A road trip to Sirsi Karnataka

Travel from Pune- Sirsi

Kilometers and time taken – 542km, 9.5 hours

Road conditions – Okay till Kolhapur and superb after that. (Road expansion work ongoing in Satara and nearby areas)

Safety gear – Car seats

What to do in and around Sirsi – Attivere Bird Sanctuary, Shalmala Gardens, Unchanhalli Waterfalls, Magod falls, Satodi Falls, Banavasi, Sahasralinga, Shivamogga

This summer we decided to do something different and thought of trying a road trip with both the kids in tow. While hubby dear was super excited about the long drive, I was skeptical as my kids are not known to be quiet and sitting obediently in long drives. Hell, they start asking about the destination even before they get in the car. Add to it the constant string of querulous statements ranging from boring surroundings, to cramped spaces and the road trip suddenly seems like a very bad idea. After a lot of coaxing from the hubby, I decided to give it a try, but not without preparations.

I started preparing for it before a week. First thing to do was load the phone with interesting and educational games and songs. Next was to make a list of required toys, colors, clay and coloring books. Once the in-car entertainment was sorted out, I went to the next important thing and that was snacks! Before the journey I felt like I was an airhostess entrusted with the duty of in-flight entertainment and food.

We decided to leave early in the morning to ensure that we cover major part of the journey before the sun reaches its peak. As this journey was in the first week of May we wanted to avoid driving when the sun was at its peak. We started our journey at around 6 in the morning. The kids were super excited in the morning, but as there wasn’t anything interesting to do and it was still early morning with a nice cool breeze, they quickly dozed off and our first 3 hours of journey was covered quickly and quietly.

By then, we decided to take our first break for tea and snacks. Good places to stop for Tea and snacks are around Satara and Kolhapur. Places like Natraj snacks, Vitthal Kamat offer good breakfast options at reasonable prices. After having a sumptuous breakfast at Vitthal Kamat after Kini toll naka we proceeded towards Sirsi.

The roads till Kolhapur can be a little bumpy or you could experience slow moving traffic because of highway expansion work. However after that it’s a beautiful road, with little or no traffic hold-up’s. The roads are lined with Gulmohar, BoganVillas and bright yellow flowering trees. These were in full bloom and looked stunning. The color hues on both sides of the roads were captivating. The soil too was slowly turning from brown or black to a distinct red. This riot of colors made the summer travel worth it. Sadly there were no places to stop and click pictures, hence we missed that.

The kids in the back, hardly had anything at the breakfast break, and were now rummaging through the snack pack. Thankfully, we had enough options to keep them busy and full. After a round of snacks, coloring and clay art, the kids dozed off again and I could get back to enjoying the life around. There are good places for lunch around Belgaum and Hubli. It is better to have your lunch latest at Hubli as post that it is a single road going through small villages and forest area with almost no eatery options.

 

Once you take a right and get on the single road, dense trees welcome you. We hit this road around 1.30pm and though it was a blazing sun outside, the shades of the trees provided ample rest to the eyes. The road cuts through a forest and sightings of birds and monkeys are easily possible. If you travel by this road early in the morning, peacocks too are a common sight. We reached Sirsi in roughly two hours after that.

Sirsi is a bigger town as compared to its surrounding areas and it is better to stay in Sirsi and travel to the nearby sightseeing locations. Availability of vehicle on hire is easy and the hotels do assist in the same. Popular hotels to stay are Madhuvan, Samrat and Panchavati.

Marikamba temple in Sirsi

Mesmerising Andaman’s!

The first thing that greets you, as you near Andaman’s is the clear blue waters that surround a scattering of emerald green islands. It looks like something out of a movie and the sheer colour play brings harmony.As the plane started its descent, I could feel the stress melting away. I knew at that instant that this was going to be a memorable trip, and I was bang on!

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We were in two minds while deciding on Andaman’s. 1) We were travelling as a family and weren’t sure if it was a good destination for a family trip 2)The travel to nearby islands was either by jetty or boats and we were apprehensive about that as well as my MIL get’s sea-sick and we had two small kids under 5 and we had no idea about their seafaring skills. Surprisingly, there weren’t many blogs or travel information related to Andaman back in 2013 and those that were available were usually from adventure travellers or lone travellers, however, we had this itch to go to Andaman’s and we decided to take a leap of faith.

