We had planned an overnight trip to Northern Sikkim. My friend’s family dropped out because of fatigue and concerns about kids tolerance for the journey and the altitude. The first day’s agenda was to just drive to LaChung and stay there overnight. The second day we were to visit Yumthang Valley.

We had a leisurely morning. We went for a refreshing morning walk for about 40 minutes or so. We left after breakfast around 9.30 am. LaChung is about 120 km from Gangtok but it takes over 5 hours to cover that distance. It is a mountainous terrain with narrow roads and quite a bit of road construction work going on. 30 km from Gangtok, we stopped at the Seven sisters waterfalls (took us about 90 minutes to get here!). This is a serene waterfall and we could see three distinct tiers. There was a footbridge which we walked over. There was also a view-point which could be reached after climbing about 50 steps or so. Here we could see a 4th drop at the top. So, my guess there is probably three more drops hidden somewhere behind the rocks, and hence the name.

 The drive continues alongside the mountain with the Teesta river constantly in sight. Each passing minute the scenery was getting more and more beautiful. I couldn’t take any good pictures though because of the constant bounce of the jeep. There was a Naga falls along the way and we crossed a couple of beautiful bridges. We stopped in the town of ChungTang at about 3 pm. We had a few sweets and tea for lunch. The kids starved as expected. From here it was another hour to Lachung. But before that we saw more water falls and I don’t quite believe the names our driver had for them (Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan!). It also got quite cold in that last hour.

 We checked into Modern Residency at around 4 pm. It’s a cute, quaint hotel with about fifteen rooms or so and common areas in every floor. The TV is only in the common areas. They served yummy hot pakodas and awesome masala tea. There was a nice fireplace too in the TV area. We headed out for a short walk after that. A winding path led upto a viewpoint from where we could see the whole town of LaChung nestled in the valley and surrounded by beautiful mountains, some snow-capped. We couldn’t quite go up all the way to the viewpoint since there were some dogs (not sure if they were stray or belonged to someone) barking hard, which sounded even more vicious because of the silence in the valley. By now, we were freezing cold. We headed back to the hotel and warmed ourselves at the fireplace, watching an IPL match. Simple vegetarian dinner was served in the dining hall in the basement. After that, the host at the hotel was generally conversing with the guests and he described this exotic home-brew called Tongba, which is a beer made out of millet. PK ordered one of those and while it did look exotic, I couldn’t quite stand the smell, so I didn’t even taste it.


We left the hotel at 6.30 am for Yumthang Valley. Saw lots of wild Rhododendrons along the way. It was still early in the season and they were not all in full bloom yet. When we reached Yumthang, at first sight I was extremely disappointed by the rows of tea shacks on either side of the road. They had the usual maggi, bread/butter sandwiches and other snacks. I couldn’t believe we came all the way to see this. But once we got past that ½ km stretch, it was awesome! We first drove on to zero point. The views of Yumthang Valley from here are just breathtaking. We played in the snow, took lots of pictures and watched the Indian army choppers flying overhead. Then we came back again to the valley. Here we saw the helicopters take off and land few times. Not sure if some new pilots were practicing! In April, this whole valley was supposed to be carpeted with wild flowers, but apparently the pattern is shifting and now its towards early May. So, there were some sparse flowers here and there. We walked along the Teesta river. There were thick pine forests on either side, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Really amazing sight …

We started back around 10.30 am and were back in the hotel before noon. Had to wait for a bit before lunch was ready. This was simply one of the most delicious meals we had in a very long time. Every item on the menu was so good. Had a hearty lunch and left this beautiful place around 1 pm. Drive back was fun. We played word building games, some geography variants, anthaakshari (first time with the kids but they don’t really know a whole lot of film songs). We were also treated to a brief hail storm. We were back in Gangtok at the same hotel by 6.30 pm. There was some confusion about dinner plans and we ended up having to eat puliyogare and curd rice in the room. Thanks to my friend for lugging the rice cooker and some rice for his little one!

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Nathu La Pass is around 56 km from Gangtok and takes about 3 hours to reach. We had an early breakfast and left just after 8 am. After picking up the required permits, we were on our way. The roads are mostly bad and there is a lot of construction going on all through the way. Add to this the complications of fallen boulders, landslides etc and it was a slow journey. Also since the roads are narrow, if jeeps/trucks come in the opposite direction, it is a class act, how they maneuver past each other. The trucks are mostly army vehicles. If I was in the army I would probably be really annoyed with the hordes of tourist jeeps visiting there everyday, which probably makes their daily job difficult. We saw lots of beautiful lakes on the way, some of which were frozen.

