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Monday, April 29, 2013

Bhutan: Flying to Paro

31st March 2013


Bagdogra airport wore a deserted look in the morning. It sometimes feels good to only hear our own footsteps and nothing else. Druk Air to Paro was the only flight scheduled at that time from Bagdogra, a military airport also shared by civilian flights. Check-in was a cool affair with only surprise being handwritten boarding pass instead of computer generated!!

Apart from our family, there were few foreigners who were boarding that flight. Little surprised at low volume of passengers but then realized that the flight was just making a stop on the way from Bangkok to Paro.

Paro airport
Reaching Bagdogra was a task by itself. We first landed in Kolkata on the previous day, waited for four hours before taking our flight to Bagdogra. The new and renovated airport of Kolkata was much better than the previous dingy building. We had to spend a night in Bagdogra as the flight to Paro was scheduled early in the morning.

New Kolkata airport
The flight arrived on time but there were no signs of boarding even after 30 minutes. We were told that weather at Paro was bad thus delaying take off from Bagdogra. Soon, another Druk Air flight also landed in Bagdogra. It was not a scheduled stop but they had land at the nearest airport thanks to the bad weather at Paro.


Paro airport is surrounded by high altitude peaks making it one of the most difficult airports to land. Only eight pilots are certified to land at the airport!! Hence bad weather makes it extremely risky to land which no airways would like to take.


The wait ended when the ground staff gets clearance for boarding.  But a surprise awaited us in the aircraft. One of our seats was already occupied by a lady from Bangkok. She shows her ticket which had the same seat number!! Air hostess calls one of the ground staff who then realizes that she had written a wrong seat number in our boarding pass. The issue was sorted quickly and we were offered a different seat!!


There are two ways to enter Bhutan. One is the land route through the border towns of Phuntsholing near West Bengal, Galepu and Samdrup Jongkhar from Assam. Other way is to take a flight to Paro, the only international Airport in Bhutan. At present only Druk Air flies flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gaya, Bagdogra, Guwahati, Bangkok and Singapore. There are no border crossings on Chinese side.


The flight duration between Bagdogra and Paro is just 25 minutes. As soon as the seat beat signs were switched off, air hostesses hurried to serve juice and nuts to the passengers. They had only few minutes to finish serving which they did in a jiffy. The flight had already started its descent when serving was completed!!


The scenes got better as the flight descended. The snow clad mountains started appearing which provided a good photographing opportunity. My daughter was at window seat (obviously!!) and we quickly took turns to get view from window.


The flight descends into the valley at a very fast rate. Also the flight angle seams to go haywire with series of left and right turns which is not usually the case while landing. But here it has to wade through the narrow hills before landing on the airstrip.


Immigration was a simple affair.  Indians do not need visa to enter Bhutan. Having a passport or voter ID is sufficient enough. The process is complicated and expensive for foreigners. They need to pay at least 250 USD per person/day. In addition, they need to be in a group and accompanied by guide. This makes Bhutan one of the costliest tourist destinations. Bhutan has very good relation with India and hence we do not have such restrictions.


When we walked from aircraft to immigration area, my daughter commented that the airport was looking like a Temple. Indeed it was!! And that was the reason for our trip to Bhutan!!!! To experience the place that is still virgin and original where traditions are well preserved and environment intact.

Paro airport
The journey to Bhutan had just begun!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

To the base of Unchalli waterfalls


23 February 2013

During my previous visits to this waterfall, I could only view it from the top. My first visit was in late 90’s when the falls was less known. Those were the times I could only afford to travel in public transport. It had taken almost half day to reach this falls from my native place that was barely 50km away!! A futile attempt was made to get down and we quickly returned back when a snake appeared on our way.


The next visit was few years ago. By then, the falls had gained popularity. Since I visited with my little cousins, I made no attempt to get down.


I was in my native place this February. I, my brother and two cousins set up a plan to get to base of this waterfall. Since I had not taken my car, we had to settle down with bikes. A challenge for me considering my limited two wheeler experience.



Reaching the falls was an uneventful affair. The place was empty as only visitors had left before our arrival. I must say the falls had decent amount of water considering weak monsoon we had this year. Spent some time watching the waterfall before heading down.


There are two routes to get down to the base of the waterfall. The prominent route directly below the view point is shorter but steeper which requires tricky navigation on rocks. The other route goes next to a toilet near the view point. The path meanders through the shoulder of the hill and then climbs down to the valley. It joins the river about 200 meters from the waterfall the distance which needs to be covered by jumping on rocks formed on the river. This route is safer.


