Thursday, December 20, 2018

Baby's (Kaniyan) day out for 1st Birthday - Varkala, Kovalam Thiruparappu falls and Padmanabhapuram palace

The last time I went to Varkala, it was a solo trip when my wife stayed back home with our new born. I had promised them that I'll take them to the places I visited without them last time. So that's how this trip shaped up as Kaniyan's first birthday trip. The plan was Varkala - Kovalam - Thirparappu falls and Padmanabhapuram palace this time. We booked the train tickets and rooms well in advance and were eager to see if Kaniyan will have fun in his first trip. We had booked the Tambaram to Kollam Suvidha express to kickstart our trip.

Day 1, destination - Varkala:

At 05:40 AM, the train reached Sengottai and from there to Kollam, the train took its path on the hill. As the day slowly dawned, we could see the misty clouds hovering over the hill. As the train moved on, we saw the mist slowly giving way to the hidden trees. The path unwinded through numerous tunnels and curves along the hill with few houses here and there. We got to see such green beauty and passing streams while Kaniyan kept snoozing peacefully in an almost empty train. This train travel in itself was a dreamy experience and our trip started to get its meaning.

We reached Varkala from Kollam through another train. The beach and our hotel were 3 KM away from the railway station. We started walking to reach our destination after a small refreshment. We could not help but observe the houses along the way. They were either huge houses with huge gardens or small houses with huge gardens. This gave a pleasant feeling even though it was sunny. Most of the houses we noticed had rainwater harvesting system installed in their rooftops. It was nice to know that the people living there were responsible of their surroundings. Deep down somewhere, I wished that how nice it would be if our city/town was also like this. But thinking about how we build up all available spaces and how we sit inside concrete forest and talk about modern economic development, made me feel somewhat sad.

We reached our hotel and were welcomed by the sound of some group of friends singing "Happy birthday" for their friend. Smiling at Kaniyan, we took the keys to our room and freshened up. Then after lunch and some rest, we set off to the beach. The crowd was very less and nothing compared to my last visit when it was pretty crowdy. Kaniyan had a very good time playing at the beach. So we chilled for some more time there. Then we started walking on the cliff. The entire stretch is lined with hotels, restaurants and shops albeit with very less crowd this time, which is unusual for December season. Walking on the Varkala cliff means there are hotels and restaurants with nice decorations and music on one side and the sea with it's never ending waves on the other side. Then we had our dinner, reached our hotel and called it a day.

Day 2, destination - Kovalam:

We reached Varkala station via auto this time after breakfast at our hotel. From Varkala we boarded a train to Trivandrum. On reaching Trivandrum while we were about to go to the bus stand, a policeman helped us out in getting an auto to Kovalam beach as it was hartal on that day and no buses were plying. We must say that from our experiences so far, auto rides are much better priced in Kerala than in Chennai and buses run on time at jet speed throughout Kerala.

We reached Kovalam beach and walked to our room on the lighthouse beach. Crowd was less there too and our hotel manager upgraded our stay. We had lunch and in the evening we went to the lighthouse. One can see the abundance of coconut trees from the lighthouse top. As acknowledged widely, the view of the sea from the lighthouse is a divine sight and I cannot describe it better in words. Just to top this, Kaniyan decided to run round and round the lighthouse and had a hearty laugh when we caught him. Then I swam for some time in the sea and had the chance of interacting with two localities and swim with them. Then we sat for some time on the beach while observing the surreal surrounding as dusk crept in. Though the crowd was less, it added beauty to the beach in both our destinations. At night, we could hear the splashing of the sea waves from our hotel room. It gave us a distinctive sense of contentment.

Day 3, destination - Thiruparappu falls:

We got to know from the hotel managers and auto drivers that many tourists, especially foreigners didn't turn up or cancelled on them for two reasons. One is the nippah virus scare and the other is the flood. Otherwise this used to be their flourishing season.
From Trivandrum, Thuckalay was 60 KM away. So we thought that we could reach in one and half hours. But the route went inside the city and the towns on the way. And our bus had a breakdown. So finally we reached our room at Thuckalay at 02:00 PM. From our room, it would take more than an hour to reach Thiruparappu falls via bus as it had numerous stops on the way. While we were thinking about it, our host offered to lend us their bike for rent. We enjoyed our ride to the falls. We could see the western ghats yonder and nearby too the roads were surrounded with trees and vegetation. It was a cold day.