When we reached the pass, weather was very good. It is at 14,500 ft altitude. Some of us had slight headache and the kids were feeling a bit nauseous, due to altitude sickness. Gangtok is about 4500 ft, so just in 50 kms we end up climbing almost 10,000 ft and some people cannot handle that. To reach the top, you have to climb steps which are completely covered in snow and the climb is slightly exhausting because of the low oxygen. Some people were slipping and falling in the snow. It was a thrilling and humbling experience for me to see the border posts and the flag flying. Also felt deep appreciation for the army and the soldiers who not only face the enemy but also have to brave the weather and the terrain every single day to keep us all safe. We walked around, took a few pictures and made a quick stop at the café. By now, clouds were everywhere. It was very windy and the wind was kicking up the snow all around, making visibility very poor. Apparently this is what happens around noon everyday and the rest of the day is downhill weather wise. That’s why the guides insist on early departures from the hotel so that we can visit at a good time.

We then drove to Baba Mandir which is apparently famous (I don’t know the whole story or the significance of the temple but read somewhere that it was built in memory of an Indian soldier). There was a humongous line to get in. We took one look and just turned around. The kids were too tired for this. We then drove to Tsomgo Lake, which is at 10,500 ft. Yaks were available for riding here. The lake is quite scenic. I was hoping to walk along the shore a bit but it was drizzling. So, after some more photos, we went down to the very tiny town of Tsomgo to see what the lunch options were. More maggi! We also tried Chowmein but it was too salty.  Ride back was uneventful and we were back in the hotel by 4.30 pm.

In the evening, we took a taxi to M.G.Marg which is the most famous street in Gangtok. It is lined with shops and restaurants. A portion of the road is pedestrian-only and this portion is cobblestoned with lots of fountains and benches in the middle. Nice place to spend the evening. We bought some souvenirs (prayer wheel) here.

The place we stayed in Gangtok, the Hidden Forest, was just awesome. We found it through the Lonely Planet and we greatly enjoyed our stay there. The rooms are clean and spacious, food is delicious and they offer service with a smile. We had 4 kids (a 3 yearr old too) and they gladly accommodated our every request. They organically grow their own vegetables, a cow on-site meets the dairy needs and they have beautiful orchids all over the property. They are very reasonably priced too.

Visit to Pelling



We arrived in Bagdogra airport at about 1.30 pm. We were kinda hungry, but we were eager to get going on the long drive to Pelling (~4.5 hrs, the driver said) and we anyway didn’t find any proper restaurants around. It took about 20 minutes to load our luggage on the roof rack and we hit the road. My friend wanted to stop to buy yogurt and juices, and the only place we could find it was in Shopper’s stop mall. That turned out to be more than ½ hr stop. While he was shopping, PK went and bought some snacks and tea. The tea was really good. The driver was getting impatient (rightfully, so) and we started again. The first 2 hrs of the drive was pretty ordinary. We took one more tea break. At this point it was drizzling and we were enjoying the cool mountain air. Tea was very good here too. And we drove on. The drive got more mountainous and scenic, but it was also getting dark and rainy. The temperature was also dropping by the minute. The last one hr was really breathtaking. We passed through the town of Legship and then climbed a whole lot, before we reached Upper Pelling. We checked into De Regency around 7.30 pm.

 Everyone was cold. We changed into our warmest clothes and then ordered dinner. While at the dining table, I asked the server when and where we should go to watch sunrise over Kanchenjunga. He showed us right outside the windows, we could see the white peaks in the dark night!! It was truly a gorgeous sight. One said 6 am would be good, the other was telling us even 7 am is fine. I kept my alarm for 5.45 and we went to bed. At about 5 am the next day, bright light was streaming in through a small crack in the window curtains. I saw the watch and it was 5 am. I ran to the window and could already see the tip of Kanchenjunga awash in golden color. It was an awesome sight. My movements woke PK up and he witnessed the whole thing too. So much for local wisdom! May be since it is a daily show for them, they don’t pay attention. But how can they be off by a whole hour? Even in Bangalore it is daylight by 5.50 am, Sikkim being further east, it had to be earlier.


After breakfast, we loaded the luggage back on the jeep and set out on a tour of Pelling. The first stop was the Helipad. Great 360 degree views – Kanchenjunga

Khecheopalri lake is a short walk from the jeep parking lot. The lake itself is very serene. The boardwalk to the lake is lined by prayer wheels on both sides. There were plenty of huge fish in the lake. The Sikkimese consider this a very holy lake and there are requests to maintain silence and not throwing anything in the lake. But there were loud tourists who were throwing kurkure, chips etc into the water in an attempt to feed the fish. Some of these guys were also wearing shoes standing at the lake shore, while there were explicit signs to take off footwear right at the beginning of the boardwalk. I don’t see much hope for cultural sensitivity or eco sensitivity in tourism in India. This is one thing that really brings my spirit down during vacations. There was a short hike up to a viewpoint from where we a got an aerial view of the lake. It is sort of in the shape of a footprint and locals believe it is the foot of Buddha. The trail up was very scenic and seemed to pass through private property. Many people were playing or doing there daily chores in their cliff-top homes. The views were beautiful – greenery everywhere. Some construction was going on to make the trail and the viewpoint more official and prominent. 