I hadn’t been to many islands so that itself was exciting. The bird-eye view that I saw of the Andaman islands was mesmerising. I fell in love with the place even before we landed. We had booked with an online travel agency and they were there to receive us at the airport. Once we had settled into the hotel at Port Blair, we decided to explore the city and were told that there are a few museums and city parks that we must see apart from the Cellular jail. As we weren’t much of a museum group, we decided to skip that and in the evening headed for the Cellular Jail instead.

Port Blair – Cellular Jail

Port Blair is by far the biggest city in Andaman’s. It is a typical city that is comparable to a small town in Goa or Kerala. Because of its closeness to Bengal, and also the fact that Bangladeshi refugees were allowed to stay here after the 1970 war, there is an influence of Bengali Culture.We are Non-Bengali’s, and we never faced any problems when it came to food or language. In those terms, Andaman’s is a perfect touristy place.
We reached Cellular Jail and took the tickets. We were informed that the sound and light show was not to be missed. The sound and light show traces the origin of the Cellular Jail, how it came into existence, the many atrocities that took place there and the struggle of prisoners, namely Veer Savarkar or Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The narration and the show left us teary eyed. Later we went around the prison museum, the work shed, Veer Savarkar’s cell and a museum dedicated to India’s Freedom Struggle. It chronicles India’s Freedom struggle, even before 1857 till 1947. Walking through those hallways you come to a central column which has the names of our freedom fighters who were lodged in these prisons. The long list, coupled with the thought of brutalities that they experienced here is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes. Cellular Jail is a moving experience. It reminds us that the freedom we enjoy today did not come cheap.

Ross Island

Next day, we went to Ross Island. Ross Island was the British settlement that looked after the administration of Andamans and handled the Cellular Jail. It was a fully functioning facility with a canteen, bakery, residences, church, water purifier and a club. Today, however, it is a different story, what remains are only the ruins of a thriving community. Ross Islands is today under the Indian Navy. It is open to public for visitations. We took a jetty from Water Sports Complex in Port Blair and reached Ross within 30 minutes. The ruins of yesteryears are beautified by the quietness of the place and the numerous friendly deer and peacocks that habitat the place today. It is a great reminder of a bygone era.

Neil Island

This is one of the small islands that we visited. It is habited and there are boat rides at fixed times that take you to Port Blair and Havelock. I loved it for the simple island life that it offers. The hotel that we stayed in had cycles and bikes on rent, using which one could explore the island. There aren’t many attractions that one can see in Neil island so those wishing to look for adventure can skip it. We went to the beach in the evening to watch the sunset. It was the most laid back one day that we enjoyed in our trip.

Havelock Island

Havelock is the fun island. Radha nagar beach, rated one of the best beaches in Asia is in Havelock and Elephant Beach offers all the water sports that you can think of! Add to it the clear blue waters, silver sands and a perfect sunny weather and you have the best beach holiday ever! We spent a whole day on Elephant island enjoying the various water sports. There is something called as the Under Sea Water walk. If you can take it, it shouldn’t be missed. The best thing is that you don’t need to know swimming to do this. Walking on the sea-bed and seeing first hand the corals, fishes and other aquatic beauties was a great experience for me. In the evening, we headed to Radha nagar beach to watch the sunset. The pristine, long beach looks like a painting. As the sun sets, the sun rays play over the soft waves making them look magical. The beach is long and never seems crowded. It was quiet even if there were dozens of people around. You can play in the waters or take a long soul searching walk along the beach, it’s perfect for everything.

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Andamans was an enriching experience for me. A journey that helps you connect with yourself and people around you. A must visit for all those who are tired of the city bustle or wish to have a romantic soulful trip. This World Tourism Day, I wish everyone has Andaman’s on their bucket list.

Andaman Islands a soulful retreat

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As the plane nears touchdown

Emerge like emeralds glistening in the Indian Ocean,

The beautiful islands of Andamans.

A land of unspoilt beaches… clear ocean waters and a stillness that’s endearing…

Andamans is adventurous and soul healing

You feel connected to the people and the land, while being disconnected from the vice of technology

You won’t hear your phone ring or the continuous beep of messages,

But you will hear the splashing of waves and the rustling leaves…

While the Cellular Jail will put forth the horrors of Freedom struggle,

The stillness of tiny islands like Neil will help you hear your inner voice

And the Ross island will transport you to an era gone by…

The Havelock island will unleash the boisterous child in you.

