Edinburgh and Scottish Highlands Tour (Part 2)

Related post : Edinburgh and Scottish Highlands Tour (Part 1)

After roaming around in Edinburgh we all slept like a log that night. We had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning the next day to catch our tour bus to Loch Ness, Glen Coe and the Scottish Highlands. Our tour bus started from the Loch Ness Discovery Centre at the Royal Mile. I booked the tickets almost a month ago from here. This was this route, which was carved out for us for the tour. You can move or enlarge the map if you wish.

 

Our tour guide Paul was a very jovial and friendly guy and instantly made everyone in the bus comfortable. The Bus was nothing less than a mini globe with people from USA, Spain, Italy, Scotland, India, China and God knows how many other countries. Paul always made a point that we replied to all his queries with an “Aye” and “Okhaaye” so that we could become partially Scottish.

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[The highway as we moved towards Perth. The snow looks like white blotches of paint that fell off from God’s palette while he was painting]

We started our journey by crossing the Forth Road Bridge about which I already wrote in Part 1. We soon passed through Perth viewing some picturesque views of the River Tay(which is incidentally the longest river in Scotland) bending and curving with the highway. As we moved ahead, we made a stop at Pitlochry for breakfast where a pair of Italian guys was late even after constant reminders by Paul about being on time after breakfast. Everyone clapped as they entered the bus and we moved towards Killiecrankie which is famous for the stunning and ironical Battle of Killiecrankie resulting in the victory of the Jacobites and the death of their leader. 

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[The clouds cast shadow on the mountains creating beautiful scenes]

As we moved ahead, the landscape changed drastically. From cultivable land and lush green farms to barren mountains laden with snow. The scenery became more and more stunning as we progressed and whenever we made a stop somewhere, everyone jumped out of the bus to click pictures. Paul told us stories about how the Kings of Scotland have been cursed and many of them died one after another in accidents, how Macbeth(the name of the protagonist in William Shakespeare‘s Macbeth) was actually derived from the name of Macbeth of Scotland and how Macbeth(the play) was euphemistically called “The Scottish Play” because it was cursed

 

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[I am not sure but I took this photograph some where near Loch Lochy]

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[I took this photograph during the Ferry Ride on the Loch Ness trying to spot a monster!]

Moving further north into the Highlands, we crossed the village of Dalwhinnie which was famous for its Dalwhinnie Single Malt Scotch Whisky. We crossed the Spean Bridge towards Fort Augustus for some monster spotting!!! This was the only part of the tour which we had to retrace back to move towards Fort William. Fort Augustus is situated at the South West end of Loch Ness. We stopped at Fort Augustus for lunch and Paul suggested that we try some Haggis which is a Scottish delicacy. I was gung-ho about trying it but Paul did the mistake of telling us what it is made of! Although a true blue carnivore, I was somehow not able to bring myself to eat that! Next time maybe. 🙂 Instead I took a ferry ride into the Loch Ness in the hope of spotting the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Even after being in water for a good 45 minutes, all I was able to get were some beautiful worth sharing photographs. Next time maybe, I’ll see the monster raising his head out of the Loch Ness. 🙂

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[A broken and unused bridge at Fort Augustus]

After the ferry ride and a quick bite of haggis-less chicken and pork lunch, we moved back to the Spean Bridge towards Fort William. There were beautiful snow clad mountains all around covered in mist. We had our whisky sipping experience near Fort William. As we moved towards South now, we saw Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. We were not able to see the peak as it was covered with snow with a huge patch of clouds encircling it. We were informed that that is how it remains for almost the whole of the year. 

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[On our way to Fort William]

From here our bus turned towards Glencoe, the location of the Massacre of Glencoe. This was ironically the most beautiful part of the trip. We listened to Paul as he narrated the events than unfolded the night the massacre took place. We were spellbound, not just by the story, but by the beauty around us. How can something so gruesome happen in such a beautiful place? We halted at a spot in the middle of the valley surrounded by barren mountains all around us, some of them shrouded in mist and covered with snow. The place is ideal for trekking and evidently many people come for that in Glencoe.

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[The hills where the Glencoe Massacre took place]

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[Glencoe]

After Glencoe, we turned towards Stirling making a quick stop at a small village called Tyndrum. For those of you who have seen the movie Braveheart, Sterling was the place where the battle was fought between William Wallace(played by Mel Gibson) and the English army during the War of Scottish Independence. There is a monument dedicated to him in Sterling called the Wallace Monument. Although we did not stop at Sterling, but Paul did pointed out the Monument and the Sterling Castle as we finally moved back towards Edinburgh. We reached back in Edinburgh at 7:30 pm. A day spent well!! The rest of the day was spent roaming around in the city.

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[The Scottish Parliament]

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[Shocking!!! Rikshaws make a comeback!]

The next day, our train left at 12 in the afternoon, so we had ample time to have a look at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the  official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. Its a shame that we were not allowed to take pictures inside because it was the most awe-inspiring piece of architecture you could ever imagine. We were able to take pictures of the ruins of the Augustinian Abbey though. Finally we took a walk in the Royal gardens and have a look at the Queen’s Gallery which exhibits works of art from the Royal collection. If you ever go there, don’t miss the Tribuna of the Uffizi by Johann Zoffany. It is the most outstanding painting in the collection.

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[The ruins of the beautiful Abbey at Holyrood Palace]

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[Another view of the Abbey]

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[Another view of the Abbey. It was so grand that I felt like sitting there for hours]

Finally we were ready to bid adieu to this beautiful city to returned back to Manchester. There were many places which we had missed because of the lack of time. But yes, while leaving, I knew that I would return one day to see them. When we reached the Waverley station, we were surprised to know that we had a bus from Edinburgh till Lockerbie instead of a train. Well it was a blessing in disguise because at Lockerbie, we had the most delicious Fish and chips of our lives while we waited for our train to Preston

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[This is not a windows wallpaper. I took this during the bus ride from Edinburgh to Lockerbie.]

