Agatti Aerodrome – One of world’s scariest

16.01.2017:

I reached the Kochi Airport around 11.30 pm on 15.01.2017. Uncle and Aunt would be joining me the next day and I have to spend all night in the airport 😦 . But, it’s ok! Am quite excited about my onward journey from here 🙂 . When we thought of going to Lakshadweep, Aunt asked me whether we can go on a ship, but I denied! Firstly, ship schedules are tight, reservations needs to be done early; secondly, the journey would consume more time, which I cannot afford at any cost 😉 . So, it was a flight obviously!

But, let me unearth the truth behind me choosing a flight to a ship. It is all about the Agatti Airport! The first thing that came to my notice when I was surfing the internet about Lakshadweep is the Agatti Aerodrome. It is listed in various lists like the most beautiful airports in the world, world’s scariest airports etc. When I saw the images of this airport, the thing which attracted me the most is the airstrip. And, so.. I wanted to try a flight journey to this beautiful archipelago.

Uncle and Aunt joined me at the Kochi airport around 8.30 hrs on 16.01.2017. When approached the check-in staff of Air India, they asked us our entry permits and we produced the same and they in turn gave us our tickets. Done with the first check! In the meanwhile, I remember Avinash saying me to carry some food stuff as there is a slight problem for food in the islands and hence Aunt and I went to buy some instant soup mixes, cup noodles and chips etc. In the meanwhile, the boarding was announced and we made our way to the boarding gate.

It is a 42 seater ATR-42 plane and Air India runs a daily flight to Agatti from Kochi except on Sundays. As usual people started clicking selfies while waiting for their turn to board the flight. I made a special request to the check-in staff to allot window seats for all three of us so that we may get a chance to see the beauty hidden this archipelago and they did. We comforted ourselves in the seats that were allotted to us and were about to fly. I watched the vast expanse of Arabian Sea under us and the massive ships looking like tiny ants on a blue floor 🙂 . Soon, the air hostess came with some refreshments. Once done with the small spinach corn sandwich and some fruit salad, I retired for a small nap.

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I woke up when the Captain made his announcement that we would be landing in another 15 minutes. I saw an island though I am not sure which one was that (my guess is Kalpeni), and within no time a jetty and a desalination plant. Yeah this is Agatti. Looking like nothing more than just a strip of land protruding out of the heavenly blue waters, this is the only one serving in the Lakshadweep islands. The Airport is located on the southern end of the island and is spread over an area of over 46 acres. The airstrip was constructed during the year 1987-88 and the airport was inaugurated in 1988. The aerial view of the airstrip is breathtaking, but overshoot the runway and we will be straight into the sea 🙂

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Once out of the plane, the soft sea breeze caressed us and the scenic beauty of the airstrip which is almost like dividing the sea into two and the blue lagoon surrounding it offered a feast for the eyes. The airport is a small one which can accommodate around 50 passengers and there was Imran waiting for us! After exchanging pleasantries and the security check of our entry permits and all, we walked out where an auto-rickshaw was waiting for us. The area surrounding the airport is a vast stretch of silver sand beach with coconut groves and some bushes. And it was too hot! Imran took us to the local police station where in which we have to get our entry permits stamped from the Station House Officer.

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We went to the station which is located in the 2nd floor of the building and came to know that the SHO was not in the station and we can collect the permits at a later point of time. Without any more delay we went to our accommodation. 🙂 🙂

Finally I am here – In one of my dream destinations! 🙂 🙂

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Go.. Grab the Entry Permits first!

Visiting Lakshadweep is not as easy as visiting the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. When I first discussed my plan of visiting Lakshadweep with my friend Avinash, he told me that I need to get some permits in order to visit those islands. All visitors, both Indian and foreign nationals, must have a visa-like entry permit to travel to the Lakshadweep islands. Usually there are two ways in order to get these permits, we can either approach the Lakshadweep Tourism Department and book a package so that they would take care of everything or do everything by your own provided you know any islander!