 After this we had a couple of plates of momos and few bowls of Maggi noodles for lunch. Maggi noodles are ubiquitous all over Sikkim. My friend declared it the state food. It was probably about 2 pm when we set out from here. Next stop was at Kanchenjunga falls. It was a quick one though. The two little girls in the group (SK was one) were fast asleep. The falls were not visible from the roadside and we had to climb a few steps and cross over a few rocks in order to see it. But there was lot more water here, again it was pretty cold. The locals seemed pretty keen on helping us navigate the rocks but I was getting irritated and just wanted some privacy. Looking back, they were just being very friendly and probably couldn’t communicate due to language issues. But the city-bred people are always cautious of strangers, especially in tourist places.

Then we drove towards Gangtok. It was probably a five or six hour drive with one tea break in between. We finally reached Gangtok around 8.30 pm and everyone was very hungry. The lady at the property where we were supposed to stay had been trying to reach me all afternoon but my phone was not reachable and she was not sure whether we were arriving at all. I should have called her. Luckily they had delicious, hot dinner ready for us, for which we were all very grateful. The tour operator had called and left a message that he would be picking us up at 7.30 am the next day. I called him back to negotiate a later time but he explained that 9 would be too late and we settled for 8 am pick up.

A trip to Jog falls

Last Dasara vacation, we took a short trip to the Jog falls area. We went with PK’s brother’s family.

Unchalli falls

We took the overnight train to Shimoga and from there we hired a taxi to take us to Talaguppe. It is about 90 kms from Shimoga and takes 2 hrs by car. We stayed at a wonderful homestay http://matthuga.in. Considering that the area has absolutely no quality accomodation, any clean accomodation would have been welcome. But this homestay was truly awesome. Good accessibilty, green, peaceful surroundings, wonderful caretakers, homely food, clean, spacious rooms. We had a truly enjoyable stay there and would like to go back sometime. The first day, we didn’t do much. Saw some temples in the area. After lunched we just lazed around in the front porch and played badminton and frizbee. Evenings (after dark) can get to be a bit boring for the kids since they can’t play outside and there’s no TV. But they did have a carrom board. May be good to carry some books and board games.

Next morning, we drove to Unchalli falls. It was slightly over an hour’s drive. It is a hidden gem – nothing can describe the beauty of this falls. The sheer volume of water and the drop is breathtaking. You can see the mist rising even a km away from the falls. We had to walk about 20 min or so to reach the view points. Apparently it has water through out the year. We had the whole place to ourselves. While we were taking some pictures, we had our first mishap. AK started howling pojting to something on his foot. PK’s sister-in-law just tried to brush it off with her hands and ot wouldn’t budge. No amount of pulling, shoving with a twig could loosen its grip. PK had already climbed up and gone, carrying Shreya. I was using al my energy to calm AK down and finally she managed to pull it off. After that, AK and his cousin literally ran for their lives. The climbed up the several steps and then up the slope for a good 15 minutes, to reach the place where the car was parked. He was totally shaken. That was our first exposure to leeches.

Jog falls

Then from here we drove to Jog. We first went to the spot over the top of Raja. Apparently this is also called “Mungaru Male” point since this is where some songs from that movie are shot (I haven’t see either the movie or the songs).  Great views of Raja, Roarer and Rocket from here, Raja being the closest. Further up, people were playing in the water. So, the kids and the guys spent some time in the water but it got too crowded and we turned around. The place has a lot of monkeys. Next we went to the point where we see the more familar view of Jog. All four are seen, but from a distance. The stairs leading to the bottom of the falls area was closed. So, this was just a photo stop. After this, we called it a day. 

We had one more whole day before we caught the night train back to Bangalore. On our host’s suggestion, we decided to go to Bheemeshwar. It was quite an adventure. It was a long drive and the kids were getting restless. The weather also seemed fickly. It was cloudy and drizzling and we began to think it was a bad idea. But since we were almost there, decided to go for it anyway. The driver just stopped on the highway, pointed to a foot path and said this is the trail to reach the falls and temple. As to how far you need to walk, his estimate was all over the map. He initially said 4-5 kms. We asked him whether that was the one way distance and he said yes. We totally freaked  out since we were not sure the kids were up for it. Our kids are used to it but PK’s nephew is not. And then the driver corrected himself saying it was 2-3 kms one way. Too late to do anything now except to just go. So we started walking. The path was beautiful with good views of paddy fields. And then we had to cross a stream. And thats when it started again – leeches! AK was the first to get bitten again. And we struggled to take it out. After that we were trying to walk cautiously but soon one by one everyone found one or two on their legs. By now we were at a fork in the path and we were not even sure of which way to go. Not a soul was around. We turned left and walked a bit more. The kids started crying and SK wanted to be carried after we discovered a few in her crocs. PK’s nephew was adamant that we turn back. Everyone was hyper and we were trying to calm them down but PK was pretty firm about not turning back. I was kicking myself that we didn’t get salt with us after the previous day’s experience. Soon we came upon a small house with a big fence. I first called out to make sure there were no dogs and then walked in. The house was locked and any hopes of getting salt and information quickly faded. SK started singing prayers and remembered all her friends. She kept saying she wished we had left her back at grand-mom’s instead of taking her to the jungle. At this point I said we were turning back since nobody was having fun. PK didn’t want to but I overruled him. Just because the two of us are a bit crazy, there was no need to subject everyone to that sort of anxiety and distress.

