Sunday, December 31, 2017

Recap of year 2017

In general, the year went well with respect to travel. In fact, my writing speed could not match with the travel. Some places that I travelled did not appear in my blog. Basically, the travel can be split into following categories.
  • Abroad trips
  • Birding trips
  • Western ghats
  • Temples, hills and forts

Abroad trips
The focus suddenly shifted from India to abroad. The reason being that I had covered most of the Indian states (except few North Eastern states) I wished. This resulted in seeing five new countries this year.

Official trip for Mobile World Congress brought me to the city of Barcelona in Spain during February end. A trivial matter but I had a nice conversation with a Pakistani driver while he was dropping me to airport. Quite surprised to hear some nice words about India which I do not hear in India!!

Watching football match of FC Barcelona was unforgettable experience.

At Barcelona stadium
New Zealand
My biggest trip so far went extremely well. With complete family, it was a trip to remember for a long time. Though I had driven rental cars earlier in US and Europe, it was first time I was trying out with family. It was also the first time we tried to self cook and eat while traveling. Both went very well and hopefully I will be able to plan bigger ones in the coming year!! Amount of planning that went for this trip was enormous but it was fully worth the effort. What a beautiful country!!

Milford Sound
Immediately after coming back from New Zealand, I had to take the flight to Netherlands for an official trip!! I just had time to take some sleep and repack before flying.

Czech Republic
During an official trip to Netherlands in April, I managed to squeeze a weekend trip to Prague. A beautiful city in Central Europe, I could not put a lot about it in my blog.

Prague castle

It was hard to resist sitting idle during Dasara holidays and I planned a trip to Mauritius with my family. Another great trip with self drive. I put a lot about that trip in my blog but still missed few of them!!


Sri Lanka
A customary year end family trip took us to the neighboring Sri Lanka. It was a combination of religion, culture, hills and beaches. Yet to write the experience but expect it to cover most of my posts in the beginning of next year. This trip was preceded with an official visit to Netherlands and again I had less than a day to pick up the flight to Sri Lanka.

A view in Sri Lanka

Also, I went to Netherlands in April, July and December for office work. I managed to visit some places like Texel, Zaanse Schans and Muiderslot. Another Official travel was to Boston in Unites states. 


Birding trips
The month of Jan and Feb was busy with birding trips to Valley school, Tal Chhappar and Jorbeer in Rajasthan and Thattekad in Kerala. This was with my friend Sankara. Later as official travel and other trips took priority, birding took a back seat.

Western ghats and coastal 
Submerged bridge
A trip to submerged bridge during summer with Subbu and Girish completed long pending action we had.

Submerged bridge

Visited a few waterfalls in Western ghat region (about 6 in number) of Karnataka.

MM falls
Kas Plateau
In September, Sankara and I visited Das plateau for flowers. Also combined several waterfalls and forts during this trip. Unfortunately, I could not write anything about this trip in my blog.

In December, it was an amazing experience with Subbu and Girish to see Kambala.


Temples, hills and forts
Hoysala temples
During Ganesha Chaturthi, we visited few Hoysala temples of Arakere and Tandaga while driving to my native place.

Tandaga temple

Fort and hills near Bengaluru
With Wido, I trekked to the fort hill of Madakasira in January and Ratnagiri in October. With Subbu and Krishna, I visited Handi Gundi near Ramanagara. A visit to Avani in September within Sankara. 

Ratnagiri fort
In the month of August, I managed to cover to cover the Someshwara temple and Tipu Sultan Summer palace in Bengaluru!!

Summer Palace

Flop shows
  • Due to my bad health, I had to cancel the Himalayan trek in the last minute. Since it was canceled for second consecutive year, I must say that it frustrated me a lot. 
  • While trekking to a waterfall in Uttara Kannada, I and my cousin got down into a very steep and slippery valley. The waterfall was “almost” in sight but we could not climb down the final 20 feet of slope. We could have somehow gone down but we were sure that we will not be able to climb up!! With heavy heart, we aborted our trek and climbed back the valley!!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Muiderslot, Netherlands

The newly introduced Jet Airways direct flight from Bengaluru to Amsterdam is very convenient. The hassle of transiting in Middle East or European city is gone with this direct flight. Also, I reach Amsterdam in the morning which gives me some time to explore the place. During my recent official travel to Netherlands, I had some time on Sunday morning after landing in Amsterdam. I did a quick search and found the castle of Muiden interesting. 

