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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chhattisgarh


December 2012

Chandni chowk at Jagdalpur
Chhattisgarh (or at least the southern part of it) could have been an excellent driving destination from Bengaluru. With a halt at Hyderabad/Bhadrachalam, one could have covered this distance in 2 days. But unfortunately, Naxals prowl the area between Konta and Sukma in Chhattisgarh making this journey risky.  And naturally the National Highway here is in a pretty bad condition. All these factors made me drop this plan of driving to Chhattisgarh few years ago.


This time I decided to reach Chhattisgarh from Vishakhapatnam. Getting train ticket from Araku to Jagdalpur in Bastar district was not a problem as most of the tourists return back to Vizag from Araku.  The train leaves Araku at 10:50AM and reaches Jagdalpur at 4PM meandering through remote hills and valleys dominated by tribes.  It is a great experience to see “real” tribals in each station. They try to sell variety of local fruits for ridiculously low price. But if you want to have proper food, it is better to carry something from Araku as the only major station on the way is Koraput. This is the only place you get bottled water. Though only one passenger train runs on this track, the route itself is busy with goods train carrying minerals. At every station, you can see a good train waiting for signal.

A lake seen from train

But, why should one visit Chhattisgarh?
For waterfalls and forests!! It is a state larger than Bihar or West Bengal or even Tamil Nadu!! And nearly 40% of it is covered by forests. Road conditions are much better and the Government seems to be trying hard to promote tourism.



Is it safe?
The name Chhattisgarh is synonymous with Maoists and the problem is real. But most of the tourist areas we visit are outside the control area of Naxalites. The battle is in the deep jungles of the state. And it is not easy for tourists to venture into Naxal territories. Things have improved a little over past one year as attacks on civilians have reduced. The issues that we might face are when railways stop their services when they get information about Naxal movement in the area. Then we have to use some alternate mode of transport to reach the destination. And other issue is when Maoists or Political parties call for a bandh. The main reason for band would be to protest against the death of Naxals or police/civilians.

Kolab reserviour near  Koraput

But in general, I feel that it is quite safe for tourists in Chhattisgarh as long as he sticks to the normal tourists trails.



Stay and travel
For Bastar region, Jagdalpur is the starting point. It is connected by train to Vishakhapatnam, Bhuvaneshwar and Calcutta. Jagdalpur has wide range if hotels that fits into various budget requirements. Hiring a private taxi is the best mode of travel. Public transport and shared cabs are also available for popular places.

Hills near Koraput (Taken from train)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Araku valley

23rd - 25th December 2012


Araku valley is a hill station in Andhra Pradesh located about 120 km from Vishakhapatnam.  Situated in Eastern ghats bordering Orissa, it attracts many people from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

Araku valley is connected by rail from Vishakhapatnam. The route from Vishakhapatnam goes via Araku valley reaching the maximum height at Similiguda station and continues further into Orissa finally ending at Kirandul in Chattisgarh. The total distance of this line is 472 km which is completely electrified. One might wonder why railways would have constructed this line in such remote area. The intension of this line was to enable transportation of ores from the mining fields of Kirandul to Vishakhapatnam port!! And for general public, they have granted one passenger train running daily.


The best mode of transport to reach Araku is undoubtedly train as the route passes though series of tunnels and bridges. But unfortunately we could not take train as railways did not put additional bogies nor enabled “tatkal” tickets for this train. Mistake from my side was assuming that booking starts 90 days before journey whereas it was 120 days. A three digit waiting list number was of no value!! We had no option but to take the taxi to reach Araku.



Borra caves
We started from Vizag after breakfast. The first place we visited was Borra caves. It comes 35 km before Araku. We were there on a Sunday of Christmas weekend and hence it was very crowded. But the cave itself was so huge that it could house 1000 people!! The entrance of the cave was very big with 100 meter width and about 75 meter in height.


While I and my wife liked the place our daughter hated it immediately. It was dark and also the crowds irritated her. But she had no choice than to follow us!!  


The total length of the cave is 200 meters where we need to walk for about 350 meters to reach the dead end of the cave. Steps are constructed and lighting arrangements helps people to see interior of the cave better.  It was an amazing experience for us to see such a huge cave. The cave is the best place in Araku.


