A week in paradise

Whenever my wife does shopping for that extra pair of footwear she doesn’t really need (well, is there such a thing), I tease her saying “Oh, another pair … who do you think you are – Imelda Marcos?”.  Over the years, I had actually forgotten who Imelda Marcos was, but the phrase still lives on in my household.

Let me throw some light on how that phrase came about. Imelda Marcos is the widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos notable for her collection of shoes. As a First Lady, Imelda used to live a lavish lifestyle as the majority of Filipinos remained in poverty. I learned about her in my growing-up years from our local newspaper which had carried a full page feature on her, along with photos of her shoe collection – large rooms filled with shoes.

Given that short introduction to Imelda and her poor countrymen, you may have got a fair idea about my wife’s shopping priorities, and possibly my current financial situation as well. That tidbit about the Philippine President and First Lady covered about 80% of what I knew about Philippines until about a month back. Here are the remaining (mostly useless) facts I knew about the little island country:

  • That Philippine people have been trumping Indians in the Call center/BPO business lately
  • Manny Pacquiao (Remember Pacquiao vs. Mayweather – 2015?) lost his Nike contract recently
  • Kerala film actor Soman played the role of a detective disguised as a Filippino in the popular yester-year movie ‘Akkare akkare akkare’.

I don’t know if the last point could be counted as a valid Philippines trivia, but hey, we are talking my list, and that’s firmly on it.

Then all of it changed – my knowledge base on Philippines expanded exponentially – because, suddenly, Philippines came into my life rather unexpectedly. I spent 7 wonderful days in a beautiful island in Philippines, named Boracay, last month. A beautiful island with white sand beaches, turquoise-green waters (you know – the kind of beaches you would see in luxury product advertisements), corals and lovely people.

I was going to Boracay!

I was going to Boracay!

You know, life can be funny. I had never in my life heard of such a place, nor dreamt that I would ever visit this place one day. But here I was, in one of the most beautiful of Philippines beaches, sitting around lazily in my shorts, showing off my well rounded hairy Indian body, sipping cold coffee and dipping my fork in sticky white rice, watching the sun come up and go down. How was this even possible? Enter my friend, ‘Smiling Buddha’. I refer him thus for the following reasons:

  • He is into Buddhism
  • He is a cheerful person, and his sole aim in life is to see others happy; so he doesn’t mind putting himself through any kind of discomfort for the happiness of others, and
  • To save him from any kind of embarrassment that this article may wreak on him

Well, a bunch of his friends and he were planning this trip to Boracay and he included me in their plans since he knew I needed some lifting of spirits. When he called and informed me of the travel plans, he’d already made reservations for me, and all I had to do was get my amply sized back into the competitively sized economy class seat of an AirAsia flight. Well, that was a small discomfort I was ready to live with in exchange for a magical week in a beautiful tropical island.

Boracay

Boracay is one of the many beautiful islands in Philippines, and gets its name from its fine, white beach sand that resembles cotton (which in local language is Borac). And what are the top favourite activities to do in Boracay?

  1. To do nothing, or
  2. Watch the sun come up and go down (if you are the active kind, I guess).

I did not make those up – I actually read that in a book about Boracay that I found in my hotel room. There are about 30 beaches in and around Boracay; White beach and Bulabog being the most popular. We had booked our accommodation at Hotel Milflores De Boracay – a well-kept, cozy hotel located close to White beach.

Now that's an office with a view

Now that’s an office with a view

Our flight to Philippines had us coming through Malaysia, where we had a rather long transit. We spent most of our time in the airport food court, enjoying ‘kaya’/butter toasts and Teh Tarik (Milk Tea) from the Toast Box outlet. We then flew into Calebo through Manila, from where a 2 hour bus ride got us to a ferry, across which was Boracay. The bus ride gave us a peek into Philippines country side – green paddies, locals going through their day lazily – all of which reminded me of my home town back in Kerala. Philippines must have the worst looking electric distribution system – the lines bunched up shabbily, running along everywhere, spoiling otherwise picturesque views.

Tricycles - the most popular mode of transport in Philippines

Tricycles – the most popular mode of transport in Philippines

From the jetty, we had to take a boat to get to Boracay. Boats in Philippines are narrow, and have bamboo structures attached to their sides for stability and support. The ride itself was adventurous, and scary at times when the boat negotiated giant waves. The whole jetty, the boats and the hardened, shabby boatmen reminded me of the movie ‘Water World’. By the time we got to Boracay Jetty, I was wet and dripping, my hair on all parts of my body standing up and my legs wobbly . I managed to walk myself to terra firma by tip-toeing and balancing over a narrow plank they had set up between the boat and the jetty. If getting to Boracay was such an adventure, I wondered what would be awaiting us in the coming days. Thanking God, we entered the mini-van that took us to our hotel.

Water world!

Water world!

Laughing Buddha had planned our week to a tee. Not a hard thing to do, since our plan was to have a vacation with no agenda nor time pressures. Every day, the bunch of us would wake up at some reasonable hour in the morning, walk down to the beach, park ourselves in a beach-side café and decide on how we should be spending the rest of the day. Here are some activities we did in Boracay:

Walking the 3.5 km White beach stretch: The walkway alongside the beach is lined with small shops selling all kinds of stuff, restaurants and cafes. As we walked, we also bumped into hawkers selling Baluts (boiled, fertilized duck egg). Now that’s something one doesn’t get to eat often in our part of the world, so we did give it a try. I should say that if you can get over the looks of it, you should try it. Not bad at all.

View from one of the cafes we sat in to plan our day

View from one of the cafes we sat in to plan our day

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Helmet diving: Remember Captain Haddock going under water in Red Rackhams Treasure? That’s precisely what this is, except that one doesn’t need to wear a heavy suit. A boat took us to a large stationary platform from which divers helped us wear a 30 kg helmet fitted with an oxygen pipe, and guided us through a beautiful underwater walk. If you, like me, have an eternal fear of deep blue sea thanks to the Jaws movies you saw in your childhood, you may find it difficult to go under. But once you get over that initial fear, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Wondering why you aren't seeing any divers? They are all under water!

Wondering why you aren’t seeing any divers? They are all under water!

Island hopping: Where they took us to 3 beautiful islands near Boracay – Puka Beach, Crystal Bay and Tambisaan Beach. This was a full-day activity and included a buffet lunch. Puka beach is one of the cleanest and most beautiful beach I’ve seen in my life.