I chose the later for two reasons: Firstly, a package is a costly affair and secondly, I know few islanders 😉 . The first important thing in this process is to get a No Objection Certificate or a Police Clearance Certificate from the Commissioner/Superintendent of Police of the place where you are staying stating that I don’t have any criminal cases against me as per their records. I got mine after verification of my address and all. Then the next step is to fill the application form for obtaining a permit. For further details and forms one can visit this website http://lakshadweephomestay.com/

While my friend Avinash gave me the declaration that should be given by an islander, I submitted my application along with the NOC and other identity proofs at the Lakshadweep Administration Office, Indira Gandhi Rd, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682003. Trust me, it is truly a frustrating process, as we need to apply for this at least 45 days before the date of your journey and wait till the last moment, as there is no guarantee that they would be issuing the permits. For your info, this is only for the people who would be applying directly like me, but not for those who will be booking a package 🙂

Tourism is restricted in order to preserve and protect Lakshadweep’s fragile bio-ecological environment and prevent overcrowding. With the tourism board taking charge of water sports, underwater adventures in Lakshadweep are now restricted to the four main islands – Kadamat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti and Minicoy. Tourism is monitored by the local administration in close concert with the Lakshadweep Island Development Authority with the sole objective of protecting the interests of the islands. Scarcity of potable water and accommodation is a major constraint. The administration is wary that indiscriminate tourism promotion would lead to depletion of potable water for the islanders.

At last I got my entry permit on 13.01.2017 while my tickets for Agatti are booked for 16.01.2017. Ritu Aunt and Jit Uncle are going to accompany me, but the sad part is Avinash is going for some training and he won’t be accompanying us there in the islands. He gave the responsibility of us to a friend of his – Imran, who is also going to become a very good friend of mine 🙂

In the Jew Town of Kochi

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After few minutes of walk among the streets of Fort Kochi, I ended up in the Burgher Street where one of the most famous cafes of Kochi is located. Yup, the Kashi Art Galley! Located in an old house built in the traditional Kerala style, it welcomes the tourists with it’s collection of paintings and arts created by local artists. As I passed the front hall which is full of wall-posters and paintings, the house transformed into a beautiful cafe filled with rich aroma of coffee and what impressed me were the huge art pieces fixed in middle of the pathways and the walls.

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Kashi is best known for its Continental and British menu, and also for its coffee. But, it’s too hot out and I don’t want to add a hot cup of coffee to it. So, I opted for an orange juice as it was the exact way how I like to drink, no sugar and no water 🙂 . I clicked some pictures of the cafe and left for the Indo-Portuguese museum. This museum is situated in the garden of the Bishop’s House and is a confluence of Indian and Portuguese art and architecture. And sunday, it’s closed :(. Though the watchman allowed me to go around the Bishop’s House, I couldn’t see what’s there in the museum 😦

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I took an auto from here and reached the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry, another must-visit place in Kochi. The palace doesn’t resemble any royal palaces like the Mysore Palace or the Palaces of Rajasthan, but is unique in it’s own aspect. The Palace is a two storied building and is currently under the Archaeological Survey of India and the entry ticket is just Rupees Five.

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This palace was actually built by the Portuguese colonizers of Kochi in 1555 and gifted to the local ruler Veera Kerala Varma. This was later renovated by the Dutch in 1663 and hence the name Dutch Palace. This is now a museum which houses the royal memorabilia, weapons, the family tree, furniture and many more. The walls are adored with striking murals depicting the scenes from the epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana and represent the finest of traditional Hindu temple art. The palace also has a temple of the Goddess Bhagawati.

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As I walked away from the Dutch Palace on to the roads, I entered into another different world, the world of Jews right in the heart of Forth Kochi. Kochi’s connection with the Jews dates back to a thousand years ago. I walked towards the famous Synagogue, one of the few remaining relics of the city’s Jewish past, and this Synagogue is known as the Paradesi Synagogue to the locals. The first thing that attracted me is a 18th century working clock tower just infront of the Synagogue. It is said that this is one of the oldest Synagogues among the commonwealth of Nations and the chintz, chandeliers and the Chinese hand-painted tiles are well-preserved.