I should not say this but Manchester looked like an ugly concrete jungle after returning from Edinburgh. 😉

Edinburgh and Scottish Highlands Tour (Part 1)

Four days of Easter holidays was a good enough reason to set out for an exploration of the United Kingdom. Earlier, Switzerland and France were also in the picture but then I pictured my parents lashing out at me for wasting all that money and so I had to settle down for something nearer. Wales and Scotland were the options which came to my mind, and so Scotland it was. We planned for a 2.5 days tour to Edinburgh and the Highlands almost a month before Easter. Easter is one of the busiest time here as the tourist season starts from April and its a good practice that everything is booked well in advance. 

We started on a cold Good Friday morning from the Railway Station in Manchester and took the train to Edinburgh. The train reminded me of DDLJ and I did peeped out of the door to see if Simran was anywhere in sight! 

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No! Thats not her! 😦

The train journey was quite eventful as the train snaked through the lush green mountain terrains and gave us a glimpse of the life beyond the cities. We arrived at Edinburgh at 9.15 am and got down at the Haymarket Station. After a quick dump-bags-in-B&B act, we took a cab to the Waverley Bridge. It was then that the beauty of the city struck us like a bolt of lightening. 

Edinburgh is the Capital city of Scotland and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The moment you are there, you will feel a strong urge to be lost in its streets. You would want to walk around not knowing where you want to go and just absorb the beauty around you. I don’t know what makes everything so incredibly beautiful in this city. Is it the perfect blend of the new and the old? Its a city which overwhelms you instantly.

img_3599This is the Waverley Bridge. The city tour buses start from this bridge(from the point where the Red bus is standing). The Princess Mall is on the other side of the bridge. All the buildings which you can see are a part of the old town. The place where the Waverley station is built was once the Nor Loch(pronounced lo-kh), which was the city’s water supply and the dumping ground of sewage. It was drained in 1820 and a New town was created just opposite to the old town. The soil was dumped in the drained canal which created a mound. This is how the mound looks like now:

img_3617Impressive. Isn’t it? This is the National Gallery of Scotland which was build on top of the mound and the railway lines were tunneled right below it. I took this photograph while climbing the Scott Monument which is another beautiful piece of architecture built in 1845. 

img_3865This is the Scott Monument which provides a breathtaking view of the city. You can see the Edinburgh Castle and the Firth of Forth at the same time. Here is a view of the New Town. The New town was built starting from 1766 and was a solution to the ever increasing population in the Old Town.

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Coming back to the Waverley Bridge!! We took the Bus and boat tour which took us through the various landmarks of the city and finally on a boat trip into the Firth of Forth. The boat trip was a memorable experience as it took us below the Forth Road Bridge and then below the iconic Forth Rail Bridge which was opened in 1890 and is considered as the one internationally recognised Scottish landmark. 98 workers lost their life during its construction. 

img_3397The Forth Rail Bridge

img_3404The Road and the Rail bridge. Both the Bridges connect Edinburgh with Fife.

There are a lot of islands strewn over the Firth of Forth. The Ferry stops at the Inchcolm Island. You can get down there and take back the next ferry or may come back in the same one. There will be a lot of Seagulls around and if you are lucky enough(as we were!!), you can spot Seals too.

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There are a variety of Bus tours available which you can book from Here.

After having a quick bite(which was roasted pork and duck with boiled rice for me 😉 ), we headed towards the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile in the Old Town is a mile long stretch between the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse and is the most picturesque part of the city. We headed towards the Edinburgh castle which stands on top of a volcanic rock. The site has been inhibited since the Bronze age and the building of the present castle dates back to the 12th Century. A few pictures of the Castle, the Royal Mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

img_3660The Edinburgh Castle

img_3842The Royal Mile

img_3651The Royal Mile

img_4229The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Camera Obscura is also a wonderful place to visit. It is located near the Edinburgh castle and contains some great illusions, 3D holograms and a thermal imaging camera. 

img_3829The illusion of parallel mirrors

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We spent the rest of the day roaming around the city on foot. There was a very happy feel to the city. Everyone was laughing and enjoying and why not? It was Easter! There were Bagpipers playing the beautiful instrument and there was a man sitting near an ancient structure on the Royal Mile playing a Violin. There were people sitting in the street bars and chatting happily. Finally, we had a beer in a Bar near the Picardy Place Roundabout before heading back to the B&B. It was a beautiful day and I fell in love with a city for the first time. Now I know how it feels like! 🙂

The next day we went to the Highlands, another scarcely inhibited and breathtaking part of Scotland with some tragic history. More on it in the next post. I leave you with a few random pics.

 

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The Scott Monument

img_3859The Bagpipers at the Royal Mile

img_3594From the Top of the Scott Monument

img_3749Inside Edinburgh Castle

img_3584Inside the Scott Monument

img_3875In front of a Multiplex in the New Town

img_3844St. Giles Church on the Royal Mile

To be continued….

p.s. there are an overwhelming large number of photographs in my collection. 950 to be precise for the 2.5 days!!! If you still have an appetite left, then you can view 70 of them here. 

 

Isle of Wight Trip

Phew! I feel like an underwear in a washing machine. Life is running faster than I could have imagined and all I could do is to muster up enough strength to stand steady. Getting used to a place is not easy as it sucks out all that you were used to. For me, it sucked out blogging, and for a few days I could not gather my thoughts to put them on my laptop screen and neither could I raise my finger to open my Reader. So, apologies, dear friends! And I hope that all of you would understand! 

So, coming back to the topic, one of my roomies here returned to India last week. Before going back he wanted to go to a nice, beautiful, peaceful place and the options were very less because:

  • Usually October-March is considered off season here in UK as Winters is a terrible time to roam around.
  • He had already seen London, Scotland, Blackpool and Lake District, all of which I still have to visit. So all these options were ruled out.