One of the beautiful rocky islands we visited

One of the beautiful rocky islands we visited

Watching the kite surfers do their stuff in Bulabog island

Watching the kite surfers do their stuff in Bulabog island

Parasailing: Well, if you like to be unleashed from a speedboat and left dangling in air for about 20 minutes, parasailing is for you. If you can stop worrying about whether you are buckled safely to the parachute, or what could happen if the rope gets cut, you could catch some great aerial views of Boracay

Parasailing

Parasailing

Snorkeling: Now, this one, everyone can try – even if you don’t know swimming. They took us in a boat to a shallow area where we were given the gear, and helped into water. If you don’t know swimming, you could hold on to the ropes tied to the boat and dip your head under water to get fabulous views of corals and fish underwater.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

ATV/Buggy ride to top of Mt. Luho: This is where we explored the island on an ATV, and went up Mt. Luho to catch a great view of the island.

ATV / Buggy ride

ATV / Buggy ride

Evenings in Boracay: Once the sun goes down, everyone settles into one of the many restaurants lining the beach. While some of them have live music, many have flame dancers who amaze the audience with ‘live-fire’ performances. Every night we explored a different restaurant, and loved each one of them.

As the Sun goes down, the beach side restaurants become active

As the Sun goes down, the beach side restaurants become active

Amazing night life and dinner options at Boracay

Amazing night life and dinner options at Boracay

D’ Talipapa – Wet Market: This is a fish market where we got to see the freshest of sea food, haggled with the sellers for the lowest price, took our fish to the nearest restaurant where they cooked them just the way we wanted. A fun experience, though the haggling part was a bit uncomfortable.

Want this? At the Wet market

Want this? At the Wet market

Sales pitch in progress

Sales pitch in progress

Fresh catch - grilled

Fresh catch – grilled

Scuba diving: Scattered along the White beach walkway, you can find shacks where you could sign up for learning Scuba diving. There are about 15 dive sites near Boracay with underwater tunnels caves, corals and other beautiful spots. After giving it some consideration, we decided not to do Scuba diving in this trip.

There are many more activities in Boracay including banana boat riding, flying fish, cliff diving, sailing, sail boarding, canoeing and a lot more. Be it a lazy vacation, or an adrenaline-pumping active one, Boracay has something for everyone. It took me a few weeks after I returned to get over my Boracay hangover. For now, I am just thankful to Laughing Buddha for introducing me to a new land.

Sights along the White beach - Weird items seller?

Sights along the White beach – Weird items seller?

The vast expanse of White beach

The vast expanse of White beach

Sights along the White beach - Getting pork ready for dinner

Sights along the White beach – Getting pork ready for dinner

Fun and frolic all the way

Fun and frolic all the way

kite boarding at Bulabog beach

kite boarding at Bulabog beach

One of the top favourite activities in Boracay - doing nothing

One of the top favourite activities in Boracay – doing nothing

My last shot from Boracay

My last shot from Boracay

PS: I am working extra time to pay back my trip expenses to Laughing Buddha. Though he may not take it from me.

Living in Singapore: An ‘expat’ opinion

This is a short post written by my friend Ganesh. Ganesh lived in Singapore for more than 3 years and explored every nook and corner of this little island city-state. He now probably knows more about Singapore than any local there; so if you are planning a trip to Singapore, talk to him about offbeat locations and food – it will save you a lot of research time. This post, however, deals with the perceptions he had about Singapore before landing there and the reality he saw. Read on.

Image credit: Sacha Fernandez (See the Flickr image here)

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Images I had in mind about Singapore before I landed here in 2012: A nation where everything happens like clockwork, hardworking people (like that of Japan), exceptionally modern, slick high-rises and fashionable people.

What people told me about Singapore: Hot and humid place, people talk in funny Singlish, Gets boring after a while

So here’s my findings:

Ultra-efficient Government (Big Brother in every sense of the word):

A friendly 70-year old taxi driver uncle captured it well for me: “They (the government) form a protective shield around us, without which, we will be like the rest of Asia”. Very true.

What if you can’t chew gum or bad-mouth your government. In return you get awesome roads, houses, parks, clean air, 0.5% Crime, 0.5% corruption, ultra-efficient government processes, jobs, cheap tasty healthy food, clean public toilets, terrific public transport and more. What more can one ask for.

But knowing the three races that form a majority here – the Chinese, Malay and Indian – it was tough for me to believe that there has been no serious dissent or opposition to government. The quiet, benevolent dictatorship has had a smooth ride for over 50 years. This also probably goes to show that big brother is watching and snipping away at anything that looks ugly. But again, the pros of this far outweigh the cons 100 to 1, so who cares. I am from a perfect democracy where everybody has a loud voice, but I was happy to trade in some of that freedom for better things in life.

Asian feel

Even with those swanky high rises and fancy streets, Singapore still retains the old world Asian charm. The hawker centers, HDB’s, Little India, China town, Joo Chiat, Geylang Serai, wet markets, people sitting outside eating durians, hot pot parties and sea food buffets – all contribute to this. Food is the center of life – and they’ve got it right with that.

Melting pot of different cultures

You get exposed to various cultures of the world and meet a lot of fun people – the cribbing ang mohs, self-proclaimed IT experts from India and Philippines, the Thais, the Vietnamese, people from Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Nepalis, Arabs (no idea what they do) – and people from just about anywhere from the world. Singapore SGD is also like honey to its poor neighbors.

Inefficient Private Sector:

This was rather surprising to me: In contrast to an ultra-efficient government, the private sector (other than real estate and a few other semi-government owned ones) are inefficient. They are also way behind in maturity, technology prowess, skill levels in comparison to the west. For a change I felt most private companies in India were far ahead of their SG counterparts. The “hardworking like the Japanese” is a myth; at least in the private sector (Exclude hawker centers, taxi uncles and maybe a couple of small scale sectors)

‘Smart’ New Generation:

Very similar to rest of the world and the woes are the same. Addicted to smart phones. You will not see a single youngster look at anyone’s face on an MRT (a smile in a public place is as rare as snow in Singapore). I feel they have taken the sacrifices of the pioneering generation for granted. Rebels without a cause (blame government, blame Expats. Similar situation in most other countries too). All kids under extreme pressure to run the race better than others. Tuitions, thick eye glasses all around.

Human rights: Citizens have it great

Singapore is very protective of its citizens. Other than a bit of suppression in rights of expression, life is great for citizens. But what I found appalling is how the government turns a blind eye to what happens in Geylang, Ktv’s and BMD bar’s. Probably the only grey spot in an otherwise small and exciting country.

I also hope and pray that, one day, my motherland India will emulate all the qualities that make Singapore a great place for its citizens.

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Have you lived in Singapore? If so, do you agree with Ganesh’s observations?