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The area is full of art galleries, museums and heritage restaurants and one of the famous being the Jew Town restaurant. This is not only a restaurant, but an antique shop which also sells books and some jewelry. One can pick up jewelry, wooden pillars, wooden and metal figurines, carved wooden furniture, antiquities and clothes, but we just need to bargain hard. Have a sip of coffee or a bite of Italian Pizza or taste some other cuisines in any one of those cafes and restaurants.

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It was at this time, I remembered that there is a market dedicated to spices. How can one forget these exotic spices which were the most sought-after commodities once upon a time and made Cochin an important hub of trade and commerce in the earlier days. The Jew Town has a lot of spice shops and warehouses. There is also a market called the ‘Old Spice Market’ from where one can get good quality spices like Cinnamom, Cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander and many more. But again, the market will be closed on Sundays.

I had my lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called the Krishna Cafe and took an auto to Veli ground, from where the Kochi carnival’s procession starts. On the way, I came across another land mark the ‘Santa Cruz Basilica’. This church was also constructed by the Portuguese and in the 19th century, the British demolished the old structure and commissioned a new building. Subsequently in 1984, it was proclaimed a Basilica by Pope John Paul II. The architecture of the Basilica is an impressive blend of the Indo-European and Gothic styles.

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14.30 hrs – The people at Fort Kochi told me that the procession would start at 14.00 hrs. But now they told me that it would start only at 16.00 hrs and I got no other choice rather than skipping it as I have to leave to Trivandrum (can’t skip the office 😦 ) . Took a bus to South Railway Junction and around 19.00 hrs, I was back in Trivandrum to enjoy my favorite Mushroom Biryani with fresh Pineapple juice at the Hyderabadi restaurant ‘Haveli’ 🙂 🙂

And that’s how my New Year Started 🙂 🙂

 

My New Year Celebrations..

The last day of the year 2016. The second time in my life, I was going to be away from my family for the New Year. Yup, it was a routine ritual for me to be at home on the last day of every year to welcome the New Year. By evening, be with my mom and aunts to send wishes to everyone on the roads by having some sort of rangolis welcoming the new year, watch a movie with dad later, and a cake cutting ceremony @ 12.00 hrs on the first day of the New Year.

But 2015 was the year which brought a change in this family tradition and for the first time, I worked on the New Year Day. And though this year i.e. 2016, the New Year Day was on a Sunday, I weren’t able to be home as I don’t have so many leaves. So, what am I going to do?? Luckily, few days back, a friend of mine invited me to his wedding on 31.12.2016 at his hometown ‘Mala’, which is 35 kms from Aluva, Kerala. So, I decided to attend his marriage. But, what about 01.01.2017??

31.12.2016:

05.00 hrs – I woke up, got ready, packed my backpack, took my camera and left my home to reach the Trivandrum Railway Station. 05.50 hrs – I was at the Railway station walking towards Platform No. 3 to get into the train Jan Shatabdi. The train was already there and I got into the compartment and made myself comfortable. Thanks to my friend Kiran, who booked my ticket in Tatkaal the other day 🙂 . The plan is to get down at Aluva and reach Mala by a bus. 10.05 hrs – The train reached Aluva and I remember the instructions of my friend Jeff about getting a bus to Mala.

10.30 hrs – I reached the Kerala Transport Bus Depot in Aluva, which is some 500 mts from the railway station. After quick inquiries, I got into a bus which heads to Mala. 12.00 hrs – I was at Mala bus Depot waiting for Jeff’s cousin to pick me up. 12.15 hrs – I was dropped at the St. Stanislaus Forane Church which is the marriage venue. Mala is a small township which is quiet beautiful with lush green coconut groves, beautiful houses and churches. The marriage rituals were ongoing. But, what after the marriage? When should I go home? Should I go back to Trivandrum or stay back here for a night and start the next morning?

