photo taken by Jane

On the volcanic peak of One Tree Hill is an obelisk on the grave of an English man and a bronze statue of a Maori warrior. The story of the treaty between English and Maori called Treaty of Waitangi, is an interesting history one should know about while in New Zealand.

On top of One Tree Hill

Our next climb was to Big King, which according to me was a difficult one. Three kings is a volcanic cone which has three peaks and one of them being Big King. The other two are mostly quarried and no more prominent. The peak is a vertical climb for almost 133 meters with a prominent water tower at the peak. We stopped here for a group pic and soon started walking to our next peak which was Mt Roskill.  

Photo taken by Stephen

Another beautiful volcanic peak with two craters. Most of these volcano peaks are identified to be more than 28,000 year old. When we reached here, the sky was decorated with dragon sized colorful kites. It seems to be a regular hobby for people flying kites there. I could sit there for long watching the kites sway, as the body craved for some rest relaxing on the large lump of green grass as natural cushion.

The last cone Mt Albert seemed close but was almost 50 minute walk from here. None of us wanted to stop and just pushed ourselves towards the last mountain. The walk through the city crossing bridges and water canals was a treat to watch. The sun was almost to set on the west spreading the golden light on the early blossoms of spring flowers. It was magical on the peak and we had covered the walk ahead of estimated time by few minutes.

After the last group picture and refilling the body with some water we started climbing down the hill. The body craved for some rest and we reached the nearest bus station to catch bus to reach the city. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Road trip – Theerthalli

Mar 31, 2014

We dint want to leave Agumbe so soon, such was the hospitality we received in this wonderful place. I would love to come here again.

The road from Agumbe which goes towards Shimoga takes you towards Kundadri. A right deviation on this road starts climbing the Kundadri hill. An ancient jain basadi is on top of this hill. The road gets extremely curvy and steep as we climb up. The car dint complain too much for the heavy workout early in the morning.    


The temple atmosphere is quiet with just the morning breeze & the sounds of the leaves fluttering. There were none, other than the three of us. The priest hinted us to quickly visit the temple just before he could close it after the morning pooja. As we stood praying in front of the deity, the priest, who unlike most of the priests in cities who does the job for money, found time to share the history of the temple. He explained how Jainism established and flourished under several thirthankaras. We listened to him, though with a little hesitation of thinking that he might later demand for money. He dint. We happily offered our prayers and took prasad he later offered.


The breeze on the hill was pleasant and the view of far off villages and farms was brilliant. Summer had just started, with the green patch of land still sustaining all around. The pond next to the temple looks dead and good for nothing. With the notice hung around saying not to swim, I assume the pond is deep enough to drown. Ride down the hill was quick though we took some wrong turns couple of times and then we had to turn back to finally reach Theerthalli road. From here it is easy to reach KuppaLi.


We reached kavimane around 12pm. Took tickets and the guide accompanied us on his own, we dint resist as he seemed to a nice fellow. Even though this was my second visit to this place, I dint mind having some one help us with more details about this place. The place, I feel is more than just a house. And Kuvempu is a gift for mankind. He has gifted us every single verse he has written. He writes in one of those several lines inscribed on one of the walls, which means, "I don't want people in London to read my work, but kannadigas (or Indians) to do kuvempu3_smallso". How many of us even have read a single book he has written, I'm sure not many. I cannot forget to mention here, about a wonderful poem O Nanna Chethana!, which is one of my favourites and every time I hear this song, I am in trance. It is so soothing and meaningful. Every word weighs heavier than any epic, and is so beautifully lyricked.

  Now, not just the man himself but every thing in this house is a remnant for today's generation. Of those several things, I don't think we even have seen them, forget using them in our lives. Like those huge wooden racks to store rice, utensils made of mud, attics in house. We were told that, Kuvemup's relatives stayed in this house, who also have preserved these antiques till date. When he passed away, they were shifted to a nearby accommodation to convert this as his museum.