A Jain Temple and a Giant Statue

When I went to Moodbidri to meet an old friend of mine (about whom I’d written earlier), I planned it such that I would have some time to explore the famous Thousand Pillar Temple (Saavira Kambada Basadi) in Moodbidri, and the giant Bahubali statue in Karkala.

Moodbidri, a small town near Mangalore, is also known as the ‘Jain Kashi’ of South India and is an ancient center for Jain learning. Built in the 1400s, Saavira Kambada Basadi is the most famous of Jain temples here, and is known for its pillars – all carved from granite, and each having distinct and unique engravings.

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Sunil Jain, a friendly temple official who was guiding visitors the day I went there, called my attention to one particular pillar which had a carving of Lord Ram and numerous ones of Lord Hanuman around Lord Ram. He asked me to count the number of Hanuman images. I counted 15. He said I was wrong, and there were 16. Then he asked me to count again. I still counted 15. Perplexed, I looked at him. He then pointed to one particular carving of Hanuman, which though looked like one Hanuman, actually had 2 of them.

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Most pillars there have similar trick carvings on them; so keep aside some time to look at each of the pillars carefully if you ever visit this temple. Though the temple has upper floors, they aren’t open for devotees always.

Apart from the intricate carvings on the pillars, the other thing that will captivate you is the peace and silence that engulfs you. This is a great place for meditation, and so I spent some time just seated there silently before making my way to Karkala.

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In Karkala, I climbed my way up the Gommata Betta – a rocky hill atop which the towering, 40 odd feet granite monolith of Bahubali (also known as Gommateshwara) is built.

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I had visited Saavira Kambada Basadi with my friends some 15 years back, and found this one image from my archive that shows a few of them in their prime. One of them is no longer with us now – hope he’s happy up there. Some great memories…

Oldie

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Read more about Saavira Kambada Basadi here: http://www.karnataka.com/mangalore/story-thousand-pillar-temple-moodabidri/, and Gommateshwara here: http://www.karkalagommateshwara.com/. If you would like to add more to this articles, please leave your comments below.

An offbeat Goa trip

 

I wanted to get away from normal life for a few days and had chosen Goa as my hideout after having read various traveller accounts on the serene Goan countryside. Two of my friends had decided to join in as well. One has a home in Vasco that was lying vacant, which he graciously let us use for a few days (yeah, I do have some useful friends. Let’s call this friend ‘House Owner Friend’ or ‘HOF’ for short). The other – let’s call him ‘Beardy’ since he has a beard for a face – was gracious enough to take time out from his busy schedule to join in.

Since we’d also decided that this would be a ‘Goa on a shoestring budget’ trip, Beardy had chosen The Indian Railways for his travel; and to keep his costs low, had gone in for General or Second Class tickets. He had planned to visit his hometown as well, and hence his itinerary looked as follows: Bangalore > Goa > Kerala > Bangalore. For having booked such a long trip for under Rs 1000, he was feeling pretty good about himself, and also got me feeling a tad guilty for choosing to fly in to Goa (My justification: I was coming in from Mumbai, and had got a cheap flight using the combination of a MakeMyTrip deal and my Payback points).

Beardy had reached Goa earlier that morning, and had come to the airport to pick me up. The 15 hour second class rail journey that he’d undertaken in the Indian heat should’ve made him 2 shades darker, and caked his face with dust and dirt. But there he was, bright and shiny. All thanks to his beard, I supposed, inside which he must’ve cocooned himself all through the journey.

Since I was here in search of peace and tranquility, I wanted this to be a quiet, offbeat kind of trip (Plus, I’d already done the usual Baga-Calangute-Casinos tourist circuit a few times already). HOF proved to be even more resourceful when he jugaad-fied a car from one of his friends that we could use while we were there. Thus began our 3 day ‘offbeat Goa’ sojourn.

Vasco

Vasco (short for Vasco da Gama; named after the famous Portuguese explorer) – a port city and Naval base, is heavily reliant on the port for most of its economic activity. As a tourist, Vasco is probably the last place in Goa you would want to end up in, especially when Tripadvisor lists ‘Vasco’s Municipal Market’ as one of the top 5 places to see here. But Vasco is indeed a beautiful little city. Vasco also threw up a few hidden gems.

Anantha

First, a restaurant named ‘Ananthashram’ (unlikely name for a Goan non vegetarian restaurant!). The special non-veg thali (rice plate with different kinds of sea food sides) I had there was just out of the world – so fresh, delicious and in line with our shoestringy budget. The normal non-veg thali (with a few sides, one fish curry and one fish fry) is just Rs 80, and the special thali is Rs 300. We kept going back there for more every night.

I have always been a fan of Goan Fish curry (Mamma’s kitchen in Panaji is where I had it first), and Ananthashram’s version is by far the best I’ve had. We also tried the Mackeral Reshad (Reacheado), Red Snapper (Chonak) Reshad and Goa’s famous Chicken Vindaloo during our subsequent visits. While the Reshards were terrific (slightly sweetish), I didn’t dig the vindaloo.

So if you ever stray in to Vasco, hunt down this place and have fish from there. If you don’t like it, your next meal’s on me.


Aside: Later, when I was back in Mangalore, I got this deep craving to eat some Mackeral Reshad again. So I got hold of a recipe (here’s the one: http://www.food.com/recipe/fish-reshad-stuffed-fish-goan-style-102408), and cooked myself. It turned out OK, but not as good as the one I had back in Vasco.

mackeral reshard


IMG_20151105_104402The other gem you should definitely visit is a bakery named Temptation. The chocolate-vanilla rolls and bebinca (a Goan sweet), which I picked up based on HOF’s recommendation, were lovely.

Then there’s the Bogmalo beach which we visited towards late evening. We had our dinner from Joet’s on the beach. The fish fingers, made from sardines (who makes fish fingers using sardines?!) destroyed the evening for us, but then some of the other dishes we had salvaged it to some extent.

The days I spent in Vasco also led me to believe that Goan women are more hardworking than men. Now, I may be wrong here, but I say this because I saw more working women than men in Vasco – selling stuff in markets, transporting heavy loads by balancing sacks and buckets on their heads, running eateries, baking cakes and bebinca, or just plain bossing their husbands.

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Beardy had to rush home!

Late that night, we were awakened by a phone call that Beardy received. It was his tenant calling from back home, saying that the house was flooded due to incessant rains in Bangalore.

Apparently Beardy had faced this situation once earlier, when shit had hit the fan (no, seriously. Dirt from the clogged gutters and tanks had floated in, and he was awakened in the middle of the night, floating alongside aforementioned dirt, much closer to the fan than he had set himself to rest the previous night. It had taken him two days of back-breaking work to get his house back in order that time).