Bheemeshwar falls

We had walked down may be 10 minutes when we saw a man walking up. Boy, were we glad to see another human being! We told him our plight. He was dismissive of our “problems” and insisted that the waterfall and the temple were very near and we shouldn’t give up now. Aparently what we had seen was the priest’s house and he was out of town. This man was the substitute from the neighboring village and was coming to do the daily pooja since the daily ritual was not to be broken. So he would take a bus from the next village, walk up approximately 2km, do his pooja rituals and then go back. I confirmed with him that there was salt at the priest’s house. And then we started walking back up. He was a nice man and could just yank the leeches out. For PK’s nephew, he was God incarnate! You could see the reverent look in his eyes. At the priest’s house we thoroughly checked the kids’ legs and shoes and then checked ourselves. One had gone up my leg to my hips and had made a huge bite. When I flapped my pajama, a fat one fell. After we all washed off our bleeding wounds, it was less than 5 minutes to the waterfall. And we were so glad we came back! It is one of the most serene and secluded water falls I have seen. And a beautiful stone temple right next to it. While the priest conducted his rituals in privacy, we all played in the water. Then we went in for the Mangalarathi and enjoyed the temple. I don’t like the big, commercial temples in the cities that much. But the setting of this one, the simplicity, I really didn’t feel like leaving the place. But we had to consdering we had a train to catch. We stopped, picked up some salt and all of us started walking back together. He was much faster than any of us and was racing ahead. PK’s nephew wouldn’t let him out of sight and was running to keep pace. We encountered many more leeches and the salt really helped. The kids were also much calmer and would treat any leeches on their body in a very matter-of-fact manner. In the end, it all ended well and even the naysayers were very happy that we didn’t quit and turn around.

It was a good trip. We were told that the trains would soon start going all the way to Sagar, so that’s even better. The overnight trains are convenient, but the route is supposed to be very scenic, so you miss that.

Eventful few weeks

I’m proud of the many milestones for our family in the last few weeks.

On Jan 23, I drove for the first time on Bangalore roads, all the way from home to my mom’s place (~ 15 kms). Admittedly, it was on a Sunday morning when traffic is minimal (One of my colleagues had this to say – you really have to go look for cars to hit), but still I was pretty much on the edge of the seat and sweating profusely. Was a huge relief when I reached there. Haven’t driven again since. Sometimes I wonder if its worth it. But you can’t a price on independence!

The same morning, a couple of hours later, SK started swimming in the pool, without any floating aids, for the first time.

Then on Thursday, Feb 3, SK started to ride her bicycle without training wheels. I had been coaxing her to do this for 6 months now. We removed the training wheels about 5 months ago and had to put it back on, because she absolutely refused to even sit on the bike. Even now, she need a lot of cajoling, coaxing and bribing. She still needs to build a lot of stamina, but I can see she has improved steadily over the last few days. She could barely go a minute without stopping, now she can do almost 5 minutes.

I’m feeling particularly down today. A culmination of events at work and outside has left me totally drained.

It has been a very difficult month at work. What is supposed to be a quiet time usually, with many people out on vacation, turned out to be a difficult few weeks. The week that I took off last week did help, but it has been barely four days since that vacation and I’m already feeling in the dumps again.

Dealing with government agencies is very hard, especially in India. No one is answerable to any one and you are at the mercy of the case workers handling your case. They don’t have respect for anyone’s time. Everyone has the attitude that they are doing you a huge favor and you should be indebted to them. There are very few people who get things done, especially without the attitude. They have such fat egos. You literally have to tippy toe around their fragile egos. So, we spent 3 wasted hours at one such office this afternoon. PK had a train to catch @ 7 pm, but we hung around in the corridors of this office from 2 – 5 pm, two kids in tow, who were sleepy, bored and hyper. We have to go back next week again.

Tomorrow is my father-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration in Trichy. The whole family was supposed to go, but we found out just this week that tomorrow is the annual Sports meet at my son’s school. This school doesn’t seem to believe in advance notice and assumes that parents can just appear at the school at the drop of a hat. Everyone seems to hold us prisoners. So, AK and I had to cancel our trip. So, after the afternoon’s fiasco, PK and SK left hurriedly to the train station around 6 pm, hoping they wouldn’t miss the train. They were sad to leave us and go, we were disappointed we couldn’t go and my in-laws are also very disappointed that we aren’t going. There are not that many functions in the immediate family, so I had really been looking forward to going for this. So, it will be just me at the Sports meet tomorrow to watch AK do some martial arts and also receive a medal for second place in running.