The only two options left were Wales and Isle Of Wight, both of which were again under an Off-season spell. Finally Wales was ruled out too and we ended up booking a car and Preeto(our TomTom aka GPS) for three days. Before going further, let me tell you about Isle of Wight as most of you must be in an impression that its the name of a Crater on the fifth moon of Saturn. Isle Of Wight is a small island on the Southern Tip of Great Britain. Its about 257 miles from Manchester which is about a 5 hours drive. The Isle is not accessible by road which means that you have to shove your car in a ferry and take it to the isle and vice versa. During summers there is a huge advanced booking for the ferry but we were fortunate due to our perfect timings!

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This is the island as you can see in the map above. We went upto Portsmouth(upper right corner in the map) in the car and then took a ferry to Fishbourne, which is on the north east corner of the isle. Ferries also operate from Southampton and Lymington. Take your pick! 

The Island is spread over an area of mere 380 sq Km and is famous for its beautiful beaches of Shanklin, Ryde, Sandown and Yarmouth. Besides the beaches there was so much to explore that we found it extremely difficult to keep up the pace. And all this during the off season! Two notable, must visit points of the diamond shaped island are the Culver cliff and The Needles. If you really want to understand the meaning of breathtaking, you must visit these two points on the island. The Needles is undoubtedly the most picturesque area of the island which looks like the end of the chalk coloured ridge which runs across the whole island. 

The Culver Cliff on the other hand was used as a defence point as it was used to keep an eye on the vast ocean all around it. There were two nine inch guns kept there but the cliffs kept on eroding and most of it was lost. Now also, if you walk along the cliff, you can see the warning boards and the broken cliffs all around. I would suggest you to park your car at Yaverland beach and walk up the cliff from there towards the last point. Its a tiring walk of about half an hour but what you will see along the way is what you would never forget. 

Finally, there were many points of interest like The Osborne house, Carrisbrooke Castle, the zoo and the Railway Museum which we missed because they were closed due to the off season. It was a beautiful memorable trip and there were a bunch of breathtaking scenes which I would never forget in my life. I leave you with a few attempts to capture them:

This is a view of the Culver Cliff from Sandown Beach. If you see closely, there is a pole like structure on top of the cliff. That is the Yarborough Monument at the edge of the cliff. That is where you could walk up the cliff. And you have to be there to understand how the vast expanse of the ocean looks like from there, sprinkled with ships and with shimmering spots of sunlight strewn here and there.

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Well, this is what I was talking about. A few pictures of the view from the top of the cliff.

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Here are a few pictures I took while I was walking up the cliff

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The Yarborough Monument

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We woke up a 5:30 in the morning on the second day and went to see the sunrise. It was freezing cold and apparently we were the only one on the Sandown beach. The island loves to sleep!

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And that’s me, staring at the Sun.

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I took this picture in Portsmouth from the upper deck of the ferry. The ferry was about to move towards the isle and I saw this building just next to the port. Isn’t this a beautiful place to live? Sitting in the balcony, sipping tea and looking at the vast expanse of the ocean and the huge ships moving around you!

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View of Portsmouth as the Ferry moved away from it. By the way, Ferry seems to be a mild word for that ship. There were atleast 60 cars in it when it left Portsmouth!!!

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Thats the “Ferry”!!!

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The Needles was another fascinating point of the island. We reached there after the Sun had just jumped into the sea and the play of colours on the sky were seen to be believed. Here is a view of The Needles as we moved towards the edge of the cliff.

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This picture was taken while we moved towards the Needles. Everyone was coming back after seeing the sunset and we were the only ones who were moving in the opposite direction. 🙂

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That is the view of The Needles from the nearest point. It was quite dark by the time we reached there.

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A few more random pictures:

This was taken while the ferry left the British mainland.

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Taken at Ryde Beach. Are these Seagulls? They made an awful lot of noise.

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The sleeping city in the morning.

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An unknown castle on our way to a beach. Don’t know the name.

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What a way to go up!!!

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Water gushing up during a high tide. The foot of the Culver cliff which is accessible during the low tide and are great for an evening walk are completely immersed in water during a high tide.

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This was taken from the ferry back to Portsmouth as the sun set behind the isle.

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And finally I would like to dedicate this post to Preeto, our Tomtom(GPS) who was very patient with us and always guided us with her sweet voice even when we went off track atleast 5 times! We love you Preeto!!

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Manchester – Photo feature

My first weekend in Manchester thankfully dismissed my doubts that I am living in a ghost town. It takes some time to realize that unlike India, the shopping area and office buildings are far away from the residential area. In the last one week, I have hardly seen any people near my home. Even the cars seem to be moving on their own. 🙂 But, when I visited Piccadilly and Trafford Centre in the weekend, I could hardly walk without bumping into other people. Here are a few noteworthy pictures of the endeavor. Some of them are outright stupid(for e.g. the first one), but I am sure you will enjoy them. 🙂

This one is a random picture which I clicked while roaming on the streets of Manchester. The place is full of such beautiful houses.

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Well, yes, Rusholme street is full of Indian restaurants and sweet shops. Indian food is quite a hit here and you can find some good and authentic restaurants here.

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The BBC office on the way to Piccadilly.

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The Tram cum Metro service of Manchester. The Metro runs on elevated tracks through the city and slides down on the road in Piccadilly and turns into a Tram service. Remember all those songs in Hindi movies where the actors are dancing in front of such trains? Well, I too felt dancing like Govinda when I saw this one. 🙂

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The Central park area of Piccadilly is full of such beautiful statues. Look at the folds of the dress.

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 The Manchester Eye is build as a replica of the London eye, but a smaller one.

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The Manchester Eye during the night. Doesn’t it look like a giant UFO rising behind the buildings?

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A Church in Piccadilly. It looked like a ghost church during the night. We sat in front of it while the Church bells rang. It was mesmerising.

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A structure in front of the church. Notice the greens here and there.

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The Trafford Centre in Manchester. This is one of the biggest Mall I have seen, and the most eloquent. Just to give you an idea, it comprised of a multiplex with 25 screens.

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Beautiful statues at the Trafford Centre.

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The wishing pool. All the black dots inside the water are coins.

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The grand structures outside the Multiplex Odean. Couldn’t stop myself from clicking a few more. 🙂

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Here is another one, while I waited for my friend to collect the tickets of “The Curious case of Benjamin Button”. The movie was a masterpiece, by the way.