Near to Borra caves was Katiki waterfalls. The journey to the falls involved some amount of travel on Jeep and walk. It was already 2PM and we were extremely hungry. Since we did not find any good restaurants near Borra caves, the plan was to reach Araku and have Lunch. We skipped the falls for next day.


Galikonda view point
The view point is next to the main road before Araku. Beautiful views of hills and the valleys can be seen here.


Tribal museum
A museum that contains many collections of the tribals leaving in Araku and nearby areas. In front of the museum is a Coffee house which is a nice place to have drinks and snacks.



Padmapuram gardens
Nothing great and only kids can enjoy this place.


Katika waterfalls
This place is near to Borra caves. We had to travel by Jeep for 7km and then walk for about 1km to reach the waterfalls. The walk was not difficult as my daughter easily managed it without much assistance from us.


We had to cross railway line during our trek.


It is two stage falls. The height of the falls may be about 100 feet. A nice place to enjoy.


Trip to the waterfalls would have been uneventful but for an altercation that broke out. Since the Jeep people were charging a lot for the trip, we decided share with another family. They were 6 of them including 2 kids. We were given an hour to spend in the falls which I feel was fair amount of time. We came back exactly after one hour but there was no sign of the other group. The driver waited for sometime then he lost patience and went out in search of them.



Having been prompt on time, it was frustrating to wait in that heat and dust. We were also very hungry. After 2 hours, the other group comes in. I was angry but a simply sorry from them would have cooled me. But typical to a breed of gene, they were arrogant. He started asking why the driver was no seen and such questions.

I had lost my cool by then and started blasting them.
Me: “Driver has gone searching for you. Why you people are so slow? Even old people are faster than you!! Don’t you understand that you are late by an hour and causing hardship to others?”
He: (Clearly insulted on me comparing with old people) “Look at us. We have kids. It will take time”.
Me: (I showed my daughter) “We have even younger one. But we were on time and also spent a good time in water”.
He: (Now giving the actual reason) “It never came to our mind that there was another group waiting for us. Only after seeing you we realized”.
Me: (This made me even angrier!! Here is a breed of gene that only outside their self) “Only people without common sense can have such thinking” (and did some animation).

I must say that my words were not gentle and was hurting their ego a lot but I had an upper hand as the mistake was on their side. I also knew I cannot go too far as they were localities. It was good that we did not have common mother tongue!! Such words would have caused a physical fight but when you speak in other language, it generally comes out milder.

Our war of words was broken when driver appeared on the scene.  A delay for him costs money and so he started arguing with them. But he was silenced by huge onslaught of bad words by the other group. Driver was milder and could not continue the argument further.

Dumriguda Chaparai
This is another waterfall 15km from Araku. Not strictly a waterfall but water cascades down a huge rock. One can slide down the rock and enjoy the water.


Hotels and food:
·         APTDC has hotels at Tyda, Ananthagiri and Arakku. Since I did not stay, I cannot comment on the hotel but we had lunch at Ananthagiri which was bad.
·         Vihar holiday Inn: This was the hotel we stayed. It was decent and clean. The food was OK.
·         Horticulture department cottages: Cheapest one but I think they have a complex procedure for booking.

Other than the restaurants attached to the hotels mentioned above, there are hardly any good eateries. Most of them are road side Dhabas serving oily food. Coffee house is a nice place to have drinks and snacks.


Alternate means of transport:
APTDC conducts one day/ two day trips from Visakhapatnam. Onward journey is by train (They have 3 compartments reserved for them) and return by bus. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Subsidy for Manasa Sarovar yatra


Though central Government facilitates Manasa Sarovar yatra each year, it not bears any cost of the trip. And Government has no role in private trips originating from Nepal. In recent years, few state Governments have started providing assistance in terms of money for Manasa Sarovar pilgrims. And Karnataka is one such state. A sum of Rs 30,000/- is given to each person who goes to Manasa Sarovar. This is irrespective of whether he goes by Government or private route.  The two conditions being that the person must reside in Karnataka and has not claimed this subsidy before.

The intension of this post is to provide information on how to obtain subsidy for Kailash Manasa Sarovar trip. I knew about the subsidy before the trip but could not get much information about the process to claim the same. It took some effort on my side to get information and claim subsidy. This was with the help of fellow travelers who had prior information from previous group.

