Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Solo travel: Alappuzha, Varkala and Kovalam - Beach hopping


Thanks giving always gives a reason to pack my bag and head out. Last year it was a bike ride around Karnataka. Year before was around the Nilgiris.

This year the initial plan was for a solo trek in Vellaingiri hills (Coimbatore). Already had the schedule ready. Train and bus identities. Was waiting for my card billing cycle to be over for Nov, so that I can book the tickets. After reading countless blogs and also inquiring through friends in Coimbatore, Velliangiri seemed to be a gamble as forest department does not give permission easily, going solo will be a definite no. Even if I can get through the loop holes, wild life threat is always there.

After giving it a serious thought, changed my plan to head in to Kerala. Kerala was in my head for almost 4 months. This was the time. I was planning this on a shoe string budget (What happened was different). Train was the cheapest option to reach, but the tickets had already run out. Private bus cost was out of my range, so turned to SETC, by which I was able to manage both the ways within Rs. 1,300. I had to let go of any comfort. Which is not a problem when it comes to travel ;) Had booked the rooms one in Alleppey for Rs. 320, another dorm in Kovalam also for Rs. 320 to go with the shoe string budget (theoretically).

The bus was at 3 pm on 24.Nov.2016 (Thursday). I planned to go around by public transport as much as possible during this travel. Made it to Koyambedu well ahead of time at 2:30 pm. No sign of the bus until 3:20 pm. Then I realized it was 3 pm IST (Read about IST). Bus slowly made it was in to the bay. After loading it full, the journey started at 4 pm (3 pm IST).

The bus reached Chenganacherry at 7:45 am. Now was the major task of finding the bus to Allapuzha. Task is complex as the buses do not have a route number or have anything written in English. You need to be able to read Malayalam or you need to run behind every bus to ask if it is going to Allapuzha. Here came up with a pretty neat trick. Checked Wikipedia for Allapuzha written in Malayalam. I was able to recognize "ழ" in "ആലപ്പുഴ" So my plan was to get in to any bus ending with ழ and the probability of it not being Allapuzha should be very minimum. Yaay, it worked. Made it in to Allapuzha bus with my own efforts :D

In Allapuzha checked in to White House Inn. The room was clean, but did not have much ventilation to keep mosquitoes away. With the windows all shut close, the room did not have a pleasant smell. Otherwise no complaints for Rs. 320. Quickly had a bath and enquiry  about the place I can check, Tony, the manager there suggested Marari Beach.

Was back to bus stand and this time took the bus with help from others and reached Marari beach. The beach was a good 3.5 km from the main road where I got dropped. Did not take an auto, started to walk. Got called by a person in a scooter, he offered me a lift and dropped me in Marari beach. On the way, noted few water holes which I could try on the way back. Had nothing to eat so far, something natural will be a good start.

Free lift from a friendly stranger. Marari Beach


Marari beach is a long beach with rows and rows of coconut trees on  the shore.

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Marari Beach


On the way back from Marari beach to the bus stand on the main road, got myself comfortable in a water hole and tried some spicy and tangy fish curry. Worth all the effort so far.



Then came back to Allapuzha, had lunch and went to the room to take a nap to be able to roam around again in the evening.

Evening walked all the way to Allapuzha beach. Sat down in an oasis right on the shore, with company of Malaya, made friend with Ansari. Shared a plate of fried fish with Ansari. He was telling about Allapuzha and places he had been and liked. Out of the discussion came two take away points. One was a place that served charcoal cooked chicken, near YMCA bridge. This is a small van with seats on the road. Ordered the chicken that Ansari had suggested. Added some beef and chapattis. Malaya was still in my head. Got hold of one right before they called it a day after standing in the queue outside like any shop in Kerala.

Called it a day.

26.Nov.2016 (Saturday): Got up and it was time to try the second take away from the discussion with Ansari. To try Kuttanad food from a shop near Nedumudi Beverage. I had a picture of a cool drinks factory from where the place got its name. I took a bus to Nedumudi, which was fortunately on the way to Chenganacherry, which will connect me to Kovalam, the next stop.

Got down at Nedumudi and was asking for the beverage. There it was and it was a wine shop. Sigh. They called it Nedumudi Beverage.

Going by the description given by Ansari, found the shop. It was almost empty. He asked me to be there at 11, I was there around 11:30. Got lucky, tried beef and some fresh water fish. Was not lucky to try the duck, which was on my list of things to try. News about bird flue is keeping Duck away from the menu. Spent some time and headed to Chenganacherry.