We reached the falls and completed the ritual of bathing in it. Then we went to dam from where the falls originated. We saw an elephant taking bath too and I had a short swim. After this, we felt that the entire day's travel was totally worth it and we returned to our room.

Day 4 - Padmanabhapuram palace:

Since the palace was close to our room, we took our time to start the day. The palace had the royal feeling intact with the traditional furniture, building style and materials used dating back to the 18th century! We were like, "What a life the kings had". Then we visited the museum. It had ancient sculptures and rock scriptures, many written in Tamil. Then we returned to our room. After lunch, we boarded a Kerala bus to Nagercoil junction. That route also had some nice views of farmlands and mountains and then we reached the junction.
With that, our trip ended and we just had to board our train to Tambaram.

In this entire trip, Kaniyan coped up well and didn't give us doubts on our decision to take him to a trip so soon and in a cold weather. His food habits let him have something from everywhere we went (only less spicy). So he enjoyed the trip with good food, good playtime and good sleep at night. We were happy to have celebrated his b'day this way. Celebrating our kids' birthday with friends and family sure gives happiness but in our opinion, often is a stage to showcase where we stand in the society, to the people in the society.

Going to such trips that take us closer to nature only makes us feel how far we have moved away from nature. With this guilty realisation only this trip ended.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Preparing for your first ride? Here is one more blog to read

Riding is a really fun activity. Along with the fun, also comes the responsibility for one self and for others. Unlike other travel options, bike riding has its own advantages and challenges. The liberty and freedom in unmatched when comparing with any other travel option. Preparing for a ride is pretty important. Anything less than 500km would not need a serious preparation, still need some basics taken care. This is to make sure, we do not waste time while on short rides, take care of our safety and others around. Here is a list for reference, feel free to let me know if we need to add anything more.

 Way to Athirapally with biker pointing the direction

  1. Personal safety:
    1. Helmet. Not just on rides, even otherwise helmet is pretty important for riders. On long rides, it is the must for pillions as well. Just having an helmet is not enough, it has to be of a good quality and has to be buckled up all the time. Here is an incident  that happened few years back just firming up my beief,
    2. Riding gear: The only purpose of it is to make sure you are up and can take care of yourself in case of an eventuality. Basic starts with a tough jean and a glove. Even a basic glove is good enough as we get our palm to support intuitively. To have it padded or protected will give us the confidence to use it without fear. A shoe that can protect your feet. Hard one will be preferred. These three I would say is the basics for rider and also for pillions. If you want added protection, a basic ankle and knee guard will cover all the initial impact points.  Level up will be riding shoes, riding pants and jacket, which gives you protection in case you had to slide.
    3. (Optional) This is for solo rides. Share an option to track you down in case you do not contact for a specific period of time. I would usually leave my google login, so that my mobile can be tracked without activating real-time share which will drain the battery. 
  2.     Bike:
    1. Make sure the bike is in a good riding condition. Brakes working properly.
    2. Side mirror is a must for highway riding. Even on a straight road you will need eyes all around you. Side mirrors add a couple.
    3. Chain has to be cleaned and lubricated if possible
    4. Ropes (Depending on the ride and luggage)
    5. Mobile holder (Optional)
  3. Packing:
    1. Plan for wet condition. Always carry enough covers to protect your dry cloths and electronic gadgets. You may never know when this will come handy.
    2. Always carry a small knife and two sources of fire (Matches and lighter)
    3. Always travel light. Try to fit in everything in a single bag. An additional bag or cover that you will need when you are on and off your bike (Optional)
    4. Always have water with you. At least 500 ml all the time. This is for drinking, cleaning, first-aid etc.
    5. Carry some snacks with you, compact. I would suggest groundnut burfi as it will take care of your protein, carb and sugar needs. There are days I cover distance just snacking on these burfies and settle for a good dinner when sun is down.
    6. If you are planning to get lost, carry a compass with you.
  4. Preparation:
    1. Have a checklist prepared
    2. Make sure you have everything in the checklist
    3. Download and keep offline map of the places you are planning to visit and if possible, the whole route.
    4. I usually lay down everything on the floor before I start to pack. I also take a picture, tat way I also know what went in and possibly which bag.

Riding is not everyone’s cup of coffee, but still it is not a bad idea to try that coffee and decide if it is yours or not. This blog should help you get prepared if you are planning to venture out and try it for yourself alone or as a group.

Be responsible on the road and have fun riding!