After instructing his tenant to remain vertical and keep everything important 2 feet above ground level, he started checking for flights to head back to Bangalore. He booked an early morning flight which cost him four and a half thousand rupees. There went all the shoestring budget planning, down the drain – what a waste! In parting, like a true optimist, he remarked thus: “On a brighter note, it’s not every day that I get to do a 15 hour train journey for dinner”.

Streets

Morjim, Mandrem and Arambol beaches

Driving is what relaxes me the most. I sometimes wonder whether I should have pursued my childhood dream of becoming a bus driver. We were driving up north, with a rough intention of seeing some of the beautiful beaches of North Goa.

Driving through the hinterlands of Goa was a fresh and beautiful experience for me. The roads in Goa, unlike those in many other parts of India, are very well maintained. Many new bridges that have come up in the past few years have connected the interiors and islands better by road.

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Morjem

We soon came upon Morjim beach. Sun was beating down hard, and the beautiful, white-sandy beach glistened in sunlight. There were only a few people around, mostly foreigners, either resting on those wooden beach chairs or inside water. Morjim beach is also a nestling and hatching habitat of the Olive ridley sea turtle, an endangered species. You can see the Goa forest department’s Turtle conservation center at the entrance of the beach.

Further north is the Mandrem beach, which we skipped and continued our journey to Arambol beach – considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa. Arambol, like Morjem, was not very crowded, but had more shacks/eateries lining the beach. We had lunch at a nearby joint, at the entrance of the beach (just outside the car park). The food (again, centering on fish), though a bit oily, was fresh and good. The joint had posters of art and yoga pasted all around. These beaches up north, as I could see, were more about relaxation, peace and tranquility. We wanted to drive to Querim (Keri) beach, the northernmost beach of Goa, but the heavy lunch made us lethargic, and we decided to lazily drive to Chorao island.

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Chorao and Divar islands

Chorao and Divar islands should be on your itinerary if you want to get a taste of the picturesque settings of rural Goa. Our drive through Chorao village gave us beautiful views of green and yellow paddies, small white chapels, brightly colured Portuguese villas and some thatched houses. We also intercepted one of the famous Goan bread seller cyclists, and sampled some Pois. Chorao island is also home to Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary – Goa’s only bird sanctuary. We took the ferry to Ribander before driving back to Vasco that night.

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The next day, we drove through Amona, Sanquelim, Bicholim and Maem before taking a ferry across to Divar island. My inexperience with a ferry came to fore when, instead of backing my car out from the ferry on to land, I did an eight point turn to get out front first. Had I done this in any other part of India, I would’ve been shouted and sworn off the ferry, but here in Goa, I just got patient, helpless smiles and a bit of help in my endeavor. Good Goans. The ferry ride also offered us terrific views of Old Goa. Like the island of Chorao, Divar also offers views of elegant, well maintained Portuguese villas. After my visit to Divar, I got to hear from a friend of mine that some of the Portuguese villas are available for rent for visitors. Maybe next time.

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Harvalem (Arvalem) caves and waterfall

Harvalem caves, also known as “Pandava Caves” is a site protected by the Archeological Society of India. Believed to have given shelter to the Pandavas, this cave has many chambers carved into a laterite hill. Further down the cave is the Arvalem waterfall, which to me, made the trip to this place worth it.

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Cumbarjua

Cumbarjua canal is the only place in Goa where crocodiles can actually be seen in the wild. We did drive to the small village of Cumbarjua, but failed to find someone who could take us into the canal. Asking around with the locals didn’t help either, and so we had to abort this mission. I have to go back to for this some time. I will most probably go with these people: http://www.southernbirdwing.com/goa_wildlife/croc_cruises.htm. Or, I could just visit Baga to see some crocs (based on this article. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/After-Morjim-now-crocodile-shows-up-on-Baga-beach/articleshow/49559523.cms).

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Ruins of St. Augustines.

I had seen what looked like a run down church while on the ferry to Divar, and as soon as I landed in Old Goa, decided to see this place. The structure that I’d seen was the ruins of St Augustine, which is located very close to Bom Jesus Basilica. The church, now in complete ruins, gave me the creeps especially since there weren’t anyone around.

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Three days driving through the hinterlands, experiencing Goa’s sunny susegad did provide me what I came looking for: a bit of peace and calm. This is the side of Goa I want to return to someday, maybe on my bike.

P.S: Beardy got his house back in order, and is planning to visit Goa again during sunnier times (in Bangalore, that is).

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Update: A condensed version of this post was published on Huffington Post, India. Please click the image below to view it there:

HuffPoInda

 

 

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My friend Shankar: Techie turned farmer

I was meeting Shankar (Shankar Kotian M) after a long gap of 16 years. Shankar is no longer a techie; He had ended his decade-and-a-half year old tech career in 2012 to become a full-time farmer. Time had taken away a lot of his hair, but nothing else about him had changed. This is his story, distilled from a two hour conversation I had with him. I think what he is doing is different and inspirational; hence this feature on him.

“There was this reporter who had come to the santhe (market), and spotting a new species among the farmers there, spent some time chatting up with me”, said Shankar, smiling and pointing at himself when he mentioned ‘new species’. Shankar was telling me how the article in ‘The Hindu’ had come about. (Here’s the report: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Mangalore/once-a-software-engineer-now-a-farmer/article7804873.ece). Shankar is indeed part of a rare, but emerging crop of techie turned farmers who are returning to nature in search of their true calling.

Shankar - turning over a new leaf

Shankar – turning over a new leaf

A bit of history

Shankar and I were among the 15 odd software engineers who were drafted in as the ‘3rd batch’ of Infosys, Mangalore branch back in 1996. While I was one of those uninitiated engineers taking my baby steps in the world of programming, Shankar was already creating rotating patters and graphics (using C). He was one of those true techies, born to program. Our first project, code named BKB2DB2, was insane – it had about ten of us working 16-18 hour days for close to 6 months straight. Shankar, with his saintly demeanor and soft, firm voice was the only calm presence amidst all the madness. After that project we had drifted apart and lost touch with each other.

The newspaper report

It was a Whatsapp message a few days ago from a common friend of ours that reminded me of Shankar again. The message had the link to the newspaper report I mentioned earlier. The report had a picture of a goatee sporting Shankar, selling yam in a market in Mangalore.

What?! The programming ace was now after bugs of a different kind? The guy who used to give us ‘knowledge dumps’ was now dipping his hands in real dump? I had to find out first-hand; so I tracked down his phone number and got myself invited to his farm.

The meeting

The 'ferocious' little pup!

The ferocious little pup!