Just like his writings, the story behind the name of this place KuppaLi is equally interesting. KuppaLisu in Kannada means "Hoping". A frog hops from one place to the other since this place is a set of some hills, people reach here hoping several such hills(not literally), which thus took name as KuppaLi, while most of us stress the L at the end, which is wrong but to be spelt just like we spell the L in "KuppaLisu".


After having seen the house in such great detail, we sat outside the house facing the arecanut farm adjacent to the building. We had lunch in the canteen outside and next visited Chibballagudde, famous for fishes. Behind the ganapathi temple is this calm water spot to relax. It is a common practice to feed the fishes in the pond with puffed rice. We sat watching a father-son duo feed them. Fishes are mammothic in size. They dived one above the other to grab the rice. It was perfect relaxation just before we could start our journey back to Mysore via Shimoga. During my previous visit to Shimoga, we had benne dosa in Shimoga city which was so yummy. We dint want to miss that this time too. We googled for the place and followed our navigator. That was a delicious dosa.


Throughout this trip I must mention that we drove on the best roads. Few of the places it was just laid. It was an easy drive to reach Mysore around 9:30pm.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Doddamane, Agumbe

An old structure which flaunts its rustic looks. The architecture of the house is what we call in local dialect as "Thotti mane" with large central square area which is open to the sky bordering it is a corridor covered with sloped tiled roof. The huge black pillars at the corners have been now supported with metal railing as the structure is very old. There are I don't know how many rooms, every corner we ventured opened into a huge  room. A typical wooden ladder to climb up the attic. It typically looks like your granny's place which you visited during your holidays.


We weren't too tired so after a quick round of fresh up, we sat in the portico enjoying the evening breeze watching people walk home. It was dark by now and we were hungry. Not because the stomachs were empty but because the glimpse of the afternoon menu what they served, invariably forced us to serve a early dinner. An endless number of items filled the banyan leaf. Starting from the pickle till the masala butter milk, every thing served was so so so delicious. For the first time in my life I left nothing except the leaf. We obviously ate more that necessary. With a heavy stomach, least we wanted to rest. The marooned roads of the Agumbe invited us take a stroll. The dark roads and the blank sky without a single star, made the surrounding look completely dark except for the lights of the vehicles passing by once in a while. We sat on the road relaxing.

We returned home to occupy our rooms and saw the preparations for the next day's festivals were on. Freshly prepared Hollige (a sweet prepared in South India) were kept in a wide plate with a thin cloth filmed over. Raja could not resist and Sumanth too showed interest. Before they could chalk out a plan to grab one, I had to shoo them away. The windows of our rooms next to the bed had a clear view of the table on which the sweet was kept and Raja kept a eye on that for a long time. The hollige must have haunted him the whole night.

bobbattu m Photo courtesy : Google images

Because of the Hollige, our next day plan got delayed. We were supposed to visit Kundadri hills for sunrise but we were happy watching it right from the windows of Doddamane. We enjoyed a hot bath from a authentic firewood heater (hanDe snana in local dialect). I took my sweet time watching the smoke from the firewood escape through the gaps in the tiled roof. It was a beautiful sight. We generously served several rounds of Avallakki prepared for breakfast. We dint want to miss a chance to eat Hollige but it seemed they would not offer it till the pooja was over. So we were a lil disappointed. We were done with avallakki and was about to get back to rooms, just then ajji came in and told us to have Hollige. Raja and Sumanth had no other option but to celebrate silently with a wide smile. We happily relished Hollige and our Ugadi was done. This is the best we could have on a festival away from home.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Road trip – Agumbe

Mar 30, 2014

This place surprisingly never entered my list but I remember having read about it during school days. This place claims to receive highest rainfall in the whole of Karnataka, I can still recollect my social teacher Ms Suma, teaching this. And I would, even then, dream of going to see this place. As a child, I had imagined watching the sunset standing on a bridge. I reached there to see the place to be more stunning than what I had imagined it to be.