If you are interested reading, click here to read my first first solo ride covering Coimbatore - Coonor - Valparai - Athirapally and back to Coimbatore. This is an unplanned ride.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

How to remove Formalin from Fish, Dry Fish, Vegetables and Fruits

It is a shock to most of us to see our trusted source of protein, fish is glazed with substance like Formalin. Formalin is Formaldehyde in water. Formalin is primarily used to preserve tissues from decaying by killing the bacteria which caused the decomposition. This is the reason Formalin is used to preserve dead bodies and during the embalming process to preserve a dead body for longer period of time.

Fish in open fish market

Why Formalin in fishes?

There are different fishing techniques used. Traditional fishing are human powered, they do not venture out for weeks and would return to shore once they have a catch. This is almost a daily activity. With the motorized boats and ships, fishermen can venture in to the open ocean for weeks and could also stay in for months before they bring back their catch to the shore and sell them to factories and markets. Primary mode of preserving the fish is cold storage. Fish is packed with crushed ice and stored in a thermal insulated environment. Just this can store fishes for days and some cases even weeks. Greed and ease of use has introduced Formalin in to this simple process. Formalin is sprayed or in some cased being added to the ice itself to preserve fishes. This way the fish looks fresh for days or weeks.

Why Formalin is a problem now?

This problem is all around the world. Many countries have stringent control over permissible amount of Formalin in food items. In few countries where the food authority is not stringent, people have a free hand to play with our food.

With the reports of fishes glazed with Formalin found in Kerala,  that were brought from Tamil Nadu was the red flag. TN gvt did not jump in to it right away, The Hindu conducted their own investigation and reported this story with all the necessary evidence. It was only then it was a wake-up call for everyone. News media started reporting and Gvt from their side has gone in to a defensive mode to avoid panic. Ex gvt officials have now come out telling that Formalin and in some cases even bleaching powder is used on fishes to keep them fresh. After the news from the South, now reports are coming from Assam, Odisha and other parts of the country that Formalin is found in Fishes that are meant for human consumption.

These substances even in traces could cause long term kidney, liver and lungs related problem. It will cause itchiness in some cases and also breathing problem for few. Unconfirmed reports also say long term exposure to Formalin may cause cancer.

Only Fish or what else?

Formalin is not used only on fishes, when the greedy wants to make money, you and me are the victims. Formalin is quiet literally used on all forms of animal meat, milk, fruits and vegetables to increase their shelf life, so that the industry need not waste what can be sold if it can be kept fresh for a longer period of time. Only the fish industry has come under the microscope, others would when there is an incident and media houses see there is a 5 min story they can report, until then these will go on.

How to remove Formalin from Fish, Dry Fish, Vegetables and Fruits?

  • Formalin forms a layer on top of the food item  that is sprayed up on, it is always best to peel off the skin of the vegetable or fruit if you do not know the source or the preservation method used before it lands on your shopping basket.
  • Formalin is water soluble, we can take advantage of this property and dilute the concentrate of formalin in the food. You can soak the fish, vegetable, fruit in fresh water for an hour, this is dilute Formalin, you can then rinse it well and again soak it in water for another 15 min to remove any trace of Formalin again.
  • A better method will be to use salt along with water while you soak it for the first one hour, salt will help break down Formalin better.
  • If you are fine with the taste, the best method will be to soak the fish/vegetable/fruits in a solution made from 95% water and 5% cooking grade vinegar. Also add in a pinch of turmeric powder along with this solution. Once you let the food item soaked in for 1 hour, it will reduce the concentrate. After this, rise the item completely and let it soak in fresh water for another 15 min before you start cooking.
  • Formalin in milk cannot be cleaned. You can only see for yourself if any unnatural preservative has been used. If you have a doubt on the milk that you receive, take a small sample and leave it outside without refrigeration over night. Raw milk will go sour (get spoil), if there is no preservative used. If the milk is still fresh even when you boil, there are chances of foul play.

Unless our Food authorities take strict action against those people behind this toxic practice, people will still have a free hand to play with the food we eat. More over, we are paying for the toxic we buy and eat. In this day and age, being aware and asking the right questions is the first line of defense. I hope this blog gives you some information and will help you in making a right and healthy choice when it comes to your food and how cautious you can be for yourself and your family.

With a toxic filled world, this is just one more to beware of, this will not stop me from having my fish. I will just be cautious and me personally will continue to have my favorite fishes.