All these also mean, I have been away from the office on and off. That is putting additional pressure at work. To de-stress, I’m researching summer vacation options!! Or maybe it is a stupid attempt to escape from reality.

Cruise to the coast

For a while now, I had wanted to do a weekend cycling trip. Although we haven’t done any regular cycling in five months now, even before that, riding through the back roads of Sarjapur/Hosur road every Sunday was getting a bit tedious. So I had been following a couple of companies who do organized weekend trips in various parts of Karnataka and Kerala, through forests, hills and such other soothing scenery. These usually start on Friday night and end late on Sunday night, so we would have to leave the kids with extended family. And since there would be school next day, it would have to be on a long weekend where the Monday was a holiday. Luckily one such opportunity came up last weekend. Monday was a holiday for Onam, so we chose to cruise to the coast with Cycling and More. PK, me and a friend signed up.

But before that wonderful trip, there was a harrowing misadventure. The pick-up location for these rides is a common point near the heart of the city. We had opted to take our own bikes instead of renting (it is hard to find good rental bikes, especially for women, height is an issue). This meant that we had to find a way to transport our bikes from home to the pick-up point. We called around for luggage autos/tempos, but without luck. It was Varamahalakshmi festival and no one would come. So, around 7 pm, the three of us started pedaling in the dark. None of us had experience riding in the night or riding in the city. It was all a terrible combination of conditions – peak Friday evening traffic, semi-lit to completely dark roads and inexperienced riders for those conditions. For a minute I wondered what I had been thinking to even attempt this. After a nerve-wracking 1.5 hrs, we reached the pick-up point. I was already wondering how we would get back home after the ride.

The overnight bus journey to Bhagamandala was uneventful. As with most Indian roads, it was a very bumpy road, so we couldn’t really sleep. We reached around 5 am and checked into the KSTDC hotel at the base of Talakaveri. It was simple and clean accommodation. After a nice hot shower, felt refreshed. There was an optional “expert riders” ride to the top of Talakaveri (8 km uphill). I obviously sat that one out. PK went and turned around after 4 km. Breakfast was ready around 7.45 – Idli, vada, coffee. We started on the trail around 8.30 am. Initially, it felt good to be back on the bicycle after a long break. The scenery was mostly lush green mountains with low hanging clouds. The terrain was mostly rolling hills and so it wasn’t easy or anything. After about 10 km or so, it turned to be mostly downhill for the next 15 kms. But the road was a bit wet and slippery, so at least I was afraid to completely let go. I constantly had my hands on the brakes. Also, the road was extremely bumpy, so despite having shock absorbers my whole body was shaking the entire time I was on the cycle during this stretch. We did take a few breaks since there were almost 10 or so waterfalls right by the road side, each more beautiful than the other. Towards the end of this downhill stretch, on one of the several hairpin bends, our friend took a nasty fall. He hurt both his palms, a cheek and chin. He was bleeding profusely and it took a while to stop. Luckily PK had cotton, dettol and lots of band-aids and was very useful for the several people who fell in that stretch. When we were done with this long down hill stretch, my biceps, shoulders and neck were hurting from the vibrations of the bumpy road. Once we were down all the way and crossed into Kerala, it got pretty warm and humid. Legs were tired, and it was drizzling off and on. Quite a few were getting off and walking their bikes on the uphills. I was determined not to and kept pedaling. But at some point, walking is as fast as pedaling on those slopes, but with less effort, so may be those heroics weren’t worth it after all. The support vehicle passed us and everyone who was behind us had got on to it, so effectively, we were the last ones among the ones still riding. They said another 3 km more to the lunch point and we pedaled on. Was so glad to reach the lunch point, it must have been around 1.30 pm or so. Most people had finished eating and we also finished up hurriedly.

At that point, we were told that about 10 or so (I guess the slowest and least energetic) were planning to ride the support vehicle. The others who intended to cycle all the way had already left before we even started lunch. And we were under pressure to reach Bekal fort before 4.30 pm since that would be the last allowed entry. It didn’t look like we could make that 35 km in less than 2.5 hrs. So we decided to get on the vehicle also, although neither of us were proud of it, I was secretly glad that I could rest my weary body. PK called it the “ride of shame”. It turned out it was the right choice. The drizzle turned into steady rain and the last 10 km or so before Bekal fort was on a highway with heavy traffic, so it didn’t look like an enjoyable ride.