We reached Agumbe around 9:30am. Having least idea what to do, we came across a sign board to Barkana and Jogi gundi falls. We had all time to explore them. The car entered the dark green forest on a narrow road. To our surprise the roads were good enough inside the forest too. It is very easy to miss the deviations to these falls, but with few locals helping us we first drove towards Barkana falls. As we went deeper into the forest the roads got narrower and there were several deviations. We stopped for some help near the first one, no human seem to come that way, so we blindly followed our instinct and took a right. Followed by all right deviations further. Finally at one point the road sloped down and again the road split. I got down from the car to check if there seemed to be any road ahead, on the right a log had fallen and we had no option but to take left. I notice few plastic covers scattered around, so we assumed to be on the right path. With serious doubts on whether to continue on this adventure any longer, we kept recollecting the deviations we took so that we could at least return back without getting lost.. We had no clue if we were on the right way. At one point we thought to turn back but somehow refused to do so. We waited to see if the road ended somewhere and so at least we would realise we are on the wrong path. After some distance ahead, we saw a slight steep after a natural right and noticed the railing. There it was, the view point to Barkana falls.


The view of the valley from here is stupendous though the volume of the water in the waterfall is very disappointing. We enjoyed the cool breeze in this place. Tried counting the range of valleys as far as the eyes could perceive them. After clicking few shots here we got back to the car and drove towards Jogi Gundi falls. It's easier to find this place. A huge tree trunk fallen on the pIMG_5346ath forced us to get on the feet to reach the falls. Proper railing and stone steps are in place till almost the falls. The water gushes between the hallow rocks carved out due to the force of the water currents. And a small pool forms beside it with tiny fishes swimming around your legs. They send tickles while they feed on the dead skin on your feet. It was a refreshing dip for few here while I choose to sit on the rocks.

It was lunch time and we enquired for a hotel after reaching the main road. Hotel Kamat served hot meals. It was peak sun and we were sweating like pigs while we hog the food. We checked with a local for a stay and he suggested to go to Doddamane. Suppose to be the biggest house in the town, as the name suggests. It was here, the famous TV serial Malgudi days was shot. In fact while we were on our way to this hotel we noticed doddamane and were amazed by its authentic structure.


We decided to walk to Onakke Abbi falls before we look for our stay. A small garden entrance which enters the forests. We weren't expecting a long walk now but this turned out to be one. The path inside the forest is clear so we dint feel lost but since we weren't prepared for walking this long we were skeptical on reaching the falls. It was mostly a climb but almost at the end there are steps to get down. We walked for more than 45 minutes. For the second time on the same day we were having similar thoughts of having to continue or not. But most of the time we do not give up. After reaching the bottom of the steps and we heard the water gushing below but falls is not to be seen. Searching for the falls we bend down to see the beautiful sight of water falling right below for several hundred feet. The water falls in two stages each of it must be more than a hundred feet. And the air blew in the opposite direction carrying water droplets. We were fooled into thinking it as rain. The water was extremely cold and as it dropped from the height, the tiny drops resembled diamond gems as they glittered in the sunlight. Fresh air blew across you face as we stood with our arm stretched facing the valley deep below. Every single step to reach here was so much worth. It was one of most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life.


From here, we reached the sunset point, for which Agumbe is most famous. Clouds spoilt the fun and we couldn't enjoy the best view one gets to see during the sunset. But sun dint want to disappoint us completely so he made way between the clouds and wished us bye for the day. Back in our home stay Doddamane, an interesting episode :p

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Road trip – Sringeri

29 Mar 2014

Me and my cousin waited for my friend, sipping tender coconut in the hot summer afternoon. It was a long weekend and we had decided to drive to Theerthalli just the day before. We dint know anything beyond this. We drove towards chikkamagalur. Roads are great though a little curvy after Hassan. We took a pit stop here in Hassan. We tried hot pav bhaji and surprisingly it was yummy. We dint stop till we reach chikkamaglur next. The sun was gone by now & it was my turn to drive after the dusk. The roads got extremely curvy from here on. I enjoyed every turn and every curve on the Chikkamaglur-Sringeri road. We dint want to miss the prasada at sringeri, so the last few kilometres the car simply flew. We reached there around 9:30pm and found that the prasada is closed by 8:30pm. We checked for hotels near by and a passer-by took us to a veg hotel which served authentic food. Unlike in places like dharmastala, it was easy to fetch a room here for the night. It was very economical too.