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Another one. The top view.

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Tea, anyone?

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The massive foodcourt at Trafford center. A mindboggling variety of fooditems at your disposal and a beautiful ceiling.

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Another picture of the architecture.

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And, that’s me again with Martin Chuzzlewit, sitting on the stairs of my house and waiting for the washroom to be freed of any human activities. Another one of those stupid pictures! 😛

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That’s all gents and ladies. Hope you enjoyed the pictures. Hopefully I will be roaming around this weekend also and will update you with more pics of my adventures.

Straight from Manchester

img_2539Its a strange feeling sitting in Manchester and writing my first post from there. It has been a strange and riveting 48 hours. On Friday morning, I did not even had a clue if I would fly or not and in the evening, there  I was, standing in the bustling Metro and returning home with a ticket to Manchester in my bag. I had to fly the very next day. Everyone was speechless due to the sudden surge of events and I had no time to give parties to my bellowing group of friends. 

While zipping my suitcase just an hour before I was to leave home, I goofed up and forgot the number sequence I used to lock the bag. Finally I realized that since the sequence can only have numbers from 000 to 999, I could try all of them and one of them will open the bag. 😉 Well, thankfully, I did not even reach 200 when the bag clicked open on a combination and my whole family gave a collective sigh of relief. 😀

I had to switch flights at Abu Dhabi. I was surprised to see the crowd in the first flight. It comprised of rustic and shabbily dressed punjabi men who gulped each and every hard drink which was served on the flight. And guess which movie was the Punjabi Munda sitting next to me was watching? Singh is King!!! 🙂 I saw Mamma Mia which I wanted  to watch since a long time! Abu Dabhi airport was not very large but I gorged on the beautiful design.

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The flight to Manchester from Abu Dhabi was eight hours long and I slept during the most of it. I also saw Mrs Doubtfire and an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The best part was the flight navigation system in which you can see the exact location of the plane on your screen and the trajectory it is taking. Also, there was a camera fitted at the front of the plane and you can set your screen to view the breathtaking cockpit view of takeoff and landing. I know most of you must be familiar with all these features, but then what the hell, its my first time! 😛

And, to torment you further, like all the people who end up clicking each and every bus and building when they go to a foreign land, here are two pictures of a “Sex drive in cinemas” double Decker bus and my neighbourhood.

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Jokes apart, next three months are going to be very hectic as there are more responsibilities on my head. I have to live upto the trust people have in me. I am happy to be here although the feeling has not sunk in properly. Not yet!  I have really wanted this from a long time and I hope it works out well for me. Pray for me. 🙂

p.s. I have been awarded by four bloggers in the past 10 days. Sorry for the delay guys!! I will be putting it up asap! 🙂

So long people!

[all the photographs are copyrighted by me. If you wish to use them, please mail me]

Kodaikanal yet again

I never thought that visiting a place for a second time can be such a different experience. I have been to Kodaikanal two years back with a gang of 8 guys, which meant buffoonery galore. This time it was a little different as the ratio was 2 guys and 2 gals, which meant *RESPONSIBILITY* and no boys talks and watch your tongue and don’t stare at other girls. 🙂

For starters, Kodaikanal is a beautiful hill-station situated in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu in India. It is situated amongst the Palani Hills in the Western Ghats and is an ideal summer retreat.

So, Kodaikanal happened yet again because we panicked. There was news floating around that we might be transferred from Chennai anytime and thus we just wanted to visit the places which were left out ASAP. As I had already visited the hill station, so no one bothered to ask me whether I wanted to go or not. I HAD TO GO. PERIOD. 😐

The train left Chennai on 28 March, 2008. Everything was quite similar to the Vizag trip, except that this time Vidya made an extra dish for the dinner on wheels and we were nearly killed by the autorikshaw driver who was still under the hangover of Dhoom2. Just for the record, we just missed a head on collision with a local bus by inches.

Our night journey was quite uneventful as our fellow passengers were just dying to sleep as soon as the train left the Chennai Egmore station at 9.30 pm. So, we ate our lunch dinner hurriedly and the lights were switched off at 10.30 p.m. 😐

We landed on Kodaikanal Road Station at 5.30 am and started our 2 hours journey to the hillstation by road. The weather was upbeat and cold and several waterfalls and mist clad mountains made appearance as we steadily moved up towards the hillstation munching cheese balls. Our driver took himself to be a James Bond clone and was driving as if 5 cars were chasing us. He gave me this incredulous look when I offered him the cheese balls as if I have committed some unbelievable crime. We readied ourselves for the day ahead in our hotel and had hot tea before we started our endeavor. Our first stop was the famous Punjabi restaurant where we had Golith sized spicy, yummy, mouthwatering and unforgettable paranthas. Then followed a visit to the beautiful local Church followed by the Liril falls. Here we trekked a lot to reach accessible viewpoints of the falls which were quite breathtaking, to say the least. Spotless water gushing through the lush green grass and erratic boulders under the cover of a soft mist. Priceless!!!

Next we moved on to see the Bear Shola falls, the dolphin nose and the Echo Point. The fog was quite thick by now and all we could see around was “Tide jaisi safedi”, and a few scattered trees peeking out of the fog as if trying to show us the way ahead. At the Bear Shola falls, Vidya and myself witnessed the daredevil act by Atipriya and Lokesh who climbed up the rocks like monkeys to reach the top of the falls. Atipriya almost slipped at one point and I could not imagined what would have happened if she would have swooshed down with the running water and hit the couple from behind, who were standing at the foot of the falls and smiling into the camera(I can imagine the photograph. 😆 ). The Dolphin nose, which is a very dangerous point, is a rock protruding out of the mountain and hanging in midair. If you fall from there in the chasm below, your body won’t be found for sure. We found a newly wed couple sitting at the tip of the Dolphin nose munching Uncle chips. It just reminded me of a scene in Baazigar in which Shilpa Shetty is thrown off the terrace. I wondered if the guy is in the mood of doing something like that? We stared at them for a good 10 minutes before they realised that they are not sitting in the drawing room of their house and stood up. Before we could reach the Nose and take snaps, another gang of 40 people tumbled upon us and all we could manage was some snaps here and there with 10 people standing behind us. 😐

Echo Point is an equally dangerous spot as there is no fencing to buffer your fall. It was too engulfed in fog and we sat on the protruding rock for sometime before trekking back up through the tree roots filled pathway. The evening was spent by taking a boat ride in the Kodai lake for a good one hour and singing some forgotten, unmentionable hindi songs and later chatting on a bench besides the lake watching the swift sunset.