With a lot of googling, hearing from Ram and reading different blogs I decided to change the plan. To go to Varkala than to go to Kovalam for the day. As Varkala is between Chenganacherry and Trivandrum, I can finish Varkala before going south.

By then I was left with about Rs. 200 from the Rs. 2000 I had drawn before starting the trip. It was my turn to get grumpy about Modi, standing outside an ATM for an hour. Everyone were complaining and to add more a female fainted standing in the queue. With the pink note in my hand, next task it to break this pink note so that it can be put to use. A petrol bunk had agreed to give me cash, but they would give only 10s and 20s as 100s is in demand. With a bundle of 10s and 20s, next is to get 100s so that I can keep it in my purse. A lottery shop came to help. With all this, lost more than an hour. With cash in hand, wanted to try some good Kuttanad lunch. Asked a auto driver for direction, he made his quick buck by dropped me in a resort where he said I can get good Kuttanadan food. Inside the restaurant, I was the only one with a fantasy about Kuttanadan food, the chef was brought to the table and he was looking at me like I was asking a foreign cuisine. I was trying to explain to him talk about Kandhari Molagu, birds eye chilly to connect any dots. Only for the chef to agree to serve me a spicy fish curry. With disappointment, I seek refuge to Malya again in the resort. It was another auto ride to the bus stand and a quick walk to the railway station. Sabari Express took me from Cheganacherry to Varkala.

It was already nearing sunset. I wanted to reach the beach to capture the sunset. My luck ran dry, was late after waiting several minutes for bus to come and finally taking an auto to Black beach. Luck ran negative with two places cancelling my room reservation. Finally got a room in Ram gratitude inn for Rs. 400. It was a stone throw from Janarthana temple and you can throw the same stone twice to hit the beach.

Slipped in, refreshed and was out for an early dinner, so that I can have an early day on Sunday to cover Varkala and Kovalam. Indulged in some good food at Theeram, a restaurant right on the shore. Food was great and the bill taking a lions share in my total budget ;)

Early start became 8 am from the initial 6 am. Straight to Varkala beach.

Varkala Beach


Varkala Beach


Varkala Beach


Varkala Beach


A quick walk up and down the beach and to the top of the North cliff. It is a beautiful setting. The beach was perfect. On the way had a chat with a Navy officer who was interested in photography and we were sharing our travel stories. He was telling, after being to all the beaches around, you cannot try and make a difference between most of  the beaches. I somehow had to accept that.

Next had parotta from a small shop, checked out from the room and was on the way to Kovalam. It was a switch between three buses; Varkala - Kallambalam - Trivandrum - Kovalam.

Kovalam seemed a bit more commercialized than Varkala. Good news is, all the beaches are pretty close by. Went ahead with Grow beach.

Grow Beach, Kovalam


Before hitting the other beaches, wanted to find a water hole to sit down for the days share and some spicy food. The closest one I heard is 4 km away. Thumbs-up worked and got a lift for almost half the way. Bad news is,  the guy who dropped me says the shop is already closed and there is nothing near by. Heart broken, headed to the beach. It was a steep descend to reach Hawa beach. Light house beach is right next to it.

Hawa Beach, Kovalam


Hawa Beach, Kovalan


It was a scenic spot to again call for Malaya. Sat down a beach side restaurant. This time with company of a English man in my next table, who is a partner in a local hotel and also runs one in Bangkok. He was having a extended b'day party spilling over for the second day. We were talking about traveling, food and dogs.

Spent a good one hour there and clicked some photos from a vantage point between Hawa and Light house beach.

Light House Beach, Kovalam


Light House Beach, Kovalam

A quick climb up and straight to Trivandrum bus stand. Knowing it is 6 pm IST. Was sitting around till 6:40 pm. The bus rolled in to the bay. With no break in between (Don't know why) had to skip the dinner and straight for a morning tea near Villupuram. Bus reached Perungalathur around 10:30 am, and to home by 12 noon again by bus.

This is what took me around except for the 4 auto rides.