And quiet, pristine beaches like Radhanagar will heal you from within.

In Andamans, every traveller is alone …though you come together as a group,

Each needs to journey on his own, helping his soul find his Mojo

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Photo Credit – Nikhil Tambe

Kutch- A Soulful Odyssey

I saw an advertisement of Amitabh Bacchan booming on the television saying “Kutch Nahi Dekha to Kuch Nahi Dekha” . This was in November 2012. The next morning I open the papers and see an advertisement of the ‘Kutch Festival’ . I had never been to such ‘Festival’ before, and this idea excited me. All I could think of was the beautiful Kutchi embroidery, the white desert showcased so beautifully in the movie ‘Refugee’ and the awesome photos that my friend Divya had shot while she had travelled to Kutch as part of her photographic assignment. I told N, we had to do this.

Camp tent cluster

Camp tent cluster

Travelling to Kutch for the ‘Kutch Festival’ turned out to be a humbling and a profound experience. Reaching Kutch requires one to travel to Bhuj and from thereon the Tourism Depratment of Gujrat arranges bus to the Tent City at Kutch. We reached early morning in Bhuj and reached the pick-up point. It was a simple building but with good seating arrangements and arrangements for tea and drinking water. The buses too were plying every half an hour, taking tourists to the camp site. It takes approximately 2 hours to reach the site. Bhuj is a big city, but as you leave Bhuj behind you are greeted with wast expanses of nothingness. The contrast is a hard hitting one and you realize the harsh realities of Kutch.

We reached the campsite and the campsite was a wonder in itself. There in the middle of nothingness stood a huge tent city, bustling with people, entertainment and some touches of luxury. There was a huge banquet tent churning out 3 meals a day for the travelers. There was an exhibition tent showcasing various artifacts, tourist locations and other interesting exhibits from the area. There was a cultural section that had cultural presentations on all days that we were there and there was a flea market to buy various artifacts in one place. The tents were comfortable and offered touches of luxury like heater, newspaper, teabags for early risers. The tents were self sufficient, the food was great and the overall experience in tent city was wonderful. Watching around all I could think of was the hard work and planning that must have gone into establishing this huge city and the smooth functioning of it. The people behind this huge festival worked with briskness and clarity of goal. A rare thing to see in government organized events that are conducted at such a huge scale in India.

One of the villages we visited

One of the villages we visited

Our tours for the two days that we were there were well planned and IMG_2118undertaken with great time management and punctuality. Another interesting thing that I saw was the way this festival was helping some far flung villages with their livelihood. These people lived in some very harsh conditions. These villages share a border with Pakistan or are in close proximity. The weather is extreme and the water scarcity is acute. The land has a high concentration of saline and hence farming or cultivation is impossible.

Waste land till eyes can see

  Waste land till eyes can see

The wasteland provided them with little comfort, yet the women in the villages decorated their homes with such skill and bright hues that it just masked the bitter realities. Beautifully embroidered quilts, bedsheets, dress materials and even shoes. There was brightness and exuberance in every design.

Anybody who is struggling to fight depression should meet these people. Always smiling, hopeful and determined. I for one learned that no problem is larger than life! These people taught me that.

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36 Hairpin Bends…

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Nestled among the blue green peaks…

And wafting scents of eucalyptus trees

Ooty envelops me in a calming embrace

As I climb the winding hairpin bends.

The lush tea gardens and the crisp air

Beckon me to a liberating journey.

Away from the city bustle and the maddening crowd

A day in the hills… idyllic and fair.

A day without an agenda…. A day without a routine.

Just pick a quite road and roam…

watching the nature’s glory in full bloom.

Cascading waterfalls that tear through the silence

Or the birds chirping about in the woods.

Tiny homes neatly lined along the slope,

A football match in action with equally enthusiastic crowd…

Carrot farms and local shops selling souvenirs

These are simple lives enjoying a slice of paradise.

This is the quaint side of Ooty not many see

But equally beautiful and far more enchanting than the touristyIMG_1139

Photo Credit – Prasanna Joshi