Following the precise directions he had given, I drove up to his farm in Moodbidre, about 35 kms from Mangalore. There he was, sporting the same cap I’d seen him wear in the report. He had built his house in the center of his farm. I parked my car and settled comfortably on a couch in his veranda. Over a cup of coffee, we went back in time to our BKB2DB2 days, exchanged notes on hair loss and played with his 3 month old puppy (which he hoped would grow into an aggressive watchdog. Seeing how friendly it was with me, I have my doubts).

“I always thought I was more of a research person; so after college, I wanted to  get into Texas Instruments – which in the 90s was the Mecca for systems programmers”, he said, “but as fate would have it, I got selected to create business software at Infosys. Looking back, I think that was the best thing that happened to me because it exposed me to people and places and broadened my horizons”. His stint at Infosys had taken him to places like Australia, Switzerland and Japan which came in handy later when he decided to get into farming.

I asked him what made him quit his well-paying job, and why he chose to get back to nature.

“After the first 7-8 years, I started feeling a lack of challenge, … a lack of purpose. The excessive travel was also taking a toll on my health – I had a slipped disc and had to slow myself down. It was during that time that I decided I would take up farming. I started buying farm land here”.

A peacock I encountered en route to S's farm

A peacock I encountered en route to S’s farm

His journey as a farmer

He started researching more on crops, farming methods, and started talking to other farmers. He realized that most farmers just tended to follow what others were doing, and some of the natural farming practices our ancestors had developed had got lost in the last 30-40 years after the introduction of chemical farming. He is developing his land in stages, in a much planned manner – typical of an engineer. He currently has rubber (his main bet), areca, paddy and maize. He is also growing vegetables in a small scale for his own consumption, and to sell in the local market.

He, like many of the young farmers today, is moving away from using chemicals, and is using organic techniques. But his aim is to move up to ‘Natural farming’, since the effort to output ratio is much better there. Natural farming, as I learned from him, is about being in harmony with nature, and making nature do most of the work that a farmer otherwise expedites using machines. Natural farming observes the law of the nature and respects the rights of crops and livestock. This technique, interestingly also called ‘Do-nothing farming’ (now that sounds like something I could do) heals the soil slashed by chemicals, herbicide and machines, and is considered a natural next step after organic farming.

Snapshots from his farm land

Snapshots from his farm land

The core principles around which he is designing the rest of his life are:

  • Leave the land better than you found it (for future generations): Natural farming technique will make the land better. Additionally, he is also leaving some portions of his forest land as-is, for what he calls ‘lung space’
  • Cut out middle men, and sell directly to the consumers: As per Shankar, middlemen mostly do not add any value, and don’t help farmers in anyway. He wants to create a clientele initially through friends, engage with them and then expand the network
  • Go the co-operative way: Instead of trying to bring about a change single-handedly, work with other farmers in the region for the betterment of all
  • Pass on his knowledge through agri-tourism: He plans to build a few cottages and tree houses where his clients could come over, stay, try their hand at farming and experience the lifestyle. He wants to share knowledge that he has gained with people who are contemplating getting into farming. (I have already buttered him up to be the first customer in his treehouse. You can try the other cottages)
Forest left as-is for lung space

Forest left as-is for lung space

He mentioned Russel vipers, so I was observing the ground closely as I walked, and noticed these colourful mushrooms

He mentioned Russel vipers, so I was observing the ground closely as I walked, and noticed these colourful mushrooms

The stream near his farm

The stream near his farm

On his Cows

Shankar is also a proud owner of 40 cows, of which 15 are yielding close to 150 litres of milk per day. He makes a slurry out of cow dung for use as manure, and also uses gobar gas for cooking. Now here’s an interesting tidbit I got from Shankar, which could be of use if you ever went cow shopping: The buying price of a cow can roughly be calculated as the number of litres it gives per day times Rs 3,000. So if it gives 30 liters a day, you will have to pay a whopping Rs 90,000 to buy the cow. (and I thought cows went for Rs 8 – 10 thousands).

This cow is Shankar's personal favourite.

This cow is Shankar’s personal favourite. No wonder. She’s got the looks!

His experiments, best practices and challenges

He does a lot of farming and diary experiments, some of which are being emulated by other farmers. Here are some he showed me:

  • He is trying to grow paddy without flooding the area (flooding is usually done to keep the weeds and pests out)
  • He has created a pipe system that pumps cow dung slurry to nearby fields, for which other farmers pay him
  • In his cow shed, he has designed cubicles for his cows (the partitions developed in an ‘S’ shape to help the cows sit and get up with ease), and has rubber flooring for their comfort
  • He has installed a car-wash pump to bathe his cows. He adjusts the pressure settings for different cleaning purposes
  • He is also in the process of setting up mechanized milking stations, using machinery from Sweden. Once the system is in place, cows can stroll in, connect a pump to their udders (with some human help, of course), get milked and stroll off for another round of grazing. Seeing the wonderful life his cows were leading, I wished I were a cow in his farm.
  • By June, he plans to build a smoke house for getting the best quality rubber
'Car wash' for the cows

‘Car wash’ for the cows

In the process of setting up an automated milking station

In the process of setting up an automated milking station

He also faces challenges on a day-to-day basis, for which he develops ingenious solutions, some of them below (Reminded me of that line from the movie ‘The Martian’: “You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home”. Shankar hasn’t got to potatoes yet though).

  • Monkeys were eating his maize saplings. He placed a life sized tiger doll in the center of the field. The monkeys apparently surveyed the tiger from a distance, screamed, made faces at it and tried their best to drive the tiger away. The tiger stayed put, and the monkeys were never seen again
  • When he first bought a few cows, he was conned – the cows weren’t giving anywhere near the amount of milk the seller said they would give. So he started breeding his own cows using best quality insemination. So most of the cows he has now were bred in his farm

In parting

So what are some learning that he could share (with anyone who wants to get into farming)? Here are a few:

  • You need to plan for at least 3-4 yrs of sustenance money before you can hope to start living off farming alone.
  • Don’t just go by the trends, and what other traditional farmers are doing. Experiment with the techniques.
  • Read up/ research. There’s a lot of material on the internet.
  • Expect delays in schedule. If you estimate something to take 6 months, it usually takes double that. So be prepared for that.
  • Getting into farming is really a change in life style.

“Isn’t is a bit lonely here? Don’t you ever miss your old life?”, I asked him. He said: “I am so far away from my old life that a return is no longer possible. I do not want to return to that. This is what I want to do in life”.

Shankar seemed content, and happy. He has his plans well laid out, and is moving ahead one milestone at a time. I have no doubts that he will soon be very successful as a farmer, and as an agri-tourism entrepreneur.

He saw me off with a 2.5 kg yam; so I know what I will be eating for lunch and dinner whole of this week.