Bekal Fort is a beautiful and relatively unknown place. Apparently main Bollywood songs are shot here. The sea, the beaches and everything was enchanting. But we had to see all this in the rain, so I couldn’t really take any pictures. Would be nice to take the kids there one day. Initially, we had thought that we would cycle the last stretch from Bekal to Kasargod, but the rain was so bad by now that another 10 more got into the vehicle. So the support vehicle made multiple trips on that last 15 km. First the cyclists were dropped off and then they came back for the bicycles. Only about 10 or so very experienced riders rode this last stretch. The hotel in Kasargod was decent (actually, above my expectations but I have very low expectations, especially in small towns). I had to plead hard for hot water because they apparently use solar and considering the weather, there was no hope. After much convincing, he provided about 6 of us or so, a bucket of hot water each. The hot shower was good after the very long 24 hrs!

Day 2

The trip director woke everyone at 5 am, knocking on each of our doors. We were ready and down by 6 am. We started our ride with about three other guys, at around 6.30 am, since we wanted a head start compared to those expert riders, who were not even down yet. The early morning ride was good. The terrain was gentle ups and downs with a few sustained uphills. Around 7.15 or so, we stopped at a roadside tea stall but the coffee and tea were pathetic. We poured those down a gutter and settled for 3 to 4 bananas each. By 8 or so, we reached the designated breakfast point and few others had also come by now. There was no sign of the support vehicle, and we could see an uphill stretch, so everyone felt that it was better to keep going instead of waiting there, since this stretch would be difficult to do after breakfast. Breakfast or not, this stretch was very difficult anyway. Today I didn’t have any qualms about walking my bike a little if I had to, so that’s exactly what I did here. After 3 km or so, the slopes become bearable again and we stopped here. By the time breakfast came to us (8.30 am or so), people had eaten up all the vadas and only idlis were left. There were gentle curses being thrown around by some of the more vocal ones, for those who had devoured more than one vada. I don’t know if it was because we were very hungry, breakfast tasted really yummy, especially the sambar – this coming from me, someone who is not at all a fan of idlis. The ride from here was again rolling hills. Today we were determined to do the entire stretch. PK was riding ahead of me most of the way. I guess he had some new-found resolve and energy. There was a beautiful 6 km downhill full of hairpin bends, which was a lot more enjoyable than the previous day because these roads were smooth, dry and wider. There was one viewpoint where 15 of us had congregated and took some group pictures there. This road reminded us of some roads in White Mountains in New Hampshire – the sound of river flowing near by, birds singing and thick green forest on both sides. The milestone markers kept showing us the remaining distance to Jalsoor. Soon we were in the single digits. About 6 kms or so before Jalsoor, there was a beautiful stream where we spent a lot of time. It was only around 11.15 or so and we were not due back at the end point before 12.30. We took off our shoes and rested our feet, chatted, took pictures and hung out. Some good friendships had formed. The last 6 kms was an uneventful ride. We were the last 5 or 6 to reach. We took off our helmets, gloves and put our luggage on the bus and just joined the rest of the crowd who was chatting.

We were figuring we were ready to leave when the trip director V, noticed one person was missing. No one remembered seeing him and I didn’t even know that name. V called his cell and apparently the guy had a flat and was walking his bicycle. He already had walked 6 kms and was 6 away from the destination! They went in an autorickshaw and brought him back. That was a sort of lesson to me to at least ride with a one or two others who are aware whether you are ahead or behind. There were few stretches where many of us were alone, but not for more than 3 to 4 kms I think. Either we would end up catching up with someone or someone would catch up with us. (I was also wondering if the gentle curses thrown around at breakfast time had come true and asked him how many vadas he had eaten at breakfast. This was a recurring theme as a joke throughout the bus ride back).

Anyway, around 1 pm or a bit later we left Jalsoor and reached Sulya (~10 km) and stopped in a restaurant for lunch. It was the slowest service I have seen. The guy seemed overwhelmed that ~35 people descended suddenly at lunch time. I don’t know if they see that much business even in a week in some of these parts. Lunch was a totally forgettable affair, but the socializing with the rest of the riders was good. We left after lunch at around 3 pm. There was one stop at 6.45 pm in a CCD on the way. We had good coffee and picked up some sandwiches to eat later since there wasn’t going to be a dinner stop (which was a wise decision if we had to reach Bangalore before mid-night). We were back at the Hockey stadium around 11.15 pm and it was pouring. We were running from pillar to post to figure out how to reach home and what to do with the bikes. Luckily another couple from Whitefield had arranged for a tempo and they transported our bikes till our doorstep and we took a cab home. They were really our saviors that night.

Overall, we really enjoyed the trip even though we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the ride completely (even though that was not a fair expectation of ourselves since we are out of shape and have had no cycling practice in 6 months now, but who says expectations have to be fair or logical). It was organized very well – clean and simple accommodations, decent food and the bike transportation logistics were covered very well. And it was great value for money, the trips are priced very economically. Would love to do another one sometime.