13.20 hrs – The marriage was over and we headed to the reception hall, where I wished my friend and his wife a happy married life! And told him that I would be leaving in another couple of minutes as I have to travel a long way. But then, I changed my mind. After all, it’s New Year, and I was away from my family, and if I go back to Trivandrum, what am I going to do? Sit back in my room all day?? Too bad for a new year day. Isn’t it? So, it’s decided. I will go Kochi! A perfect New Year Destination 🙂 🙂

14.40 hrs – I was dropped at the Mala Bus Depot where I got into a bus to Kochi. In the meanwhile, I called up my office to make arrangements for my stay at the Office Guesthouse. The bus would be going to Vytilla Hub in Kochi, and they asked me to get down there and take an auto to the Ernakulam South Railway Station where my Guest House is located. It is a 2 hour journey from Mala to Kochi and I thought of going around the shopping malls for the rest of the evening, as Kochi is famous for it’s shopping malls.

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17.50 hrs – The bus bypassed the Lulu Shopping Mall at Vytilla and then it clicked in my mind that it’s better to get down here, check these out and then head to my Guest House. Lulu Mall, located in Edappally is said to be the biggest mall in India and one of the biggest in South Asia. With it’s hypermarket, fashion store and one of the biggest food courts and with the maximum number of brands (around 320), Lulu is perhaps the most happening market place in Kochi.

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A quick bite in the Mc Donald’s and a hot coffee from the Costa Coffee.. watching the hanging Santa clauses from the ceiling at the center, the giant snowmen and the twinkling and shining jingle bells and stars all over the mall is fascinating. Though I didn’t shop anything, this place is a must-visit for any tourist 🙂 . Out of the mall, I took another bus to the South Railway Station. One thing I didn’t like about Kochi was that the Ola Cabs weren’t serving in all places, Uber is not able to mark the locations, auto-rickshaws don’t want to come where we want to go, if they are willing, they charge way too high and the transport buses – too crowded 😦

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It was only at 20.00 hrs I reached my guesthouse. A quick shower and I drifted deep into my sleep.

Time for some music…

After a hectic day back at the office, on my way home, I spotted a poster on the roadside. It says Sound Engineering Academy presents “SEA MUSIC BAND FESTIVAL 2016” @ 7.00 PM on 11.08.2016. And luckily, it’s going to be in Bharat Bhavan, Trivandrum, which is pretty much near to my residence. No other thoughts, I simply rushed home and got ready for the music fiesta.

There were lot of young champs making their way to the venue and I could see that most of them are from the Sound Engineering Academy of Trivandrum. As I was one among the early visitors, I was able to grab a seat in the first row. There came a quick introduction of the SEA Music Band Festival 2016. It’s an annual music festival dedicated to the most creative music arts. From fusion rock to pop, electronica to metal. This is unique in its nature and 2014 was their first foray into the music festivals.

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What I could see from the fest is that, most of the performers are upcoming musicians, Music bands and artists. It’s going to be a four day festival and the first day performers are “Segments”. Segments is a progressive rock act based out of Kochi, India. Segments began as ‘counterclockwise’ in Sept of 2014 and after a few changes in their line up, they decided to rebrand their direction and style of music.

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This band comprises of Nikhil J Menon, the vocal; Ajay George Joseph, the lead Guitarist; Chris “The Beast” Paul, lead Guitarist; Bass by Lesly Rodrick and Drums by Ritwick Wilfy Bivera. They started with some light music and the song “Let it Go”. And there came the number “Say that am in love with you” which is a bit heavy, and then the segments own fusion of songs and which has been named as “Sacrifice”.

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Suddenly they jumped into some slow numbers but not keeping it that low like the wicked game and again caught up slowly with heavy music. All the guys carried the same levels of energy throughout their performances and it was so live. In all, that was a nice performance from the “Segments” and I enjoyed it thoroughly and was an evening well spent with music.

Looking forward for KL01..

P.S : Can watch the live stream @ http://www.seaindia.in