Postscript

  1. Further reading on Natural farming can be found here (based on Shankar’s inputs):
  1. If you or someone you know have switched careers (from a tech job) to do something different and interesting please do connect with me. I would love to chat up and feature the story on this blog so it could inspire all of us.

North Kerala: Places to visit

As I set out for the 450 km drive in my Scorp from my adopted city of Mangalore to my birth city of Cochin, excitement and joy filled my heart. For, this trip was going to finally let me experience the magic of North Kerala; something I had been looking forward to for long.

My Mangalore – Cochin drives

I had been doing these Mangalore-Cochin drives at least once every year for the past few years. Every time I pass through the small towns and villages of North Kerala, I think I should stop to soak in the beauty of these places. But never have I done so for want of getting to Cochin before nightfall. The drive to the center of Kerala usually takes me 10-12 hours (with food breaks), depending on the condition of the roads and the number of times I got lost. In spite of driving through this route 10-12 times before, I still get lost and ‘discover’ newer, longer ways to get to Cochin from Mangalore. Though I don’t mind the extra time it adds to our trips, my co-passengers (my wife and son) usually grumble about this as they tumble out of the car in Cochin. I understand – a geographically challenged person, who loves to drive, in charge of the wheel can be quite frustrating to co-passengers.

A rope making facility along the route

A rope making facility along the route

The drive across Kerala could be frustrating to many, also because of the following:

  • Narrow highway that, at times, take you through densely populated residential areas or markets, where the speed of traffic could be determined by a slow, gyrating stroll of a cow or a cyclist leading the traffic.
  • Privately run buses (a.k.a private buses) that suddenly appear behind your car with a loud, irritating honk that makes you jump out of your skin, causing you to swerve off road (Remember that introduction scene of the shark in ‘Finding Nemo’ movie? These buses remind me of the shark).
  • Protest rallies blocking the way. Yes, we Keralites are very revolting.
  • Ever-continuing road repairs and over bridge constructions causing diversions.

Read a funny take on how to handle all your Kerala traffic frustrations here: http://www.platform7.in/2010/01/road-rules-tips-for-driving-in-kerala.html

But, for me, this drive is always a pleasure, partly because of the anticipation of meeting my family in Cochin and partly because I just love to drive. The backwaters, the blue tarpaulins over anything that need to be protected from rains, the bridges, the buzz of people engaged in their daily lives are all characteristic sights you will get to see along the way.

The heavy influence of Arabic cuisine in Kerala of late can also be felt by the sheer number of restaurants serving Arabic delicacies. The other big change that can be felt just by visiting restaurants is the increase in immigrant population from Orissa, Bengal and some northern/ north eastern parts of India. Most of them work in restaurants as waiters and cooks, cooking and selling true blue Malayalee dishes.

My most favorite stretch along this route is the short one from Mahe (a Union territory part of Pondicherry/ an erstwhile French colony) to Thalassery. Mahe is lined with liquor shops and petrol pumps (gas stations) and people stop here to refuel their cars and bodies.

Kerala is a state of tea drinkers, and this is very evident when you drive through the highway. You will find a tea shop (sometimes a cart or makeshift building) every 400 meters along the way with an apparatus unique to Kerala for making tea. When it comes to food, North Kerala is famous for its snacks, shell fish preparations, Biriyani, and… for anything and everything they cook.

North Kerala also drips in history and culture, like ghee dripping out of Sri Krishna Sweets’ Mysurpas. I have grown up listening to stories about heroes of Kadathanad and Thacholi – the gladiators of Kerala. (If you are a history buff, look up Vadakkanpattu – the ballads that celebrate the valour and skills of the renowned characters). So I had to include Lokanar Kavu (legendery hero Thacholi Othenan was a devotee of this Godess) in my trip to really feel it firsthand.

I had already visited a few ‘must-visit’ places in North Kerala – like Bekal Fort, Ananthapura lake temple, and had also been to a couple of resorts – Oyster opera and Nalanda resorts. So I did not want to include them in this trip. I also did not want to do beaches since Mangalore has tons of them, unless it was unique in some way. So I created a route plan based on my preferences and the time I had on hand.

Kavvayi (Payyanur)

Laze around in Kavvayi island

Laze around in Kavvayi island

Island hopping in motorized thonis

Island hopping in motorized thonis

My first stop was Kavvayi in Payyanur. You will not find Payyanur listed anywhere as a tourist spot, but there was one article I found, which convinced me that I should check it out. Here’s the article: http://wanderingtastebuds.com/2013/01/18/payyanur-kerala/.

Bamboo Fresh

Fresh food!

Inside Payyanur, when I stopped and asked a local guy for directions to Kavvayi, he seemed amused. “What is there to see in Kavvayi”, he said, “If you want to see a good place, visit Ettikulam beach”. Assuring him that we will consider his recommendation, we moved on. After a while, the road ended in Kavvayi backwaters. Kavvayi is surrounded by small islands (Valiyaparamba being the biggest among them) which directly face the Arabian Sea. Kavvayi and the cluster of islands around are worth a visit to chill out. State run boats can take you across the islands, but while we were waiting there, I saw some of the local fishermen ferrying passengers across in motor attached thonis as well. At a distance, I could see a hanging bridge (a skinnier version of Golden Gate Bridge) and asked the local boat man if he could take us there. He said the bridge was damaged and not usable. Disappointed, I hung around for some more time listening to the waves hitting the shores, and got back into the car.

Bamboo Fresh Restaurant (Payyanur)

It was lunch time, and since I had read about Bamboo Fresh in the article I mentioned earlier, I decided to give it a try. It was indeed a great choice. We ordered Karimeen pollichathu, squid fry and meals. The food was fresh and yummy. Satisfied, we continued our drive to Kannur.

Muzhappilangad Beach (Kannur)

Touted as Kerala’s only drive-in beach, I wanted to see for myself whether Muzhappilangad beach lives up to this claim. After paying an entry fee, I drove straight onto the beach. I could hear the sound of sea shells snapping under my Scorp’s tyres. My initial fears of getting stuck in loose sand soon disappeared as I saw how  firm the beach surface was, and I drove the 4 odd km stretch of the beach making giant splashes as waves met my car’s tyres. It was an exhilarating experience to say the least. I hung around till the Sun went down, and this provided me another great spectacle of silhouettes of black jagged rocks sticking out of water, with an orange sky in the background.