Next day, after taking the morning tea and a South Indian breakfast we landed in Coakers walk. The walkway gives a picturesque view of the valley and the clouds were so thick that day that it felt as if we were walking on them. The Kodai Lake view point and the Pine forest followed soon and we found ourselves singing “Jaan-e-jaan” in the forest and taking a lot of “Orkut” snaps, as we call them. After the Pine Forest we went to Silent Valley view (which according to me is the best viewpoint in Kodaikanal. Here we were fortunate enough to see the fog dissolve and to view the deep valley below), Guna Caves (Which was a waste of time as the caves are all fenced and you can’t go inside), Pillar Rocks ( Which were again engulfed in fog and made a very brief special appearance for a minute. Here we tried the combination of Lokesh’s cowboy hat and Atipriya’s goggles with disastrous results), the Chettiar Park and the Kurinji Andavar temple. Finally we reached back to the Kodai lake for a quick round of the 5 k.m. track around the lake on bicycles.

Soon it was time to call curtains to our two days trip and we packed our bags in the evening and left for the station leaving behind this mesmerising, beautifully cold hill station taking with us a truckload of home made Kodai special chocolates, marsh mellows and Gulkand. 🙂

Related post : A trip to heaven

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Vizag and Araku Trip


“Kanyakumari can be a wonderful one day trip…”

“Ooty. It will be a pity if we don’t go there while we are here in South India.”

“Its too commercialized.”

“Coorg??”

“Vizag & Araku?”

The endless discussions went on for a week amidst frantic Google search sessions and Moi, Lokesh, Atipriya and Vidya finally settled down for Vizag trip. Tickets were booked in a rush and we were lucky enough to chart out the whole trip before we started.

14 March, 2008. Friday.

We all decided to cook our own food for the dinner on wheels. Lokesh came back early from office to cook some yummy Paneer Masala dish. The girls cooked Rotis in the evening while I ran from one shop to another to collect all the Munchables I can lay my hand on. The train was on time and at 21:30 hours, we bid farewell to Chennai. The home made food, Antakshari and Fortune teller kept us busy till our eyelids grew heavy and sleep engulfed us.

15 March, 2008. Saturday.

A bread, butter and cutlet breakfast kicked off the day. We reached Vizag(Vishakhapatnam) at around 10.30 am. After a quick bath and a very delicious lunch we set out towards the harbour for a ferry ride. The ferry took eternity to take off as there weren’t enough people in the afternoon to take the ride. The Vishakhapatnam skyline looked splendid from the waters and we ended up clicking it from every damn angle. Unfortunately, out of the four of us, only Atipriya was equipped with sunglasses, so we took turns and thus the glasses passed over a lot of ears and noses while we clicked our photos. 😉

Our next stop was the visit to the Kursura Submarine which is kept at the RK Beach. Its a real submarine with all the machinery inside intact and is open to visitors. It looked like a huge black whale from outside and as we entered it, we were quite surprised by the mind-boggling intricacies inside the vessel. Believe me, you have to be some sort of an Einstein to operate that thing. And I felt so claustrophobic inside that it was hard to imagine how the crew would have felt when they went deep inside the water. By the time we came out of the 91 meters long giant, we were nothing less than amazed. And yes, I took a lot of photos inside – from toilets to torpedoes. 🙂

Next on the hit list was the Kailasgiri Park situated above a hill which overlooks the sea. We took a cable car to the top and the view was breathtaking from there. The whole city lying in the valley between the sea and the hills was visible from there. Its a very beautiful picnic spot and you can spent hours there feeling the fresh gush of winds and eyeing the vast expanse of sea and land. The spot also boasts of a train ride around the hill and a huge Shiva Parvati statue in the middle park. As the sun slided towards the west to doze off, we finally moved up to the highest point of the hill to view the changing colours of the sky and the city lights. As the sky changed from blue to red to orange and finally to grey, the whole city came alive and for a second it felt the city was a mirror image of the sky, holding millions of stars in its lap.

By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, it was almost 8 pm, so we went to the Kali Temple at the RK Beach and then roamed around on the beach for some more time before retreating back to our hotel.

16 March, 2008. Sunday

The alarm went off at 4 am. Lokesh could never ever wake up for his office morning shifts but the speed with which he woke up to get ready for the Araku trip was commendable. We had taken an Andhra Pradesh Tourism package for a trip to Araku Hill-station and had to report at the railway station at 5.30 am. Somebody just forgot to tell us that the train leaves at 7 am and robbed us of our half an hour of precious sleep. Araku is around 120 km from Vizag and it took almost four hours to reach there as the train tossed and turned through 32 tunnels and over a dozen bridges through the deep mountains. The longest tunnel is about a kilometer long. At Araku we visited the Tribal Habitat Museum and the Padma Rao gardens where we almost scared a lady to death when we asked her to take our pictures. She almost ran away thinking that we wanted to click her for some reasons. We also tried our hands on shooting using bow and arrows. Except for Lokesh, who managed some decent shots, the rest of us were quite miserable. A quick lunch followed at the AP tourism guest house followed by a tribal dance called “Dhimsa” by the local tribal women. Soon everyone started dancing with them and it looked like a pub with some really out of place and scared tribal ladies.

An evening snack later and we were off to GaliKonda, the highest point of Araku. The scenery looked like the windows wallpaper which has all the blue mountains. We sighed at the sight and clicked numerous pictures before heading to the Borra Caves. The caves house the ancient stalacites and stalagmites formation of rocks and are a visual treat. There are natural Sivalinga formations inside which are being worshipped and the width and height of the caves is amazingly huge. Its definitely not worth a miss. From the Borra caves, the bus took us back to Vishakhapatnam which was again a good 3 hours journey which we covered dozing off.

