Varkala, Kerala – A romantic, weekend getaway

Ideally:

Duration: 2 nights and 3 days

Category: Romantic, weekend getaway

Mathematically: Varkala = Goa – Party

Varkala is a much smaller version of Goa with no parties, and you get only Kingfisher, mostly! The beach-restaurants are styled the same way as in Goa. I would recommend Varkala(in Kerala) to anyone looking to take some time off from the busy/mundane(both equally taxing) schedule and enjoy a relaxing weekend.

Ideally, Varkala is a great honeymoon destination, and it is inexpensive. A day in Varkala – start off with a breakfast in your resort, followed by an ayurvedic massage to take away your travel fatigue and worries. Have a filling Kerala lunch of fish curry with a bowl of rice and pick from a plethora of seafood side-dishes. I’m terribly sorry if you are vegetarian  but there are other things to enjoy for you. Have a nap, make sure to get out of the resort by 5:30 PM to watch the sunset. Evenings can be spent on shopping pretty dresses, followed by a sumptuous dinner by the beach and a walk in the moonlit sands. Next day, rinse and repeat!

Varkala, Kerala - sunset

Varkala, Kerala – Sunset

Restaurant lights in Varkala, Kerala

Restaurant lights in Varkala, Kerala

Restaurant lights in Varkala, Kerala

Restaurant lights in Varkala, Kerala

Restaurant lights in Varkala, Kerala

Lots of couples visit this place, from what I saw. The resorts and the beaches are occupied by foreigners, predominantly. Lot of love in the air, with beautifully lit restaurants and a long stretch of road full of pretty dresses (can make any girl’s heart leap with joy). Make sure to carry cash and hone your negotiation skills before going shopping in these shops, else carry more cash.

Below: Light on the cliff: At least 1 km stretch of road on the cliff, overlooking the sea, which is lined with shops and restaurants, do take a walk there!

shopping in  Varkala, Kerala

[stitched photo, bad quality!] Shopping in Varkala, Kerala

That, my dear friend, is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss. Varkala great place to celebrate a special day with special people. In my list of destinations, this will be under the folder “Romantic, chilled out beach destinations”.

What should you take along for this trip?

  • Beachwear
  • Dinner dress
  • Cash
  • Negotiations skills (else, carry more cash)
  • Sunscreen
  • The special someone

 

Other Information:

Resorts: there are a lot of resorts around the papanasam beach. We stayed in Eden Gardens resort, Rs.800/night for a double-bed room. It is hygienic, has a water heater (geyser) and a bath tub.

Railway Station: There is a station in Varkala, many trains stop there, but only for few minutes

Airport: Nearest is Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum) airport, and a cab from there to Varkala will cost you Rs.1300 (overheard)

ATMs : Available, near the Temple Junction, 500 mts from the papanasam beach.

 

Gentle reminder to travellers: please do not litter!

Hampi: beauty in ruins

Hampi, in my dictionary, would mean “Beauty in ruins”. You could read that as the beauty (that once was) now in ruins, or, even the ruins of this erstwhile Vijayanagara empire are so breathtakingly beautiful.

I love to visit historical places. Every stone I look at, makes me think of that one person, who would have placed it there, centuries ago. The person has gone but the stone/sculpture/carving, part of a beautiful structure, is still there, frozen in time! Another reason why I love visiting historical places is to stand in awe of the things humans are capable of – good and bad! And no place, I’ve been to till now, represents this better than Hampi.

Hampi, by far, one of the most beautiful place I’ve been to. So rich in culture, so many stories, so many sculptures, so much beauty to take in. Of course, this all depends on what you love!

Broken Bridge in Hampi, India

Broken Bridge in Hampi

Hampi

The basics, you will do well knowing these, before visiting the place:

  • Hampi/Vijayanagara was the capital of the Vijaynagara empire from AD 1343 to 1565
  • Hampi is located in the southern bank of river ‘Tungabhadra’ (also known as Pampa)
  • Has strong mythological associations. The birthplace of Ramayana, Kishkinda-kshetra, is believed to be situated close to it
  • Don’t hesitate to get a guide. Don’t worry, you don’t have to find them, they’ll find you!

Things humans are capable of – good and bad! – Hampi

The good thing – the beauty that this Vijayanagara empire must’ve been once. All built by human hands, with so less technology, so much time, dedication and passion it would’ve taken.

The bad thing – that would be the reason the empire lies in ruins now. It was attacked and conquered by the Bijapur sultan. When the war was won, the Sultan burnt down the palace, which was wholly built of Sandalwood, and the story is, it took 6 months for the whole palace to be burnt down. Yes, the palace is no more, one can only see the foundation stones of the palace.