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Overall this is a perfect trip for a solo travel. Good food, nice beaches, being a lone wanderer, it checks all the necessary boxes for a perfect get away from the routine. At times missed my bike, would have made moving around much easier. That too helped me to move out of my comfort zone and still have fun with the unknown variable around every corner. The shoe string budget finally costed almost a shoe at the end ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to make 3 minutes Varagu Soup recipe - Quick and Easy Preparation


This is a quick recipe for those time crunching moments and will come handy for a healthy breakfast for your outdoor camping and trekking. Kids love it. If you are already serving ready-made soup for your kids, take this as a reason to introduce millets in their diet. They would not complain and would love the taste of this new soupy noodles.

Ingredients (Serving for two):

  1. Varagu (Kodo Millet) - 1 cup
  2. Ready-made soup packet - 1 packet
  3. Garlic - 4 cloves (Optional)
  4. Red Chilli - 3 long pieces (Optional)
  5. Jeera - 1 tea spoon (Optional)
  6. Cooking oil - 2 table spoon
  7. Spring onion (Optional)
  8. Coriander (Cilantro) optional.
  9. Pepper Powder
  10. Salt

Pre-Preparation:

Soak Varagu (Kodo millet) in water and keep it soaked for at least 30 min

Preparation:

  • Add 2 table spoon oil, when oil is hot enough (Do not allow it to smoke), add crushed garlic cloves, Jeera and red chillies broken in to two. This will help the flavor from garlic, jeera and red chilli transfer to the oil.
  • Now add water as per the serving for two in the soup packet and add three more cups for varagu + salt needed just for Varagu.
  • Let the water boil. Now if the kids will be picky about floating garlic and chilli, you can remove them. The flavor would have transferred to the boiling water and the purpose if served.
  •  Now add varagu and let it semi cook.
  • When it is semi-cooked, add the soup powder to serve 2 persons (Usually a pack mar serve 4 or 6 persons, check the pack for this detail
  • When Varagu is cooked completely, turn off  the flame and leave it in soup consistency.
  • Garnish with spring onion, pepper powder and coriander (Cilantro)

Now soupy varagu is ready :)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Tried to implement Swatch Barath and taken on a ride to the Police Station


It was August 14th, 2016 (Sunday). This day was planned well in advance. Afternoon was Shafique Bhai's brother's wedding. Then Joker (Tamil Movie) with Vasu and Ranjitha. The next day plan was to take Mark around Chennai, which I had committed to him when I met him in US. Due to some changes in his Sunday's plan, Mark was free on Sunday and was tied up on Monday. So I had to rework my Sunday's plan to take Mark around places I like in my part of Chennai. Showed him Mylapore, Kapaleeshwar Temple, Santhome Church, Marina Beach.

After going around, we settled for Dinner and reached my place at around 9:45 pm, so I could to get dropped off.

Mark was asked if this is where I live and I said, “Yes” and showed the street in which I live, which is right next to a temple. I was very embarrassed to see a guy was urinating at the corner of our street next to the temple, but I did not show it out. I got off the car and Mark was heading to his place.

The guy was wearing a red striped shirt, jeans, shoes, specs, in his mid 30's, educated (by his looks and not by his action). I asked him why he was peeing in the street corner, that too near a temple! He did not apologize or feel any remorse. He started raising his voice, walked away, and teamed up with his friends who were in the nearby restaurant. They were a group of 7 guys, out of which 2 started to threaten, corner and manhandle me. They even went a step ahead and ripped my shirt buttons.

I knew these guys were drunk and out of their senses. When they cornered me, I was still asking if there was anyone in their senses who I can talk about this, but in vain. I was still composed. I dialed 100 after which, one of the two guys who cornered me backed off and started to compromise. The red striped shirt guy still did not cool down. I asked him to apologize so that we can put an end to this situation (still having the police on the phone), but he asked me to do whatever I want.
He asked his friend to call the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) and send 2 jeeps, in a bid to show he’s well connected & powerful was. As if the ACP was his car driver. Funny part was, he asked me to come and touch him in Tuticorin and see who he is [After all this, I need to catch a bus to Tuticorin and go check who this guy, who urinated in a street corner, was]. The police response team was on the way.
In the meantime two of my friends were crossing and they stopped for me. The situation was tense with heated argument. These guys had gone into the restaurant. I took the photo of the car they came in, in case they escaped.

