Once upon a time….. in Gopalpur on sea

24.06.2017:

Berhampur – the silk city of Odisha, is just about 30 kms from Icchapuram – the border area of Andhra Pradesh and we looked out for a right turn after crossing Icchapuram as showed by the Google Maps. Gopalpur on Sea is located at a mere distance of 15 kms from Berhampur and is easily accessible.  The road which leads us to Gopalpur on Sea from the NH 16 is a bit narrow, but enough number of sign-boards were placed along this road to show us the way to Gopalpur.

Gopalpur was once buzzing with maritime activities which Odisha is known for ages. It was one of the outlets through which early settlers of South East Asia sailed off. During the days of Kalingas, Gopalpur on Sea was known as the port of Paloura from which traders sailed as far as Java, Bali and Sumatra mainly dealing in silk and pearls. Later it became a prominent trading port mainly a transit point to  export sugar and cheap laborers for the tea gardens of Assam in North Eastern India during the days of the British East India Company. Like Middleton-on-sea, the ‘on-sea’ tag has been conferred on Gopalpur by the Britishers.

Gopalpur-on-sea is a small quiet town which is popular for its beautiful pristine  sandy beach and a perfect beach destination for a tranquil holiday. We reached here around 16.30 hrs when it was drizzling a little. The beach is fairly isolated and there are not many tourists – the continuous rain may be one of the reasons! We parked our car aside and started walking towards the beach. The beach with its golden sand of the blue sea has its own sleepy charm and looked pretty during the drizzle! 🙂 There are no palm trees along the coastline and one get an uninterrupted view of the mammoth Bay of Bengal!

There is a light house which stand witness to the past port and also acts as the landmark of the place. This would be open only for a while in the afternoon and if you are lucky enough to visit this place during that time, you can get a sweeping view of the country side as well as the Bay of Bengal. But we were late that day 😦 We walked along the quite seashore which is undisturbed by the regular tourists or day-trippers. It was so serene that all we could hear is the symphony of the waves and our own heart-beats. And all that we could see is a vast stretch of blue waters with the fishing boats anchored on the sands of the beach by the fisher-folk with the crumbling walls and pillars of an ancient jetty together with some crumbling bungalows in the background!

The sea here is a bit rough and completely idea for sailing and surfing. And importantly, it’s comparatively a clean place to swim, but one has to take precautions as this beach is not that shallow! Once onto the road after a long walk along the beach, we went around the place to explore a bit. Once a favourite of British travellers during the Raj and home to retired British and Anglo-Indian railway employees, Gopalpur-on-sea still has several bungalows and mansions belonging to the Europeans and this gives the place still a colonial look.

Some of these buildings and bungalows were modified into small hotels and offers accommodation to the budget travelers. The promenade along the beach is filled up with small shacks selling a wide range of food products like prawns, fish, crabs, delicacies of mutton and chicken etc. Though we didn’t try any of these delicacies here, we ate few ice-creams and made our way further deep into the town. There is also a local market here which looked deserted at that hour of time and just about 3 kms from the beach, the local creeks in the vicinity of the sea have created a network of backwaters, which is an ideal place for a picnic.

Men were fishing; children were playing and boat-men were patiently waiting for the tourists who would like to go on leisure boat rides and others waiting for passengers who would travel across these backwaters to reach their villages on the other side. This is one of the most picturesque place in the vicinity, but one should be more cautious as these backwaters are quite deeper and the undercurrents more stronger! We returned to our car after clicking enough of photos without knowing what our next destination would be :-p 😉

If you are looking for a perfect weekend gateway away from the busy city life, Gopalpur-on-sea would be a perfect choice, as this beach with her backwaters continue to spread its aquatic magic since times immemorial! 🙂 There is also this 99 year old Mayfair Beach Resorts which offers luxurious accommodation for the tourists!

Backwater Beauty – Alleppy

A weekend in Alleppy..

Who will miss the famous houseboat ride when they are in Kerala? And that too when a person like me who is based in Trivandrum which is just 3 hours away from Alappuzzha? And that too when a friend like Mythri who will be ever ready to join me? 🙂 🙂 . It’s time to soak in the beauty of the backwaters and lush green and palm fringed landscape while on a houseboat in Kerala. I called up my uncle and aunt who stays in Alleppy and told them that I am gonna visit them and we wanna explore the city a little. As planned Mythri and I landed there a night before and enjoyed a good meal prepared by my aunt.