The travel from our hotel required transport via metro train and change bus twice before we reached the Muiden village, though it was just 15 km from Amsterdam. The last km involved walking through the nice streets of the village. The weather was cold (in single degrees) but pleasant.

Muiden village
The castle built about 700 years ago looked beautiful with a large moat surrounding it and some nice gardens. We paid entrance ticket of 13.5 euros that also included 30 minute guided tour.

A rabbit on the way
The guided tour basically concentrated at one part of the castle consisting of five rooms. It provides a glimpse of the the saturation in 17th century. Some interesting pieces were the superstition that caused people to sleep in sitting position as the blood could rush into the brain in sleeping position!! Some nice pairings adorned the rooms of the castle.

Paintings inside the castle
The guided tour was mainly in dutch but considering the presence of non dutch visitors, the guide also provided English explanation. We were also handed out an english booklet that contained information about the rooms.

After the guided tour we spent some time roaming around the castle. As it became very cold, we went inside the small restaurant in the castle to have some hot tea. That helped us to get warm again to walk back to the bus stop.

It was a short and a nice visit in Netherlands!!


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Coastal waterfalls

If you travel along the coastal road in Karnataka, at the place where the western ghats run near the coast, two majestic waterfalls makes their appearance. I had earlier seen them from the top of the ghats and walked along the river to see one of them. Recently, I got an opportunity to visit the other waterfalls when I visited Mangaluru for Kambala with Subbu and Girish.

From the National Highway, we took an auto to reach the starting point of the trek. It was about 10 kms from the highway with last four km was on jeep track. On the way, the falls made its appearance few times!!

After reaching the last house of the village, we kept all our luggages in the house and filled our water bottles. The auto guy departed asking us to call from the top of the falls (only place where the signal is available) so that he can come back to pick us up!!

Few years ago, one had to trek along the stream for 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the base of the falls. Today, there is a path made by forest department to the falls. This makes the trek relatively easy but still one had to walk for an hour to reach the base of the falls. It is mostly uphill journey.

6th step of the falls
The walk was uneventful. After walking for about 45 minutes, we reached the waterfall. A six step waterfall, it looked majestic. From the end of the trail, we could see the fifth and sixth step clearly. To climb to the fifth step, we had to cross the stream and climb up the boulders. This was an easy climb. The falls looked beautiful. The first level of the falls was also visible a bit. It was a good place to rest our bodies under the waterfall. That was a sooting experience!!

5th step
We tried to climb up to reach upper parts of the waterfall but it looked risky to do so. It was above our risk quotient and hence we decided to enjoy at the 5th step itself. It requires some serious effort to climb up further. The board at the start of the trail mentioned about four people who died in the waterfall. Most likely they tried to climb higher.

Unfortunately, this falls has attracted lot of drunkards who cannot think anything outside drinking as means of enjoyment. And they traces they leave in the form of broken bottles is a shame to any civilization. And others have contributed their part by throwing plastic and papers everywhere. Very sad state of affairs in India (especially in Karnataka).

After spending a long time at the waterfalls, we headed back to the village. The auto had already arrived. We had our late lunch at a small hotel on the highway. The prime attraction was a big bull that was trying to get into the hotel. But it was a sad state to see it eating plastic and papers.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dark forest waterfalls

This area is known for dense evergreen forest. The king cobras caught near our villages are sent to this forest!! The name “Dark forest” gives an enigmatic feeling. But it is aptly named as the sunlight struggles to reach the ground!!

Whenever I passed though the road, the name of this place always intrigued me. So was the small path that went into the forest next to the sign board. Recently, I came to know about a small waterfall inside the forest. But there was only a small window of opportunity to visit the falls. Rainy season was ruled out due to leeches and multiple stream crossings. Summer would not hold much water. It meant that only the months of November and December was the right time to visit this place.