Kerala's only 'Drive in' beach

Kerala’s only ‘Drive in’ beach

After a hard day's work

After a hard day’s work

Parassinikkadavu (Kannur)

Our next stop was the famous Parassinikkadavu Muthappan temple, situated on the banks of Valapatnam River. Sree Muthappan is the personification of two divine figures – Thiruvappana (Lord Vishnu) and Vellatom (Lord Shiva). Here dogs are considered sacred and can be seen in large numbers around the temple. I had heard that unlike other temples, this temple gave fish and chicken as prasadam – and this is what I wanted to see. I got to know from locals that every evening (6.30 pm – 9 pm) and morning, they perform Theyyam (an artist who assumes ‘divinity’ by representing the God – with men adorning masks and costumes with a riot of colours). Unfortunately, the day we visited the temple, this was not on because a death had taken place in the family maintaining the temple. All devotees were offered boiled beans and tea, and I could also see people queing up for dinner provided by the temple. Outside the temple was a line of shops selling knick-knacks.

Parassinikkadavu Temple entrance

Parassinikadavu Temple entrance

Line of shops in front of Parassinikkadavu temple

Line of shops in front of Parassinikkadavu temple

On the way to the temple, we’d noticed Parassinkkadavu Snake Park, and had gone in to kill some time. The park houses a variety of snakes and other small animals, and there was a very neatly done snacks bar from where we had some great boosters. The drink I ordered – cucumber/nannari/lime/honey – really did pep up my spirits.

Parassinikkadavu Snake park

Parassinikkadavu Snake park

Hotel Mascot (Kannur)

Cleartrip had got me a great deal for my room reservation at the famous Mascot hotel in Kannur. That was a last minute booking I did, thanks to the recommendation from a friend of mine, and boy, was I glad I did that. This beautiful resort is located near the Kannur Cantonment on a cliff facing the Great Arabian Sea. For dinner, I thought we would try out a restaurant that my friend had recommended – Odhens (also called Ondens?). I located the place with help from Google maps, but on reaching there, learned that Odhens only serves lunch. So we went back to Mascot and had a candle light dinner, which was fun. Later that night, we slept to the sounds of waves crashing against rocks all night. After a morning swim (in a pool overlooking the sea), we were treated to a sumptuous complimentary breakfast. With our stomachs full, we dragged ourselves into the car again.

Hotel Mascot

Hotel Mascot

At the lobby of Hotel Mascot

At the lobby of Hotel Mascot

The shore line of Hotel Mascot

The shore line of Hotel Mascot

Lokanarkavu Temple (Vadakara)

Lokanarkavu temple is renowned for its historical significance, because Thacholi Othenan, the renowned martial hero of Kerala, used to come to the temple every day and worship its presiding deity i.e. Goddess Durga. The temple gave me a very positive vibe, and I felt at peace as soon as I entered it. I was a bit disaoppointed that there weren’t any write-ups or displays/ museums detailing the history of this place. The temple looked its age, and the ceilings had carvings depicting (I presume) the lives of people of that day and age.

Lokanarkavu - the upper temple

Lokanarkavu – the upper temple

Lokanarkavu - the lamps

Lokanarkavu – the lamps

Lokanarkavu - the lower temple

Lokanarkavu – the lower temple

Engravings on the ceiling of the temple

Engravings on the ceiling of the temple

Sargaalaya Arts and Crafts Village (Iringal)

Located in Iringal (a pretty little village near Vadakara, renowned resistance of Kunjali Marakkar), Sargaalaya, the Kerala Arts and Crafts village is an initiative of the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala. Since they asked for a whopping Rs 100 for taking my camera in, I decided not to. Call me a scrooge, but I didn’t think it was worth it. Plus, as I later found out, they had ‘No photography’ board put up in most of the stalls. So, paying Rs 100 to take in your camera and not being able to click any pictures would have be plain stupid, don’t you think? That apart, this is a place you must visit to see the traditional artisans in action and pick up some great quality souvenirs. Most of my love went to the bamboo crafts and the murals.

Welcome, Sargaalaya style.

Welcome, Sargaalaya style.

Mahe riverside walkway

Mahe riverside walkway

After this stop, we drove through my favourite stretch of Mahe and Thalassery, stopping for a stroll through the Mahe riverside walkway. I know I haven’t even skimmed the surface of what could be experienced in North Kerala. To really get drenched in the culture, food and history of these renowned places, one would need to spend days slow-traveling probably on a bicycle. Maybe I will do this someday. But for now, it was time to double up to Cochin, where my family would be waiting.


Visit Kerala Bid Wars – Kerala Tourism’s Contest

How much money would one need to experience Kerala like a king (or queen)?

Not much, apparently!

But you will have to fight like a king/queen to win one.

I am talking about Kerala Tourism’s recently launched contest – Visit Kerala Bid Wars. This is a contest where the lowest bidder wins a dream vacation to Kerala.

Bid Wars Logo

One warrior got a dream vacation worth Rs 13,600 for just Rs 63! Another one won a Rs 10,862 Kerala holiday for just Rs 35! Visit @KeralaTourism on Twitter to read about more such warriors.

Sounds too good to be true, right? After all, when it comes to the digital world, anything that sounds too good to be true probably isn’t, right? So I decided to get to the bottom of this – I asked one of my friends at Kerala Tourism what this hullabaloo was all about, and whether all this was authentic.

My finding: It is.

Here are the details (as provided by Kerala Tourism): Kerala Tourism has launched an online bidding game offering holiday packages to the state at virtually no cost. The bid, aimed at domestic travellers, is organised as part of the ‘Visit Kerala 2015’ campaign.

  1. Tour packages provided by accredited service providers of Kerala Tourism will be uploaded on a dedicated Facebook app. An Android application is also being developed for Kerala Tourism Facebook fans to bid for packages right from their mobile devices.
  2. Facebook fans of Kerala Tourism can bid for the package.
  3. The bid is open only for a certain amount of time
  4. The person with the lowest unique bid will be awarded the package

For example: A person ‘X’ places his/her bid of Rs. 20 for a vacation package worth Rs. 20,000. The package will be awarded to her/him if no other bid is less than or equal to Rs. 10.

Simple, isn’t it? Check out the apps here:

Bid-Wars-App-Icon1

 

Kerala BidWars Facebook app (https://www.facebook.com/keralatourismofficial/app_316670638516542)
Kerala BidWars Android app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=oi.keralatourism.visitkerala&hl=en)

 

 

Good luck! I hope you win one, and I win one too. BTW, I have managed to get a sword, but how do I tie this dhoti kalaripayattu style? Any tips?

A day in Dharmasthala

So there’s this uncle of mine – all of 75 years, single and retired – who spends most of his waking time visiting places. Every morning, he wakes up, gets dressed (he wears only whites – a bit like Obama there – no decision fatigue, you see), takes the first bus that comes his way, and sets off to wherever that bus would take him. No; I exaggerate. He occasionally chooses the second bus too.