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The town of Devarayanadurga seen from the top

On Sunday morning, the agenda was to hike Devarayanadurga. We left around 6.20 am. Traffic wasn’t too bad. We reached Devarayanadurga at about 9 am (this included a 45 minute break ) at Kamat Upachar, just before the Dobbaspet flyover, so it is less than a 2 hour drive from Bangalore. The directions are pretty accurate on the internet and once past Uradigere, there are frequent signs, so you won’t get lost easily.

The weather was pleasant. At the base of the hill, we saw the auto road going up to the Yoganarasimha temple, but we didn’t want to drive up. After looking around, we found the stone steps leading up. After about half hour of climbing up, we saw some cactus plants amidst all the surrounding greenery. The views from here were beautiful. At this point the path was covered with overgrown shrubs and we spent a few minutes exploring alternate paths. When nothing was feasible, we just cleared the overgrown stuff and crouched through, emerging a few meters away into clearer path. Few minutes later we got slightly lost again and didn’t know how to proceed. One person from the group, climbed up on a tall boulder and could see the trail had again been blocked by overgrown plants. After this the trail joins the auto road. At this junction we saw the guest house, it’s a great location and would be nice for an overnight stay. If you continue beyond this point on the auto road itself, you will reach the parking lot for the cars. From here, its less than a 10 minute climb to the temple. The place is full of monkeys, so it was a bit unnerving, but this is a common problem in most places here. The place was crowded. We were very hesitant to visit the temple since no one had showered, but didn’t want to not go in either, since we had come this far. We just went in briefly and came out quickly, not waiting for all the rituals to be done. The path continues up from here to the summit. We climbed up another 10 minutes or so, but by now the kids were tired and hungry and didn’t want to go up all the way (except AK).

Another panoramic view from the top

So we stopped, had sandwiches, took pictures and headed back. Once we reached the parking lot, it was clear that the smallest ones in the group couldn’t climb all the way down. So PK and the other dad in the group took an autorickshaw down to the base and drove our cars up. While driving down we noticed a newer set of stone steps along the auto road. This is probably the newer way to climb up and was all clear, unlike the path we took which was partly covered with overgrown shrubs. But that was more scenic anyway. We were down by 12.45 pm. There are a lot of other places nearby to visit (Namada chilume etc) but since the kids were tired, we just headed back home.


One year later …

It is a year ago today that we landed in Bangalore airport, in the wee hours of the morning. The following few days weeks months were all about the struggle to settle down into life here – school admissions, rental home and then moving to the new move, adjusting to new groups and colleagues at work, getting used to the traffic, congested roads and pollution here. Not to sound all negative – a year later, we are at much more at ease with life here. Not that there aren’t any problems, I wouldn’t know where to start. But it wasn’t that life in the U.S was totally blissful for us. I can quickly summarize what I have liked and disliked so far.

The positive things:

  • We are still able to do the things we enjoy – hiking, biking, swimming etc. Just not possible to do it as often as we used to. Although weather is conducive for outdoor activities much of the year, information is very hard to come by. It is not like there is a lot of information published on the trails or how to locate the trail heads. It involves stopping frequently and asking a lot of the villagers and finding your way. I have also heard from reliable sources that personal safety is an issue (hooliganism,not wildlife), so you should have at least 2-3 families going.
  • The kids enjoy a lot of free play outside. They have a lot more friends in their age range and always have company, so they don’t feel bored. Weather is a factor here too. In the North East U.S (where we lived before relocating here), almost 5 or 6 months in a year, people hibernate indoors because of the severe winter.
  • Probably the #1 reason we moved – the proximity of family. We are able to visit both sides of the family several times a month since they are all local. The kids have developed a bonding with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. We chat several times a week on the phone (vs weekly calls from the U.S) and they are all happy that we are close by.
  • The community where we live has turned out to be excellent. I didn’t know what to expect, but they really make the daily life here bearable. Many are more than just neighbors – we have done movie nights, ladies only get-togethers after dinner and everyone’s kids are in bed etc. This is besides other family activities like picnics, hikes and parties for Holi, New Year etc. Other than that, people here truly care about you and your kids. If a kid from several streets away gets hurt while playing, or someone is missing for a short while, you can see other parents being genuinely concerned and acting on it as if it were their own kid.
  • Back to our culture – the kids are observing traditional celebrations of many of the festivals for the first time. They had a blast during Deepavali, lighting the fireworks. They are seeing other rituals like naming ceremonies, thread ceremonies etc. Even though they are not immersed in following the rituals, there is some awareness. And I like the social aspects of these get-togethers. They are seeing dances like Bharatnatya, hearing Carnatic music etc. They are exposed to more languages here – Kannada, hindi, tamil etc.
  • This is the city I was born and grew up in, so I have a lot of school friends and college friends here. Many were living abroad for several years but have moved back in recent years. I don’t see them as often as I should but it is definitely more than once in a few years!
  • Weather – have I mentioned this before?! Although the summer got unbearably hot for us (nothing that an AC cannot fix), Bangalore is still one of the cooler places compared to Chennai, Hyderabad etc, not to mention North India. One visit to parts of Tamil Nadu in April left me longing for home, sweet home. Other than the scorching 3 months of summer, rest of the year weather is very pleasant. Winter was barely felt here after 10 yrs in the Boston area (We definitely didn’t miss the heating bills!). And I like the monsoons, although it plays havoc with traffic and power supply.
  • Domestic help – Dishes, folding laundry etc are mostly a thing of the past. No more vicious cycle of loading and unloading dishwashers, folding loads and loads of laundry over the weekend. There’s a cook to help out on weekdays, so everyone gets to eat a proper meal instead of the quick fixes I did in the U.S. there are two sides to this story (see the negative side below).
  • These days I’m biking to work. This is probably unique to me and not necessarily a perk of moving to Bangalore. In fact, for most people it is the opposite. Their 20-30 minutes commute times in the U.S have turned to like 2 hr commutes