During my recent visit to my native place, I along with my uncle and cousin visited this place. Having parked our car next to the sign board, we entered into the forest. Very soon we where in for a surprise. Leeches welcomed us with full energy which we responded with liberal application of salt on our legs!! If this was the case in the month of December, you can imagine how it would be during monsoon. 

The forest was dense, sunlight was a rare commodity here and the walk involved numerous stream crossing. We were also bit careful about the snakes that were common here. One of the previous group had encountered a king cobra that had raised its hood. They had promptly returned back!! All this was in our mind as we made our way into the forest.

The path which was clear in the beginning started to fade out as we entered deeper into the forest. We walked along the stream to reach to the top of the waterfall. It was bit tricky to get down as the forest was thick to navigate and all the trees had thorns!! Somehow, we managed to find the way through rocks.

This was the falls undisturbed by human interference. We spent a long time appreciating the beauty of the place. One should not come here expecting a huge waterfall. The experience of dense evergreen forest is something priceless. 

While it had taken an hour to reach the waterfall, the return was quick and we reached the main road in thirty minutes. Before getting into the car, we counted the number of leech bites and ensured that we do not carry those creatures back home!! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kambala, the buffalo race!!

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Kambala is a traditional buffalo race in the district of South Canara. This is a very old tradition where the two pairs of buffaloes controlled by a person is made to run on paddy fields. This was seen as a form of entertainment for rural people after harvesting season. Today, it is an organized event in the form of contest under the banner of “Kambala Samiti”. The race is normally held between the months of November and March at many places in South Canara. 

While Kambala was running for long time, I got interested only recently thanks to the “advertisement” from PETA!! Subbu was able to get schedule of Kamabal and we planned to visit on December 3rd, at Kottara, Mangaluru city. This was the newly formed Kambala ground. 

Kambala track

Normally Kambala starts at 8AM and could run for more than 24 hours depending on the number of buffalo pairs. When we reached the place at 9AM, the inauguration was just happening. While people were busy at the stage and at ground, we went around the place to have a feel of the place. Many buffalo pairs had arived and were resting at designated places. Most of them looked very strong and sturdy. It takes lot of effort and money to raise the buffaloes for the sport. Had Kambala not been there, they would have been sent to slaughter house long back. 

The rules of the game are simple. Two buffalo pairs controlled by a person run on a muddy track. Whoever comes first gets into the next level. Most likely, it is run on knockout fashion. The winner gets the money.

Photographing Kambala is quite an activity. Most of my shots were taken from the front and at ground level. This is also the difficult place to take photographs. The buffaloes are let free at the end of the race and they charge the people who are standing in the line!! So, it is important to run aside when the buffaloes finish the race. Though volunteers  are there to control the buffaloes, one need to be alert if he is standing at the ending point. 

How fast is the race? It is comparable to 100 meter race in athletics. It gets over in less than 15 seconds. That is quote commendable as the buffaloes and the person have to run on muddy water. Both buffaloes and the person look very strong!!

Will the person always be able to match the speed of the buffaloes? Not always. Sometimes he loses control!!

A zoom lens is required to get close up shots. The zoom of my lens was not good enough and I had to wait to buffaloes to come near me to get the shot!! So, I had to be agile and jump to the side before the buffaloes come. It does not look bad as it sounds!! But my wife was not very happy when I told about it. “You are getting crazy”, she told.

Very close!!
To get water droplets, the shots were taken above the shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. A good zoom lens (around 200mm) helps to take close up shots.

We underestimated the energy in Kambala race. We went there only for photography and had allocated few hours. But at the time progressed, we found ourselves fully engrossed in the game. It would have been an amazing experience if we there for the complete race.

The Kambala schedule for 2017-18 is pasted below. Might be useful if you are planning.

Last point
Kambala got embroiled into controversy when Peta claimed that the animals were tortured. My observation in Kambala was otherwise. Animals were very well treated by the owners. It is not a fight but a race. No violence at all.