While he doesn’t care much for the potential dangers that his adventures may expose him to, his sisters (my aunts and my mother) are a worried bunch until he gets back. They can put CIA to shame when it comes to keeping tab of the man in whites – their use of informers and the latest communication gadgets at their disposal (Nokia 105/ iBall Aasaan 2 White or equivalent) are worth a chapter in ‘Clandestine Service Trainee’ training manual. Though my mother keeps nagging him about his journeys and advises him to spend the rest of his retired life safely planted in an easy chair (so she could gulp down her heart that had found its way to her mouth, thanks to my uncle’s excursions), I secretly admire the way he lives his life, traveling and meeting people.

Having been softened up by years of comfortable life, I longed to do a very earthy, basic, ‘rugged’ (and possibly dirty) trip using only my two feet and basic public transport. In other words, I wanted to be my uncle for a day. I decided I would kick off a series of such rugged trips on a religious note, with one to Dharmasthala. Dharmasthala, located about 75 kms (about 2.5 – 3 hours) away from Mangalore (where I live), is an Indian temple town on the banks of the Nethravathi River in the Belthangadi taluk of the Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka (That line, courtesy Wikipedia). If you are into temples, and ever come to this part of the world, Dharmasthala is a must-visit temple; the others being Kukke Subramanya, Udupi, Murudeshwar, Kollur, Sringeri and Hornadu.

My ride

My ride

Getting to Dharmasthala from Mangalore turned out to be a breeze – I just had to take one of the many frequent KSRTC Express buses. I set out early last Friday, crossed the fish market to get to the KSRTC bus stand. I got a bus almost immediately, and it was mostly empty, with only about 6 – 7 bored looking fellow passengers on board. I got a window seat (which actually gave me a high – the child in me is still alive – yay!) and settled down with a content smile.

The ticket to Dharmasthala cost me Rs 64, and the ride was uneventful, except for some fun provided by a fidgety Malayalee guy who kept asking ‘Are we at Dharmasthala yet?’ every time the bus pulled into a town bus stand. I dozed off for a while, and woke up when we were nearly there. I looked back and that fidgety guy was nowhere to be seen. The bus conductor informed me that he had got down at Ujjire, about 10-12 kms from Dharmasthala. ‘Well, he sure’s going to miss lunch at Dharmasthala temple’ – I thought to myself.

The Dharmasthala temple

The Dharmasthala temple

Guest houses for devotees

Guest houses for devotees

An old (working) weighing machine in front of a shop in Dharmasthala

An old (working) weighing machine in front of a shop in Dharmasthala

The KSRTC buses stop right in front of the temple premises – and is very convenient for devotees. As soon as I got down, I got into one of the small, clean looking tea stalls for a tea to shake off my lethargy. The walkway to the temple has an old, long, multistoried rest houses built for the pilgrims on the right and a line of shops to the left. Since the instructions said I couldn’t carry my camera inside the temple, I left my camera and bag at the luggage room nearby and entered the temple.

Since the inner sanctum was closed from 11 – 12 due to pujas, I had to wait in a Q. After a while, we were let in, and I had enough time to see the deity and say my prayers. The prasada (for which I had paid Rs 100) was a bag of goodies that included sweetened puffed rice, a sweet powder, raisins, and some appams. I munched on an appam, and made my way to the dining hall. Dharmasthala offers free food and subsidized shelter for pilgrims.

The dining area, named Annapoorna, is huge, and generally filled with pilgrims. One has to sit on the floor for the lunch, but they have also set aside tables for people who are unable to squat. The meal consisted of rice, rasam, sambar and a side dish – all served hot, topped off with a sweet for dessert. I found the food extremely delicious, and wiped my plate clean before walking out a satisfied person. As some of my friends would say – ‘Brahmin khush hua’ (translating to ‘Brahmin is happy!’) – a phrase we say after a satisfying meal. It is indeed commendable that most big temples (in Karnataka?) provide free food to millions of people.

Once outside, I collected my bag (no charge for storing bag, but Rs 2 for keeping my worn out flip flops safe J), and went over to a shaded area where people were crowding around the temple elephant. Give her (the elephant. It’s a she) coins, and she would bless you by placing her trunk on your head. Some devotes offered bananas and got extra blessings, while I stayed a trunk’s length away from her.

DSC_1365

I stayed a trunk’s length away from her

DSC_1356

“Bless you!”

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A walk in the park

DSC_1376

Still at the park.

Next to the temple is a park, which is well maintained. I clicked a few pictures there, and walked over to Manjusha museum. The way it looked from outside (too small/ dingy), I did not have high expectations. Entry charge was Rs 5, and to my surprise the narrow entrance way opens into a large hall, at least 75 – 100 meters in length, filled with exciting old stuff. There’s enough material in there to spend an hour, if you are a history buff. From paintings, idols, cameras, coins, weapons to personal items used by kings – like ivory brushes, hair dryers, monocles, pens – the museum takes you back in time, and is worth every rupee (and more) you paid to enter. The building itself looked very old, and dangerously damp in places, and I wonder if many of these articles would last for much longer.

DSC_1351

No, not a museum piece. He’s a visitor.

DSC_1374

Chariots

DSC_1341

Carvings on a chariot

DSC_1344

Carvings on another chariot

Right opposite the museum are some old chariots (typically used in temple festivals) with intricate carvings. From there, I moved on to the vintage car museum. On the way, my eyes fell upon a couple of discarded aero planes protected by fences. The car museum is worth a visit too, and again, I wasn’t allowed to take my camera inside. Along the way were more guest houses built for devotees.

DSC_1382

The road to nowhere. So I din’t take that.

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Cabin baggage upto 20 kgs allowed

DSC_1375

Sights from around the temple

I wound up my day trip with another coffee, and boarded a bus back to Mangalore. The first of my ‘rugged travels’ was done, and I’d become a fan of such trips. I am now planning a ‘Goa on a shoestring budget’ trip around end of October, early November. More on that later.

 

The Guitar

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
– Robert Collier

Sonny boy (my son) has been at it for more than 3 years now, and I must say I am impressed with his perseverance. I am talking about his Guitar practice. Over the years, he has graduated quite nicely from ‘plonk plonks’ to playing country songs smoothly.

I think it is the little wins (words of appreciation from family and friends for his little shows) along the way that has kept him going despite many a ‘I-don’t-want-to-learn-the-Guitar’ days.

Learning to play the Guitar has been an unfulfilled dream for me, personally. Despite numerous attempts at it, I have not been able to progress beyond playing a few notes. I understand it is tough, and takes years of continuous practice to gain mastery. I hope he doesn’t leave it midway.

Guitar strings

 

Playing GUitar

 

Playing Guitar