On the negative side:

  • Probably traffic, congestion and related air pollution ranks as the #1 negative thing. It has all the negative aspects of big cities like New York and L.A (traffic jams, long commute times, impossible to find parking in the city) without many of the positives of those big cities.
  • Because of the above, many people have 2 to 3 hrs of round trip commute to work everyday (for distances of 20 to 40 miles round trip).
  • Because of the above, I’m yet to start driving here. That means a loss of independence. Most people eventually learn, but there are plenty who have just resigned to dependency on drivers or cabs. I need to start soon, lest I never dare attempt. This is was the single most thing I enjoyed on my recent trip to the U.S – to be able to go where I want when I want to go.
  • Infrastructure – Broadband internet is not very reliable . Plenty of water problems in the city.  Although we don’t have power supply disruption issues in our community because of diesel generators as back up, most of the city suffers planned power cuts. Roads are full of pot holes.
  • Dependency on domestic help – they are unreliable. Very often, they don’t show up and they don’t find the need to let you know in advance. If your driver doesn’t show up, or your baby sitter doesn’t show up, you may have to scramble for alternate arrangements at very short notice.
  • There is no concept of customer service in most businesses here. They are bordering on rude with an “I don’t care” attitude. Dealing with banks, mobile phone companies etc is very frustrating.
  • Crowds everywhere – there is no avoiding this and I don’t see a solution. PK described the Indian retail shopping experience as “Take the U.S stores/malls and reduce their size to 1/4 of the original and pack in 4 times the number of people and there you have it”. Check out lines are long, stores don’t run AC, so it is stuffy inside. Movies, malls, amusement parks, restaurants, roads everything is just overflowing with people. Although I don’t see as much smoking in public places as I remember from my childhood, people still spit, dig noses, litter with trash in all the public places.
  • Work hours are definitely longer here – it is not me or my company. It is just the nature of the business. Most people working in hi-tech MNCs have to co-ordinate with other geographies, so late night meetings are an almost daily affair. And this is usually besides the regular time put in office.

PS: I just counted 9 positives and 8 negatives! So I must be happy here :).

Summer 2010

I don’t know where the kids’ summer vacation went. PK may say otherwise, after all he was the official caretaker, but it did go by fast. Here is a summary of what I remember of it:

  • At the beginning in April, we went to Chikmagalur, Belur and Halebid, and that was a good break.
  • The following weekend, we went to Andhiyur (near Erode) in Tamil Nadu. We had been wanting to tonsure AK’s head since we had never done it since his birth and so we chose to do it at PK’s family deity temple. I was worried that his hair is sparse. Whether this was helpful remains to be seen.
  • The weekend after that, I had to travel to the U.S on very short notice on a business trip. I wanted to work on everything that was necessary, before a planned vacation in May. The onward journey was a bit chaotic (because of the volcanic ash problem in Europe). It felt good to be back in the U.S again. The first week I was nervous about driving, so I mainly depended on cabs. But that wasn’t a great experience and there was also shopping I needed to do. The second week I rented a car and enjoyed driving around. Also had better choices for dinner since I was mobile. Got a ton of shopping done (clothes, toys, snacks, junk food, some cereals which are not available here). Flew to the bay area and met some friends. Overall, it was a good trip.
  • After I was back, we went on a camping trip to Conoor/Ooty with my parents and my brother’s family. It was good trip which everyone enjoyed. 
  • After that, the next few weekends have all been about parties/get-togethers. On 28th, we had been to Wonder La with friends and family. Even though it was a Friday, it was crowded. Even then, we had a good time. I was impressed with the cleanliness and the facilities in the park. Much like the U.S parks, only smaller.
  • PK turned 40 in the last week of May. Had a surprise birthday party for him. Most of our good friends were there – altogether including about 50 people including kids.

Had so much planned, but feels like I got very little done … And now the kids are back in school :(.