As for the stone temples and structures, the sultans couldn’t burn it, so they broke whatever they could. Example, most of the tusks of the elephant sculptures are broken off, the tummy of  Ganesha is sliced off, broke off Lakshmi from this beautiful 6.7m monolith Lakshmi-Narasimha Statue (below) and below that is a carving (smaller sample) of this statue from one other temple pillar:

 6.7m Lakshmi-Narasimha Monolith statue, Hampi

6.7m Lakshmi-Narasimha Monolith statue, Hampi

Below: This is a carving I found in one of the pillars of another temple. The above statue was supposed to have Lakshmi sitting on the Narasimha’s lap, like shown below. Imagine how beautiful that would have been.

Lakshmi-Narasimha carving, Hampi

Lakshmi-Narasimha carving, Hampi

I don’t blame the Sultan for doing this, I’m sure any triumphant king would have done the same. All is fair in love and war.

There are still remains of bazars, so well organized:

diamond and ruby bazaar, hampi

Diamond and ruby bazaar, hampi

remains of a medieval bazaar, hampi

 

The beauty is in the details and stories:

That’s exactly why you need a guide. They charge Rs.1000 for a 7-hour guided tour. They know the order in which the vast empire has to be covered. Take help, pay them, tip them, it’s no harm. Buy a guide book as a souvenir.

There is always a story to any historical structure, about the reason and significance. There is a temple called ‘Hazararama Temple’ which depicts the whole story of Ramayana in three tiers. What a beauty!! Like a medieval cartoon strip! The guide explained the story to me and it was very helpful.


ramayana depiction in hazararama temple hampi

Below: our guide giving us a crash course in Ramayana

our guide giving us a crash course in Ramayana

Our guide giving us a crash course in Ramayana 🙂

Ravana:

 ravana, ramayana, hazararama  temple, Hampi

10-headed Ravana depicted, hazararama temple, Hampi

 

So like I said, if you want to know the stories around a structure, getting a guide is a wise decision. Also, without a guide you might miss out on lot of details, such as:

Below image depicts the trade with various other races, such as chinese, persians, mongols (thanks to the guide for pointing it out):

 

Other races depicted here, trading in Vijayanagara

Other races depicted here, trading in Vijayanagara

 

Obviously, I am not gonna write about each and every monument I saw here, rather, I want to leave with you a travel idea, an inspiration for you to pack your bags and go!

One more thing: Will blog about how we reached Hampi, where we stayed and budget, later. Also there are two sides to any river, same for River Tungabhadra. Another post will talk about that!

A message to travellers: Travel, don’t trash!

PS: you can view all my Travel Photos here.

cheers

Tranquebar – Land of the singing waves

A month back, someone asked me “Have you been to Tranquebar?”, I replied “I don’t know the place, I don’t drink”. 🙂

Only later did I know that Tranquebar used to be a Danish colony, south of Pondicherry and 10kms north of Karaikal. Danish had come to Tranquebar in early 17th Century and they had leased Tranquebar from English for a period of time. During which they built Fort Dansborg.

About the trip:

Where: Chennai to Tranquebar
Duration: Saturday and Sunday
Budget: Rs.2,500 (could have been cheaper)
Distance: 600 kms (return)
Type of place: Heritage

Note: this place has only one ATM and it was ‘out of order’ on the weekend. And Neemrana Hotels does not accept cards, which is pretty irritating. So, carry cash.

I almost cancelled this trip!

It had already been more than a month since I went travelling, to Rameswaram, and I was itching to go travel. Heard about Tranquebar, went to google maps and made a plan. A friend and I were supposed to go to this place on Saturday morning, in his car. He pulled out on Thursday. I was left alone to do this trip and I did not want to sit idly at home, doing nothing. Went to the SETC site to book bus tickets, but there were none available. Thursday went, Friday came, I didn’t have an idea of how to go to this place. It had occurred to me to postpone this trip to next weekend, but I SO wanted to go travelling. So, Friday night, I went to Redbus site to book tickets and there was some server error and I couldn’t book a ticket (usually this site is very reliable). Then I decided to go to CMBT (bus station) and thought I will get some bus going there. I called for a Fast Track cab to pick me up at 10:30 PM take me to CMBT. Cabbie came at 11 PM and I cancelled it. I had already packed and I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to do this trip. Everything was going against the plan.