After reaching Vizag, we roamed around in the market place trying the local sweets like Mamiditandra ( a South Indian version of Aampappad) and Pootharekulu ( Rice starch and sugar rolled together).

After reaching I took the much required foam bath in hot water. It was Vidya’s birthday the next day, so we had planned a small surprise for her at 12 am which meant that we had to be awake till 12 which meant that I had to be awake till 12. I woke up Lokesh 5 minutes before 12 and we landed up in the “Girls” room with the cake and gifts. After the gala event we crashed on the bed at 12.30 am as we again(!!!) had to wake up at 4 am the next morning to see the sunrise. 😐

17 March, 2008. Monday.

We were ready and roaming on the beach by 5.45 am. The sun had yet to make and appearance above the foggy ocean, filled with large ships on the east and the huge Dolphin nose towards its west. Its hard to describe the colour of the beach as the sun emerged from the thin layer of clouds. See the pictures above and you would understand what I mean. We stared at the sun and the golden waves for sometime after which we headed to Rushikonda Beach.

At the beach, we were greeted by local fishermen who offered us a ride in their motorboat for 50 Rs per person. Before I nodded my head, a bright red life jacket was tied around me and my bag and I was ushered into the motorboat. By the time we four settled on the boat there were two other tourists who joined us. We were scared and excited as all four of us were doing this for the first time. As the boat moved towards the deep ocean, the water changed its colour and the sounds of human activities faded away, replaced by the whining of the motor and the calm of the deep sea. It was an experience which we would forever cherish. When we reached the shore, Vidya was very happy that she was still alive as it was her birthday. 🙂

From Rushikonda we moved further up to Bheemunipatnam Beach which is around 24 km from Vishakhapatnam. The remains of a Dutch Cemetery dating back to the 17th century are preserved here. After spending some time here we headed back to the city to have a quick lunch before we moved to the opposite side of the city to visit Simhachalam.

Simhachalam is a well known place of pilgrimage and houses the Sri Varaha Lakshminarasimha temple which is beautifully sculptured. I finally found a copper “lota” here which I have been frantically searching from a long time now.

Finally we moved back to our hotel for a buffet and picked our luggage to catch out train at 14.50 pm taking with us the memories of a unique city and 750+ photographs. 🙂

18 March, 2008. Tuesday.

And…ohh…yes…we again had to wake up at 4 am on Tuesday, as our train reached precisely at the same time at Chennai Central. 😦

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The isle of floating stones

The ever elusive trip to Rameswaram materialized like a rabbit out of a magician’s cap. Munnar happened earlier because Rameswaram-ooty was becoming the funniest trip of the year because of its “V” shaped trajectory( If you can’t understand the point, grab an atlas). Quoting my dear friend Sameer – “Preferring Munnar over Rameswaram was nothing less than blasphemy, which let to the shaky start of the trip to the hill-station.” In a nutshell, Gods were angry as we were ignoring them for hill-stations and thus, a trip to Rameswaram was on a red alert priority. While looking for options of trains, we realized that there were no options. There was just one train. So the five wanderers (me, Sameer, Prashant, Atipriya & Ruchika) packed our baggage for a one day vacation on the island of Rameswaram.

By the time we reached the station, it had started raining and little we knew that Chennai would be hit by the worst rains of the year as we moved away from the city(the first sign that the gods were ready to forgive us). As soon as the train snaked towards our destination, we started gobbling like “starved to death” hounds. In-between we had rounds of antakshari, fortune teller and leg pulling. By the time we woke up, we were very near to the Pamban Setu, the 2.3km bridge which connects Rameswaram to the Indian mainland. The island is situated in the Gulf of Mannar and is on the very tip of the Indian Peninsula. It is separated from the Indian mainland by the Pamban channel and is less than 40km from the Jaffna Peninsula.

The exhilarating experience of being on a track which is inches away from the lapping waves of a beach is something which can’t be defined. Then suddenly we were traversing the bridge and all we could see around was water. We were in the middle of an ocean with such clear water that we could see the rocks beneath. This bridge can also be raised up from the middle so that the ships can pass. Soon we reached the laid-back island and found a chauffeur driven car at our disposal (courtesy Atipriya’s father).

After freshening up at our hotel, we marched towards the main attraction, The Ramanathaswamy temple. According to the legend, Lord Ram along with Seeta and Laxman installed and worshipped a sivalinga here to ask forgiveness for BrahmaHatya(Ravan was a Brahman). The temple also houses the Golden chariot which is used during celebrations and the 1219m pillared “almost” rectangular corridor. Walking down the corridor we gaped at the symmetrically carved pillars, the paintings at the ceiling and the effect which the sunlight created while peeking through the pillars. We were all transported to another era as we wandered in the corridors. The temple also boasts of 22 wells where you can take bath to complete your trip to the holy dhaam. We were in no mood to roam around in wet clothes for the rest of the day, so we just got a few drops sprinkled on us from 3 wells.

From the temple, we moved to the area near the shore where the holy dip can be taken. There was one very old couple who got into the water holding on to another guy, who was maybe their guide. They were so fragile and old that I couldn’t stop staring at them. The lady let go of her stick and held to her husband’s hand who was holding the guide and moving ahead. Somehow, I found it very romantic. 🙂

After this moving site, we reached the temple of PanchMukhi Hanuman. Its a very small temple, which doesn’t look like a temple at all. The main attraction of this not-like-a-temple temple is the floating stones. According to the legend, these stones were used to made the famous-even-seen-by-NASA bridge to SriLanka. Yes, the stones were floating, but they are basically corals and are like sponges and that’s why they float. You can even buy a small floating stone for as low as 200Rs here and make your own mini bucket bridges at home.