IMG_5062 modified

We woke up early and found that the hotel supplied hot water for a cost of Rs 10/- per bucket. I was more than just happy for the luxury. IMG_5086 modifiedThe temple, I heard from friend, is never crowded. I stayed outside the temple clicking pictures while others went in. I did go in later to offer my prayers too. But quickly resumed to click more pictures. The temple structure is a visual delight. It reminds me of all those monuments in Bellur-Hallebidu. After clicking enough I parked myself opposite to the sharada temple skimming through the pictures. A family from Belgaum passing by noticed a fair skinned visitor sitting next to me and opened a conversation with this foreigner. They were excited to see a man from France travelling alone in India and likes India more than his place. They asked him why he came to India? Was he alone? What does he do back in France? While the foreigner enthusiastically answered to their queries, it seemed to me that he was used to this sort of attentionIMG_5184 modified he gets where ever he goes. After the family walked past, we began speaking to each other. He asked me the same questions what they asked him :). I was surprised to know that he was 70 year old and first visited India back in 1978. I wasn't even born he said giggling at me. He explained how beautiful Manali was then, in late 70s. He has travelled across this huge country and finally found a second home in Sringeri. He goes back to France only to get his visa extended to stay in India for another 6 months.

Back in my hotel while I was standing outside, waiting for the others to show up, I see Philip walking back to his apartment down the city. He closes his hands to do a namasthe to a beggar on the street. They all seemed to know him.

After having breakfast in a hotel nearby, we checked out from our room and hit the road again, towards Agumbe.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ma first scuba dive at Nethrani Island

I took some time to realize that I have no option but to dive now. The moment was scary but I kept telling myself not to quit. I wasn't too sure when I showed my instructor an "OK" sign and we dived few meters. Even though I dint panic I was sure that something wasn't alright. My ears ached. I signaled him "Not OK", he asked me why and I pointed at my ears.


1620783_680180902038398_1531388163_nHe pressed my nose and reminded me to clear off the block in my ears. I tried doing it. The efforts cleared one of the blocks but continued to ache badly. We continued after I said "OK".  He kept pressing my nose every minute and throughout the dive I remember I was totaling engaged in clearing the block inside my ears. It pained like hell.

And at some point I almost prayed that the dive gets over as quickly as possible. The water wasn't clear till we reached the bed of the sea and those brown corals floated. We moved slowly and quite effortlessly watching tiny fishes and the corals around.

The sea bed looked like a vacant house. Due to the over dosage of underwater shows I watch on NatGeo & other adventure channels, this sight somehow refused to wow me. Or it is also possible that in the course of making myself comfortable underwater I dint really enjoy the scene around. But with what ever glimpse I remember of it, it was pale and blank.

We turned back after a while. Few tiny fishes, a long and wide colorful fish stood right below us. A frail sting ray kind of fish which was so transparent that one could easily miss noticing it swan in front of us. My instructor kept pointing at several of those tiny fishes while I was busy pressing the nose.


I met Sumanth and we both posed together for the pictures our instructors clicked. I saw another diver approaching us and when we came almost close I recognized him, it was Manju. We both stretched out arms for a high-five but funnily we missed it.


There was several centimeters of gap between our hands which we could not perceive in the water. It was really funny.We saw a large fish which stripes of beautiful blue, yellow, orange standing still in front of us. I don't remember throwing my eyes beyond few meters around me. It never struck me amidst the helluva discomfort I was facing inside the water.












Its not that we all saw all of these fishes during our dive, its a collection of few wonderful shots I collected across several albums. A glimpse of how wonderful this whole new world is, deep inside.

When we finally reached the surface of the water, I was only happy for it was finally over. My first dive was finally done. I don't really know if I ever looked back before jumping onto the boat. I changed into warm clothes and soon surrendered to slumber. I sat giving my back to the sun to keep warm and hogged on some snacks. I retired to sleep on a bench and never woke up till we had reached the mainland.