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The next day we started off around 8.00 hrs in the morning and headed towards a jetty from where we can get onto a houseboat. A friend of my uncle has arranged the boat for us and we set on our boat ride at 9.00 hrs. As it was only me, my uncle and aunt, and Mythri we hired a boat of small size and we cut short the ride to only 5 to 6 hours. One can move around in traditional thatched roof houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppy, one of the best places to hire a boat in the state.

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Known as Kettuvalam, these boats were traditionally used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to the market towns and have now been converted into floating hotels made by tying huge planks of jackwood together, great amount of skill and precision is required to make these houseboats. Interestingly, not a single iron nail is used in their construction (they say so, I didn’t observe it so keenly ;-)). Earlier, an entire clan of artisans was dedicated to make these houseboats. But today, these have become an innovative way of holidaying and very proudly represent the unique culture of the southern state.

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Uncle started us explaining the various things about Alleppy and some facts about the backwaters of Kerala which are a crisscrossed network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers. Generally a private houseboat travels around 40-50 kms through the backwaters in a single day. As our boat passed through the canals we got to experience the local life and laze around while gazing at coconut palms, jackfruits, papayas and mango groves. The fisher-folk catching the fishes in their small boats and going around the canals to sell those and the women washing their clothes or the fish for the lunch, the ducks and gooses swimming around, it’s a must visit place to know how well the people’s lives were in-glove with the vast stretches of waters around them.

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We were about to enter the lake Vembanadu. My uncle showed us the way to reach Kottayam and Cochin which were connected by these backwaters. Vembanad is the most accessible backwaters where the Vembanad lake opens to sea at the Cochin Harbor, dotted with interconnected islands that adorn the Queen of the Arabian Sea. The southern Vembanad Lake is known for its large expanse of water, sandwiched between districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam.

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It was noon when we stopped at a toddy shop with a food joint, which are one of the common sights along the backwaters. By the time we stopped here, there was another big houseboat which is full of youngsters, who were probably on a weekend trip and stopped at this toddy shop to enjoy some toddy and were dancing to the hilt. Though I couldn’t read what was going in my uncle and aunt’s mind, I was happy to see so many happy faces enjoying in middle of no-where and as if they were not connected to this world anymore 🙂 😀

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Though you can’t get a large variety of food items here, the list of fresh sea food items is long. The interesting thing is that one can choose the kind of fish or prawns from the display list and they cook it and serve hot on your plates 🙂 . As we row along the small villages on the coast, we came across some resorts, houses and churches. We can anchor our boat somewhere on one of the banks and take a stroll among the white-washed homes and churches. But what I noticed is that a house-boat ride will be too good and enjoyable when there is a large group of people especially family and friends and trust me the fun will be unlimited 🙂 🙂

The ride came to an end at 15.00 hrs just when it started to drizzle a little and then started to rain heavily :). Typical Kerala’s climate! The boat dropped us at the jetty where we started and we really enjoyed this cruise of a lifetime!

World Environment Day – Gone wild!!

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On this June 5 – World Environment Day, the Kerala Forest Department along with WWF India organized a rain walk from Kallar to Ponmudi, a hill-station located at a distance of 61 kms from Trivandrum. Luckily, as it was a Sunday me and my friends decided to go on this trip, though we don’t know whether it rains or not.

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We chose the route to Nedumangad-Anad-Vithura-Kallar. We set on our bikes around 6.15 hrs in the morning from Trivandrum to Kallar (42 kms). Truly an adventurous and thrilling drive as the roads were pretty narrow and curvy. And the lush green surroundings full of rubber plantations and coconut grooves, along with the early morning breeze enhanced its charm. As this is my first drive on a bike in Kerala, and has no experience on such roads, I struggled a bit at the beginning, but soon caught up my speed. We reached Kallar around 7.30 hrs.