We then moved on to the Kothandaramar Temple. It is said that after winning the battle, Sri Ram crowned Vibhishana as the king of Lanka at this place. After devouring the nariyal paani and my personal crowning as the “coco king”, our cab landed us near Dhanushkodi. It was the cleanest beach we had ever seen…and the whitest. Our cab left us 3km short of Dhanushkodi, which is the last point of India and the point from where the historical setu was build. There are no roads to reach Dhanushkodi, but a narrow strip of land piercing the ocean. We started walking but soon got exhausted, and thus couldn’t reach the point. Instead we did a lot of chaii-chapa-chaii on the beach, wrote some names in the sand and went to the Ramarpadm temple.

This temple is famous for encompassing the footprints of Lord Ram, and for being at the highest point of Rameswaram. From here you can see the Largest TV tower of Asia and the Ramanathaswamy temple together. After sipping some sugarcane juice here, we moved back to our hotel, where we took some quick naps and very quick showers before moving back to the railway station for our journey back home.

The view on the Pamban bridge was more enchanting than before. Far away on the ocean, there was a huge group of clouds in varying shades of blues, raining with all their might. The cold misty winds were flowing directionless and the four doors of the boogie were the best places to get lost in the moment….the moment when I wanted the bridge to be longer than it was. On one of the doors, I saw a lady staring at the clouds and writing something on a piece of paper. “This is how poems are born” – I told myself and moved to another door without disturbing her.

I stared at the beautiful scene enfolding before me and realized that the Gods have finally forgiven us…..

Pirates of the Green Sea

“It could not have started on a worst note & it could not have ended on a better one.”

These lines reverberate through my mind whenever I look back at the trip to Munnar. Munnar was completely coincidental & it was never a part of the initial blueprint. Our trot plans started with Rameshwaram-Ooty which was revamped to Ooty-Conoor and then to Trivandrum-Kanyakumari-Cochin and so on. By the time we came up with the final results, it was too late to book a train ticket and we have to settle down for a volvo. So the three of us ( Meeeee, Sameer & Prashant ) packed our bags and got ready for the odyssey. We booked a Volvo till Cochin from where Munnar is a 4.5 hours journey by bus.

Our volvo was two hours late, so we spent the time blabbering and enjoying the rain. Finally the green bus arrived and we settled in our cozy seats. We saw the tamil movie “Khaka Khaka”, a Surya & Jyothika starer. It was a great time-pass with some foot-tapping songs. The NH47 started showing its full colours after Pondicherry was left behind. The road was nowhere near to being a highway and I couldn’t sleep a wink due to the earthquake effects. In the morning things took a turn for the worst when the bus broke down just before reaching Cochin.

The pit stop turned into a full fledged “Picnic on the road” and it took almost five hours for the bus to start breathing again. By that time we were completely exhausted from exploring the highway and the setback of loosing our half a day in Munnar. We reached Cochin almost in the evening and were told that the next bus to Munnar will be leaving in the morning. Not loosing our courage, we managed to reach a private bus-stop from where we took a bus to Kothamangalam. From there we took a connecting bus to Munnar and by the time we reached our destination, it was almost 10pm. We had lost the full day and were ready to drop. But the twinge had just reached its peak and we were told that all the hotels were booked. We roamed on the emptying streets walking from one hotel to another, but all in vain. Finally we met an autorikshaw driver, who took us to a hotel where we managed to grab a 500Rs room in 1500Rs. Our spirits were nearly broken and we dozed off with dreams of a better future. 😦

In the morning, sunlight rained on the hill station and we absorbed the first look of the beauty around us. We booked a ship(cab), took our breakfast and started our voyage. While in Munnar, the explorations can be started from any of these four directions – Madupatty, Coimbatore, Cochin or Thekkady. We started for Madupatty and reached the Madupatty Dam via the Photo point ( taking the name quite literally, we clicked like maniacs here ). After spending some time on the dam we moved towards the Shooting point where a lot of movie songs had been shot( as per our guide ). We sat on the lush green grass facing the Kundaly lake surrounded by misty clouds and sucked in the stimulating view. Our guide told us that the slopes of the mountains were the natural habitat of the wild elephants but I couldn’t fathom how the huge elephants can roam on such steep slopes.

Moving towards the Coimbatore direction, we came across the Nyamakad waterfalls and the Eravikulam National Park. The park holds a large population of the endangered Nilgiri tahr ( similar to goats ) and many other lesser known fauna. The park featured an unforgettable one k.m. walk along the entwined roads where the tahrs can be spotted, if you are fortunate. We spotted two of them dozing off high up the slope & People went completely crazy as if they had spotted Mr. Bachchan amongst the goats. By the time we started our trek back, the mist had thickened and it had started drizzling. We reached down to our cabs via the National Park’s bus service and moved in the Cochin direction while munching “Bhuttas”.

By the time we reached the Sunset view point, the sun was setting ( surprisingly, because perfect timing is something which I don’t associate with myself ). At the same time clouds were experimenting with different formations in the twilight. It was hard to take off eyes from the silent opera playing on the sky and we gazed at it silently, sipping our tea. The clouds were twirling, taking u turns and scattering around while the setting sun bid us farewell. We next saw the coffee and pepper plantations before we reached the market for buying some memento’s. After losing a few currency notes to the shopkeepers and taking a few digs at the local home made chocolates, we had our dinner and set back to our hotel.

We woke up next morning at 5 and were ready by the time our cab arrived at 7. We set out to explore the last direction – Thekkady. This was visually the most beautiful part of Munnar and we were glad that we kept it for the last. By the time we reached the Rock cave, we were completely taken aback by the breathtaking views on the way. The low lying plantations looked like waves of green sea and spread far away till the horizon.

The road at the rock cave gave a bird’s eye view of the valley down below. We stopped at a local shop for some refreshments and posed for some more photos. While returning back, we stopped at the Power house waterfalls and Idly hills. All the hardships which we went through to reach Munnar were fading away. We were awestruck and wanted to spend some more time there, but the bus was ready for us at around 11 a.m to take us back to Cochin.