But I made it… (the advantages of solo travel! :))

Saturday

My dad suggested I go to Guindy and take a bus from there. I woke up at 5:30 AM and went to Guindy, fortunately for me, I was waiting and got an A/C bus till Pondicherry. Ticket cost me Rs.190 only. Reached Pondicherry at 9:30 AM.

pondicherry, Tranquebar trip, Tharangambadi trip from chennai

Got down at the bus stand and asked around for a bus to Tharangambadi (other name for Tranquebar). Got that bus, sat in it and in 15 minutes, the bus started. Also I found out how many people it takes to load a tyre on to a bus top. 🙂

chennai, pondicherry, tranquebar, travel

The bus kept going and going and some more going. Finally reached Tharngambadi/Tranquebar at 1:15 PM, after 3.5 hours of travel. Thankfully I had music and my Kindle.

I knew Tranquebar was not a big city but I expected something a little bigger that what I saw. It has one road through which buses and traffic pass through. I got off at the only bus stop for this little hamlet. I knew already that there was one hotel here by “Neemrana Hotels”. I googled for that name and got a mobile number. Called the person and asked him for directions to reach that place. He, Kiran, regional manager of Neemrana hotels, was very helpful and guided me. I walked a bit and reached the Bungalow by the beach.

Streets of Tranquebar:

Streets of Tranquebar

Streets of Tranquebar

 

Reached ‘Bungalow on the Beach’, went to the reception and asked for the rates. Tariff starts from Rs. 4,000, I asked him if he had anything more reasonable. They have another property called ‘Tamil Nadu House’, where the tariff for a double-bed room is Rs.990. I took that one, checked in, had a shower and came to the Bungalow on the Beach for lunch. The restaurant serves good food, costly though and the cutlery was rusting away. I will review(not a good one!) this Neemrana Hotel in another blog, now let’s focus on Tranquebar.

I had my lunch and went back to my room and rested till 4 PM. I asked around and there are few must see places:

  1. Danish fort museum
  2. Danish Governor’s Bungalow
  3. Danish Land gate
  4. A church founded by Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg (the first protestant missionary to south-east Asia), and built in 1718
  5. A 3-Gopuram temple, 2 of which are already submerged in the sea.
  6. Tranquebar maritime museum, setup after the Tsunami of 2004 by Danes
  7. Beach

Everything is close-by and you can cover the whole place in half a day. I took it slow and started with Fort Dansborg, then there was the beach I went too. It was a bit crowded because of the weekend. After which there is the 3-gopuram temple and by this time it was well past sunset. I went back to my room and freshened up, read a book and then went to ‘Bungalow by the beach’ for dinner.

The beach: 


Sunday:

Went to the ATM in a nearby village to get cash to pay the hotel people. Attended the church that was built in 1718. The church service got over by 10AM. After which, I walked around the town and chanced upon the Maritime museum. The guide, in this small shack of a museum, was very informative and explained with patience, significance of each of the artifacts. There are guide books available at this museum that will educate you more on the history of the place. This museum was setup by the Danes after the 2004 Tsunami.

The checkout time for the hotel was 12 noon. Checked out and walked to the bus stop to get a bus to Karaikkal which is south of Tranquebar. I had to go to Pondicherry, to get a bus to Chennai. The buses to Pondicherry, from Karaikkal, goes via Tranquebar, but my chances of getting a place to sit in a bus was higher if I boarded the bus from Karaikkal. So I went to Karaikkal, took a bus to Pondicherry and from Pondicherry, took a bus to Chennai and reached Chennai by 8PM, Sunday.

That was my first solo trip, and I had a wonderful experience 🙂

Cost:

Stay at TamilNadu House for a night: Rs.990 (is reasonable for a double-bed room, bathroom with a geyser, good view)

Lunch and dinner at Neemrana Hotel: Rs.1000 (which is pretty costly!)

Travel: Rs.500

SUGGESTION:

If you want to do a budget trip, get a hotel in Karaikkal or Chidambaram. If you are staying in Chidambaram, you should add Pichavaram to your itinerary.

 

Yercaud Trip : Weekend getaway

UPDATE: all Yercaud trip pics will be updated here.
The plan:
Chennai – Yercaud – Chennai
Total Dist – 720 Kms
start: Thursday morning
Come back : Saturday eve
Mode : car

A perfect weekend getaway from Chennai. Best time to visit Yercaud is from March to May.

Nav had already booked a resort, Heaven’s Ledge, in Yercaud Gowri Estate. The contact there told us to be there by 3:30 PM so as to not miss the beautiful sunset.

Thursday, 22 Dec

Murali and his cousin (Navneeth) were to start at 9 AM, pick me up by 9:30.

“You can take a guy out of India but you can’t take India out of that guy”

They started at 10:30 AM! 🙂

They picked Andy and me up by 11 AM and thus began one of the most memorable trips.

Note: there is a CCD and other eateries at a HP petrol bunk, that comes on your left (your side of the road), 15 KMs after Vellore on NH48. Good place to stop and grab a bite without entering Vellore city.