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Quickly completed the process of registration, and watched around to see our group which comprised of some 35 people from different age groups (youngest – 11 yrs and oldest – 60 yrs). I was quite excited. The WWF representatives and the Forest Division Officer, Kerala Forest Dept gave us a quick introduction to the World Environment Day and its theme this year. Once done, they flagged off the walk around 8.00 hrs.

The first one to welcome us is the Kallar river, after which the place Kallar has been named. A bird watching spot. There is the Meenmutti waterfall nearby, but didn’t get a chance to visit it this time :(. This is solely a road trek as they are very much concerned about our safety, but still got good chance of trying the off roads wherever possible.

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Ponmudi is situated at about 3000 feet and is home to mountain flowers, butterflies, spiders, springs and rivulets. The way from Kallar to Ponmudi comprises of 22 hairpin bends, probably one of the highest compared with rest of the hill stations in Kerala. The foothills of Ponmudi has few rubber plantations and I was lucky enough to see how the trees secret the latex and how it is being collected in the coconut shells or polythenes that were tied around the trees. The thing which attracted me the most is the down-hill view. It was almost as if the Mother Earth is wrapped up in a thick blanket of lush-green trees and forests.

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The cloud-kissed mountains, hills with tea plantations, mountain flowers on the road-sides and giant spiders and web right beside the trees, neat and clean roads, the green canopy, sun-rays playing hide and seek, it is simply one-hell of a beauty! Though the first few kms of distance was tiring, coz of the hot sun, it started to rain in mid-way and all of a sudden the climate changed into a pretty cool one. There was a temple dedicated to Karuppaswamy, a friend of Lord Ayyappa, a tea factory and a PWD Guest House on the way up.

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Though it’s a road trek, we tried the off-road ways at the hairpin bends, and trekking through the tea-gardens wherever there were possibilities. It took us around 4 hours (around 13.00 hrs) to reach till the Government Guest House located on top of this hill. We had a good Saadhya (Malayali Lunch), which consisted of the local variety of rice, Aviyal (mix veg curry), Poriyal (a fried stuff), Sambar and the Pepper Rasam with a Papa, provided by the staff there.

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The Government Guest house is good enough and very clean. It has a balcony from which we can see the panorama of Western Ghats. Kudos to the forest department people for maintaining the roads and the surroundings so neat and clean! This environment day turned out to be a memorable one for me, as I was really entwined with it. Started our way back around 15.30 hrs and reached Trivandrum by 16.45 hrs. A good week off 🙂

 

NANDI HILLS – HILL OF HAPPINESS

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Nandi Hills or Nandidurg or Nandi Betta is an ancient hill fortress situated at a distance of about 65 kms from Bangalore, Karnataka. These lie at an average elevation of about 4850 ft above the sea level. A popular weekend destination and it can be easily reached as it is well connected by roads with Bangalore as well as Chikkaballapur. The route from Bangalore to Nandi hills is so scenic and interesting, as it gives us a chance of seeing some good temples, old forts, grape vineyards and mustard fields.

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And the curvy roads leading to the top of hills are best to trek or cycle. One can go for a road trek or a wild trek on the backside of the hill. Plenty of opportunities 🙂  If you own a bicycle, well fine and good otherwise there are lots of bicycling clubs which organizes weekend cycling trips. Can try one!

 The main attraction is the statue of the Nandi Bull which is located on top of the hill. And the belief is that the hills resemble a sleeping Nandi Bull, and hence the name Nandi Hills. There is also an ancient temple of Yoga Nandeeswara atop the hill. There are also temples dedicated to Sri Ugra Narasimha and Yoga Narasimha.

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The hill is the Sultan Tipu’s Summer Residence and there is a palace which is not open for public 😦 . Interesting place is the Tipu’s Drop, a 600 metre high cliff face, where prisoners and convicts during Tipu’s reign used to be pushed off this cliff. There is also a children’s park, for a while we too can be children swinging on the cradles. Lol!

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Nandi hills is a haven for nature lovers with magnificent views and enticing scenic spots, if we are lucky enough we can spot some wildlife too. One should not miss the sunrise here. The wind, fog and the clouds that blow towards us when we are in the midst of the tall trees on top of the hill before the sunrise is just amazing and a life-time experience. One won’t regret waking up at 4 in the morning after enjoying the sunrise here!

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Why can’t be this weekend itself? 🙂