Cochin had another surprise in store for us. The same Volvo which brought us here was waiting for us to take us back. As the bus started and we made ourselves comfortable on our seats, the same tamil movie made its appearance on the television. We again saw the same movie as we left Cochin and the green sea of Munnar behind and darted towards Chennai, taking away memories of the green sea with us.

A trip to heaven

Logically speaking, I should have started with Pondicherry followed by Mahabalipuram, Mysore and finally Kodaikanal, but Kodaikanal was an experience which comes closest to being called Heavenly….so it would be appropriate to open the Globetrot account with it.

Hill stations have always brought nostalgic longing as I have spent a beautiful part of my life at my “nani’s” house in Dalhousie. So when the name of Kodaikanal came up while we were discussing the probables, I was more than jumping. It was hard for all nine of us to get a leave from office for three days, but somehow eight of us managed. Ashish, agreed, very graciously to fill in for me as both of us were in the same project and he had just returned from a vacation in Singapore. So the eight of us ( Moi, Sanjay, Ravi, Lokesh, Ishu, Puneet, Sameer & Sameer) started our overnight journey in a train compartment. We met another one of our friends, Prashant, who was traveling to Bangalore in the same train. We gorged over his latest Ipod which his company has so lavishly sprinkled over its employees. The train landed us in Kodaikkanal Junction quite early in the morning and thus we started our three hour long journey which brought us face to face with the hill station. The bus was a video coach, so we had oodles of laughs while we saw some latest tamil songs with “subtitles”. The songs might have a subtle meaning in tamil, but the english translations were quite shocking.

Personally, the first impression of Kodaikanal was not good. I found it to be very low-lying, not at all like the “deep valleys-huge mountains” hill stations I am used too. I was surely in for a surprise. Getting a lodge for all the excited bucking broncos was not an easy task, but finally we ended up in a small and beautifully maintained lake side cottage of an ever smiling lady.

After quenching the food pangs at a local Punjabi restaurant we were all set to explore the hills. We set on foot with our guide who first took us to visit the Green valley view. We asked him to show those places first which were not commercially exploited. Midway through our path, we were engulfed by the mist. Soon the day turned into night and it started raining. At first we somehow managed by standing under the thickest tree we could lay our hands on, but soon it started raining cats and dogs and we ran in whichever direction we could in search of a less porous shelter. Three of us ran inside a small hut nearby and scared a small girl, a boy and their pet dog to death. Soon their mother returned and asked us to move in a shed at the back of the hut. Another group of four ran towards a small tea stall. The lady running the tea stall was scary enough for one of them to peek in and try to see whether her feet were not in the opposite direction. The guide and Ravi went in another direction and somehow managed to bring three umbrellas which finally saved the day.

By the time the rain gods came to their senses we were almost completely wet and managed to pair up under the umbrellas to complete our journey. The path towards the valley was made of huge roots of trees and was a mesmerizing visual treat.

Root road

The valley was too deep and fence less and we almost made tears roll down the eyes of our guide. He was completely horrified that we were posing too close to the valley and a slip of foot was all that was required to end his career.

The valley

We saw Suicide Point, Bear Shola falls, Echo point and Dolphin nose in quick succession. The moment we reached the “nose”, I realized that it was a really good place to end a lonely life. It was a rectangular rock hanging in mid air with nothing below it till you hit the bottom 6600 feet later. Our guide soon entered the “panic” mode when each one of us started to walk towards the tip of the “nose” and posing for photos. The poor guy started shouting and threatened to leave us then and there. The rock was wide enough for one person to walk and it would be better if you do not try to look down.

Dolphin nose

We were forced to move away from the drop dead dolphin nose (courtesy our guide) and thus traced our way back to the top. We were all surely falling in love with the place, basking in the beauty of nature and giggling like schoolboys. It was hard to take off eyes from the hills fading away in shades of grey in the mist. It was like being a part of a painting, something pure and untouched. After covering all these locations where tourists generally do not linger mainly because of the difficult path and the zero security, our guide took us to the more commercial sites. First we were taken to Liril falls, where Sameer Jindal climbed up nearer to the source of the falls quite enthusiastically but it took four people to bring him down. Our next stop was the Pillar Rocks, hugely known and shamefully commercialized. We found the place full of vehicles, garbage and milling crowds. It was a little depressing to see the nature being tortured by floating packets of Lays.

By the time we reached Kodai lake, it was closed for boating, so we decided to do some rounds of cycling around the lake. Our clothes were still wet from the morning rains but we were enjoying the lake side chat too much to bother about that. Soon night covered the valley and it was time for dinner. We ended the first day with a spicy punjabi food at a local restaurant and by drying our wet shoes at a small bonfire at our cottage.

Day two started with the most delicious cheese omlette and baked beans we have ever eaten. It was a small roadside restaurant discovered by chance and we gulped down half of his menu. Next on ajenda was a visit to the Berijam Lake. In the way, we stopped at the Forest view point and the Silent valley view point which gave a breathtaking view of the lake far away in the valley. The lake is situated at a one hour ride from Kodaikanal and is surrounded by forest. We had a long walk around the lake where we hardly left any square meter of area to be photographed. We spent a major part of the day there trekking, basking in the sun, posing for photographs and buffoonery.

Berijam lake

We reached back Kodaikanal by late afternoon and had some more time before we had to start back to the station. We decided to go for boating. It was a dreamy experience as I had never done boating before with hills all around me. By the time we stepped out of our boats it had started raining again and people were pedaling in 32X to reach the shelters. We enjoyed the rains while eating ice creams and started back to the railway station on time. On our way back we had a small stoppage at Silver Cascade falls before our sumo moved into dark snaking roads. We were wishing that our sumo will break down near a cemetery and a spooky experience will follow, but sadly none of this happened.

God bless bapu

We landed up at the station too early and spent the next four hours chatting and roaming around and clicking some more photos. By the time the train arrived, we were completely exhausted and ready to drop. We slept like logs and when we woke up in the morning the dream was over. We were back in Chennai, and the only proof I had, that the last two days were not a dream, was the roll in my camera, one kilo of Kodaikanal’s famous homemade chocolates and seven witnesses.