The subsidy can be claimed after you complete the trip. The application is given at Muzrai Office in Kalasipalyam (Near to Tippu Sultan's Palace). The address is:

The Commissioner of Religious and charitable endowments,
Mahadeshwara vartha bhavan,
Alur Venkatarao Road,
Chamarajmet, Bengaluru – 560018

Along with application, the following documents needs to be submitted:
·         Copy of passport
·         Copy of the passport page containing immigration stamp of Nepal and China
·         Group Visa and permit
·         Certificate mentioning about yatra completion (Issued by travel agent, for Nepal route)
·         CIPSC document (For Nepal route)
·         Central Government certificate (For Government route)
·         Two passport size photos

You can take a copy of filled application form and get a seal which is treated as acknowledgement  Note that the application must be submitted within two months of completing the journey.

For me the issue was the CIPSC document. Never knew that such a document exists before submitting the form. I then contacted the travel agent in Nepal.  They did not understand anything!! So, I got a copy of CIPSC document from Endowment Office and emailed a scanned copy of it. That document was not issued by travel agent but by Tibetan guides. I then had to contact our guides in Tibet and get the document. The travel agent and the guides were very helpful in this regard. By the way, this document is completely in Chinese!!

Ideally, you should get intimation from them to collect DD!! But that does not happen and you might have to call them to check the status. I think they collect all application forms and then process it. Considering the last batch of pilgrims travel during September/October and another two months time for submission, it will be January by the time the applications are processed.

Once the application is processed, one needs to visit the Office in person and show Original passport, ID card indicating that you reside in Karnataka (Ration card/Voter ID/Driver’s license). Also, an affidavit stating that the person has not claimed subsidy before has to be provided on a twenty rupees stamp paper (the content is provided by Muzrai Office). And then the Demand Draft will be handed over.

I did five trips to Muzrai Office:
1. To collect Application form
2. To submit the form but realized the missing CIPSC document.
3. Submit the form
4. Came to know about that the application was processed. But it was late by the time I got the stamp paper and put the writing into it!!
5. Collected DD

It will not be good on my part if I do not appreciate the way the staff behaved in this process. Unlike other Government Offices, the transactions were smooth and hassle free. The concerned people in the Office behaved in a professional manner. No one asked for bribe or even made indirect reference to it. (Not even “Give something for Coffee/Tea” kind of stuff from helpers). More than the money I got, I was happy at the way the whole transaction was handled.

Note: This applies only for the state of Karnataka. Each state might have different requirement/criteria.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Visakhapatnam


22 December 2012

Visakhapatnam or more popularly known as Vizag is a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh. Though Andhra is our neighboring state, journey to Vizag is a long one at it is at the other end of the state near Orissa!! My earlier visit to Vizag was when travelled on train from Calcutta to Bengaluru. I had heard that it was a good place to see beaches and hills together.  It was during Christmas holidays last year I really set my foot in Vizag!! Visakhapatnam was our gateway to our trip Eastern and Central India.


We took an early morning flight from Bengaluru. The journey was short which helped us to have our breakfast at Vizag itself.  Our hotel was Kinnera Comforts situated in Daba gardens area.  I booked this hotel as it was economical and tripadvisor had lot of good comments about the hotel. But I was bit disappointed with the surrounding area being crowded and not so clean. But anyway we were staying there just for a day. And the hotel allowed us for early check-in and rooms were clean. What else we need?


We had got up at 3:30AM to catch the flight and so we took some rest. After lunch, we set for some sightseeing. The first place we visited was Kailashgiri. It is a hillock near to sea. There is a road till top of the hill but since Autos could not climb the steep incline, we were dropped at the ropeway point at the base.


Kailashgiri is a place indented for picnic. The best part of the Kailashgiri was the views from top of the hill. This is the place where we can see Eastern ghat hills meeting Bay of Bengal in addition to the landscape of Vizag at the other end.


Kailashgiri has some parks, children playground area and a train that circles round the hill. Statues of various Gods are also abundant.


My daughter was not ready to leave the place but then she was lured by the beach she was seeing from the top. We got down from the ropeway and continued further to Rushikonda beach. We were now going on Marine drive with hills on our left and sea on the right. The tourism department has done a good job of developing gardens next to the sea.


Rushikonda was a nice place to play in the sea and relax. 


Another nice place to visit in Vizag is Submarine museum at RK beach.