The route we took is given below:


View Larger Map

We stopped for tea around 3PM at Tirupattur Junction. It was short 10 mins break and Andy took over after that.
Patch of bad roads for a couple of Kms after Tirupattur slowed us a bit, otherwise the roads were well maintained.

Like I said Andy is fast and we reached Kuppanur by 4:45PM, thats where we take a diversion to Yercaud. Beautiful Ghat roads – Curvy, narrow and well-maitained. The narrow roads could be dangerous, so be careful. Take the curves slow and watch out for vehichles coming in the other direction, honk (not too much!).

Ghat Roads


Navneeth really wanted to see that promised sunset and Andy was doing everything in his power to reach there on time. we reached Yercaud junction and had to go 15 kms further up. We reached Heaven’s ledge by 5:45 PM, thankfully the sun was still setting and we could get a glimpse of the beauty.

First Impression


awesome! As we drove in to the ledge, it IS literally a ledge. Edge of a cliff cleared for camping purpose. I’ve stayed in a lot of places but this has to be no.1 in the list. The scenic view was stunning.

The view from Heaven’s Ledge

Sunset

The person in-charge showed us the sunset and then showed as to the camp – a tent pitched in the ledge.Sunset lasted long as the hues changed showcasing various beautiful colors.

Tent

It was lovely, comfortable and kept us safe from the wind. It was cold but the wind made it worse and since we were in cleared up area and on the ledge, the wind was stronger and it was really chilly.
The VIDEO of the tent is here.

Tent at Heaven’s Ledge

The daylight was showing off its colors till 7, after which the solar lamp lit up. The guide started a campfire and we blissfully basked in its warmth. There was/is no network for Airtel or Vodafone – which is what we had, but the guide told us that Aircel and BSNL networks were available there.

We had home-made dinner brought to us and it was yummy! We had asked for Veg food as our group was predominantly veg and it’s better to have veg food while traveling. We sat around talking and eating. The time went by and by the time we hit our beds it was midnight. Around that time the solar light finished its share of stored-up charge and went to sleep too. It was dark and we slept in our tents listening to the sound of wind in the trees and rustling of leaves. Sudden strong wind would shake the dew from the trees that would fall on our tents.

FRIDAY – 23 Dec

In the morning it got real chilly which woke us up. We got out of the tent by 7:30 and went straight to the fire that was being used to boil water.

FIRE – Thanks to the person who started it all!

Trek


We washed up and we had a spicy home-made breakfast brought to us. We started the trek around 10 AM and trekked 5 Kms through the mountains. This was the highlight of the trip. The trails – there was hardly any! Our guide had a Aruval (larger form of a sickle) with him and cut the shrubs and branches as he went along. We trekked with branches brushing against us and through caves and under the rocks. He took us to various view points, some of them had a 4000ft fall. The sight, trek and the experience was beautiful. we came back to our place by 12:30 PM and had lunch at 1PM.

During the Trek From Heaven’s Ledge.

The plan was to leave this place after lunch and go to a hotel in the city, go around the city to various tourist sites and then leave for Chennai on Saturday afternoon.

But somewhere during the course of lunch, one of us suggested that so far the experince has been awesome and we will be bored to death staying in a hotel and then going to “touristy” places. (Andy and I have come to Yercaud couple of years back and it didn’t have anything to offer. The tourist sites had very less to offer and we returned home after 3 hours of sight seeing.) I seconded the idea that we should leave Yercaud by Friday evening and head to Chennai. Everyone agreed.

Boating in a well 🙂


We went to a private lake (small one, more of a well) for boating. We had to walk till the well and came across Orange trees which had yummy looking oranges and when we did pluck and eat, our eyes were not wrong. The oranges were delicious.

If you really want to do boating in a big lake, go to Yercaud lake.

Return


We packed our bags and started to Chennai by 3PM. On our way back we stopped by the Yercaud junction. Who goes to a hill station in India and not have Chilly bajjis? no one! We too had some delicious bajjis and came our way to Chennai.

On the way back we took a break for dinner at CCD and reached Chennai by 10:30PM.

Some things that went our way:

1. December is not usually the time for trips to Yercaud, as people find the weather too cold for comfort. Because of that we had less crowd in the campsite. I do not know how crowded it will be if you go during summer time.

2. We went on a week day – Thursday. Another reason for less crowd.

3. We took the tents and not cottages (which are also present on the estate) and that saved us from the crowd.

“its not the destination, it’s the company that makes a trip worth it!” 

Cheers

You can read all the tweets sent during the trip here.

More photos will be upload at PotOfShots.com

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