The police response team had arrived. In this confusion, Red stripes has fled the place, who was making all the noise. The other guy who teamed up with him was asked to get in to the Jeep, but he denied. The SI asked me to come along with them in the Jeep, after which the guy also got into the Jeep.
We went to Mylapore E1 Police station, but the main guy was still not responding. After repeated calls from his friends, he finally came to the station. He was reporting his version of the incident. He accepted he was urinating, that I asked him why he was urinating there & used disrespectful language which left him zapped. He claimed that he simply apologized & left. I intimidated him to attack and that is why he attacked.
SI asked him if he was drunk, he said he wasn’t but was drunk then (that was an hour before). SI was listening to her version with a smile which showed how much he believed his version. SI asked what he did; to which he replied, “I am the Head of India”. SI smiled more this time and asked he was not aware of such a post. He said he is head of India for NIIT. I searched all across the internet, he was nowhere in the top bracket of NIIT.

SI asked to file a complaint under section 75 on both the men. I requested them to leave the second guy as he was trying to back his friend and was not in his senses. So a complaint was booked against Mr. Head of India, and a fine was collected.

Swatch Bharath has a long way to go when people like to boast with a big & reputed title, do not even realize they have made a mistake even when its pointed out.

One basic question everyone must ask is, “Will I pee in my hall or in my toilet?” It is for our home, street, city and village. Part of the problem/solution is on people like us, part on the government side. Are we provided enough options to do what is expected of us – In this case, are we provided with enough toilets? The answer MAYBE yes, but are they clean & in a usable condition???

This video struck my mind during this incident, which was apt for the situation - Where I see myself as a part of the problem and can be the part of the solution as well.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 9 and 10 Hampi | Chennai to Mumbai Solo bike ride


















Day 1: Run-up and Chennai to Hubali

Battling strong wind and rain
Chandramoulishwar temple
Lake view with heavy rain

Day 2 and 3: Mahabalishwar

Rain never stopped
Sivaji statue a few feet away, hidden in fog

Day 4 and 5: Lonavala and Mumbai

Karla caves
Lohagad
View points
India Gate
Soup and dinner at the famous Bade miya shop + Firni

Day 5 - 8: Pune and work from Pune

Sinhagad
Saniwarwada

Day 9 and 10: Hampi

Place that I underestimated. What I thought will a few hours is a city that will need a few days to see just a scratch of what it can offer. All photos included.

Day 5 - 8 Pune travel and work | Chennai to Mumbai Solo bike ride










Day 1: Run-up and Chennai to Hubali

Battling strong wind and rain
Chandramoulishwar temple
Lake view with heavy rain

Day 2 and 3: Mahabalishwar

Rain never stopped
Sivaji statue a few feet away, hidden in fog

Day 4 and 5: Lonavala and Mumbai

Karla caves
Lohagad
View points
India Gate
Soup and dinner at the famous Bade miya shop + Firni

Day 5 - 8: Pune and work from Pune

Sinhagad
Saniwarwada

Day 9 and 10: Hampi

Place that I underestimated. What I thought will a few hours is a city that will need a few days to see just a scratch of what it can offer. All photos included.

Day 4: Lonavala and Mumbai | Chennai to Mumbai Solo bike ride






Met few bikers on way. Tagged along with them in Lohagad.








Bade Miya shop was suggested by the guys I met in Lohagad.





Day 1: Run-up and Chennai to Hubali

Battling strong wind and rain
Chandramoulishwar temple
Lake view with heavy rain

Day 2 and 3: Mahabalishwar

Rain never stopped
Sivaji statue a few feet away, hidden in fog

Day 4 and 5: Lonavala and Mumbai

Karla caves
Lohagad
View points
India Gate
Soup and dinner at the famous Bade miya shop + Firni

Day 5 - 8: Pune and work from Pune

Sinhagad
Saniwarwada

Day 9 and 10: Hampi

Place that I underestimated. What I thought will a few hours is a city that will need a few days to see just a scratch of what it can offer. All photos included.

Day 2 and 3: Mahabalishwar | Chennai to Mumbai Solo bike ride







Day 1: Run-up and Chennai to Hubali

Battling strong wind and rain
Chandramoulishwar temple
Lake view with heavy rain

Day 2 and 3: Mahabalishwar

Rain never stopped
Sivaji statue a few feet away, hidden in fog

Day 4 and 5: Lonavala and Mumbai

Karla caves
Lohagad
View points
India Gate
Soup and dinner at the famous Bade miya shop + Firni

Day 5 - 8: Pune and work from Pune

Sinhagad
Saniwarwada

Day 9 and 10: Hampi

Place that I underestimated. What I thought will a few hours is a city that will need a few days to see just a scratch of what it can offer. All photos included.