We took the later route. It took us less than an hour to reach the bottom of the valley. A group from Shimoga was ready to head back. Having taken the short route to descend, they looked concerned about climbing up the same way. After discussing with us, they decided to take the route we came down. In the process of discussion, my cousin found out that one of the guys in the other group was his classmate during school days!! Mobile numbers were exchange with promises to call later!!


A huge pool formed at the base of the falls. It was too risky for us to go to the pool as the rocks were too steep and slippery. I found a safe place and then jumped into water!! Others were little hesitant but after few minutes all of us were in water!! 


The return journey would have been uneventful but for my inexperience with two wheeler. Just after Unchalli falls is a steep climb. Due to my foolishness, Bike stopped in the middle of this climb. On a car, I can handle it in a jiffy. On bike I struggled to keep the brake pressed, at the same time kick start the bike and accelerate at decent level. I do not know what happened but the bike did a 90 degree wheeling and fell down. That was bad and I hate myself for that.  Good thing was that there were no injuries either for us or bike.  


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Revana Siddeshwara Betta

27 January 2013


We had to beat a hasty retreat during our visit to this place last year. I, my wife and kid had just started our climb to the hill when a monkey came very near to us. Aware of their menace, we had not carried any food items. But this monkey was more technical!! It tried to grab my camera. When I tried to shoo off, it turned ferocious by standing on its two legs with hands spread out to attack. The situation was dangerous as my daughter stood next to me.

View from the base of the hill
All this happened in a split of a second and the next moment I had kicked the monkey hard on its belly. The strong kick with heavy shoe made the monkey somersault several times before escaping a fall from the cliff. It ran away as it lost its courage.

Revana Siddeshwara Betta
All this scared my daughter a lot. No amount of convincing would make her move up. She is a small kid and is quite natural for her to behave in that way. So we decided to cut short our climb and return back.


Few months had passed after this incident. It was a boring Sunday and we decided to complete this uncompleted trip. My daughter with experience had now learnt that the monkey could be handled with a good stick!!

Steps to climb up
Revana Siddeshwara Betta is about 60km from Bengaluru.  It is 13km from Ramanagar on Ramanagar-Kanakapura road.

Last step
The place is very popular among locals who come to offer prayers in the Temple situated on top of the hill. Luckily very people were seen on that day.

A lake seen from the top
At the base of the hill are some Temples and guest houses. There is a road that goes to the middle of the hill and rest of the journey must be covered on foot.


The path initially winds around the hill and then suddenly climbs up the monolith. The steps carved from rocks and the railings ease the climb. Else, this steep climb would be very risky on the hill.


It took just around 20 minutes to climb to the top. Not a difficult one at all. Sri Revana Siddeshwara Temple is situated on top of the hill perched on a cliff. I could see many elderly people and people with infants climbing up and offering prayers here. Seems to be a very sacred place for locals.

Revana Siddeshwara Temple on the top
A good place to spend an evening. But it gets very crowded during festivals and auspicious days. Keep that in mind before heading out to this place.

Road that leads to middle of the hill

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Konark

30th December 2012


Driving on Puri-Konark road is a treat by itself. Cutting through Balukhand reserve forest, the road traverses next to the sea at several places.


Konark is undoubtedly known for its Sun Temple. Out of three main Sun Temples, the Konark Sun Temple is the most popular. The other prominent sun Temples being Modera in Gujarat and Marthand Sun Temple in Kashmir.  Located at three different corners of India, I am happy that I had opportunity to visit all of them in a span of a year.



At the entrance of the Sun Temple is Nata Mandir. It was here where dancers used to perform for Sun God.


Look at this sculpture at the entrance of the Temple. A man is crushed by an Elephant which in turn is subdued by a lion.


There are two such sculptures at the entrance.


Even the carvings at Nata Mandir are very intricate.


The main Temple is gigantic which can only be experienced by standing in front of it. The entire Temple is designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of exquisitely carved wheels.


The Temple was built in 1250 AD by Ganga King Narasimhadeva I.


The wheels are the central attractions here. The carvings in the spokes of the wheel indicate the activities performed by a human being during the course of the day.


The Temple has several erotic sculptures similar to Khajuraho.


The sculpture of the Sun God.


Several theories exist for the fall of this Temple. The most prominent theory blames Kalaphad, a Muslim general who invaded Orissa in 1508.