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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 :(.

Conoor camping trip

In the second week of May, we went on a camping trip to Conoor/Ooty with my parents and my brother’s family. We drove in two cars and the kids had fun. On our way there, we stopped in Mysore for a day. We took the kids to the zoo, visited Chamundi temple on the hill and saw the palace lit by night. The kids would have enjoyed a visit inside the palace, but there was no time for that.

We left Mysore early next morning and drove to Ooty. Beyond Bandipur National Park, it is a beautiful drive. We saw some deer and elephants. The ascent to Ooty thru narrow winding roads was quite breath taking. We even did a small hike to a hill top when we took a break from the driving. The first day at the camp, we just relaxed after the fairly long drive. It was my niece’s birthday, so we bought a cake and had a small celebration. She also distributed toffees to all the campers. Tents and the camping experience were very new to my parents and brother’s family. It was organized by the Youth Hostel and was a decent experience. According to PK, this is luxury camping in many ways – tents are pitched and ready, they provide mattresses, blankets and pillows and food is ready when you need it. One negative was the hot water for showers. Very slow and long lines to get a bucket of barely luke warm water. The bathrooms were clean but were woefully inadequate in number, especially in the mornings. But the best thing was the weather. It was so much cooler than Bangalore and was very pleasant through out our stay.

The next day we drove back to Ooty and did a whole day of sight seeing. We visited Doddabetta first. Again, the drive up is very scenic. It was crowded and finding parking was hard. We didn’t stand in line for the telescope. But the views from the top were awesome. Next stop was Ooty lake. Finding our way here, the 2 cars lost each other and we ended up in different boat houses of the lake (it is a fairly big lake). We were trying to get back together, but weak cell signals, dead batteries etc prevented that. So we each had lunch separately and went on motor boat rides. The lake was quite breath taking – one of the most beautiful I have seen in India and it was very clean too. After that, we found each other and headed to the Botanical garden. This was VERY crowded. By now, everyone was pretty tired too and not in a mood to walk around much. It had been over 40 hours since we had coffee and were desperately looking, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Tea is the most prevalent and was the only thing served at the camp and in most other places. Around 5, we started back to our camp in Conoor. The drive from Ooty to Conoor is very scenic but is also very slow. It takes almost 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic, for the 19 km drive.

Next day was all day sight seeing of Conoor. Conoor is much prettier than Ooty. Main places to see are Lamb’s rock, Dolphin’s nose, Sims park and tea gardens and factories. First stop was Lamb’s rock. The way is not very well marked, and whatever few directions are there have been tampered with by antisocial elements. These guys want to be your “guides”. We reached there, did a small hike, took some pictures. Next stop was going to be Dolphin’s nose. While driving from here, a Swaraj Mazda banged into us and our rear right wheel got tangled with his front right wheel. It was quite an effort to untangle and our bumper tore in the process. It was quite a scary experience. None of us were hurt but the kids and I were sad to see the damage to the car. Since this was on a narrow road with dozens of switch backs we didn’t get to hang around and calm ourselves down, so we continued with the day’s agenda. Dolphin’s nose view point and the drive to get there is absolutely mind-blowing. But parking is a disaster and the very narrow winding roads and the abundance of tourist buses, minivans, taxis makes driving very hazardous in my opinion. So I couldn’t quite fully enjoy the scenery around because of the heart-in-mouth driving experience. We went back to the camp, had lunch, enjoyed the solitude (only our group) and went back again around 5 pm to Sims park. We enjoyed this park much more than the botanical garden. Many different types of flowers/shrubs and there was a huge kids play area. We also enjoyed paddle boating. Outside the park, we finally got the coffee we were all craving for a few days now.

The next 2 days was a light agenda. The kids had wanted to ride the toy train from Conoor to Ooty. We had heard that it would get very crowded, so we went for the very first trip in the morning, at 7.30 am. But this was crowded too because of commuters. And the price difference between general and first class tickets is very huge, so for big groups, it makes a difference. We reached Ooty by 9 and were at a loss for what to do. Because the whole point of the trip was the train ride. Most sights worth seeing in Ooty, we had already seen. And at 9 am, many would just start to open. Reluctantly we went to the rose garden, and were vindicated. The reluctance was totally justified. There were a few varieties of roses, but they were not the healthy, in-full-bloom kinds. They were all wilted and withering and looked pathetic. We must have been there a total of 20 minutes or so. By then the crowds also started streaming in and we promptly made our way towards the exit. We didn’t have the patience to wait around for the train schedule, so we just took a bus back to Conoor. After lunch, we left SK and my niece with mom and went for a walk in the adjacent tea garden. We also visited a working tea factory. It was a good walk and just after we returned, it poured heavily for ½ hr. We made it back just in time.

The next morning, we left early since we had a whole day of driving. We wanted to do a wild life Safari ride on the way. Rides were closed in Mudumalai because of an elephant census and on Bandipur side we reached just past closing time for morning safari rides. We reached Mysore around noon and had a great lunch (jolada rotti oota) at Kamat Madhuvan. We were back home by 5 pm and had the whole weekend to recuperate and catch up on chores around the house.

Summarizing the camping experience:

  • + Availability of blankets, pillows and mattresses were all a big plus. Sleeping bags are not very comfortable to sleep on for 4 nights!
  • + Availability of hot Food and packed lunch facility was a A +, so that we didn’t have to always hunt for decent eateries wherever we were at lunch time.
  • + Bathrooms were clean, even if very basic.
  • – It was bit crowded (~25 families). Smaller group would have been much more enjoyable even if it costs more per family.
  • – The number of bath rooms, buckets and mugs were terrible. There was always a wait for everything.
  • – The hot water for showers – Very slow and long lines to get a bucket of barely luke warm water.
  • – Safety – there were reports of some thefts etc.

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The choices for today were to go to Kemmanagundi and Hebbe falls or drive back to Bangalore and see Belur and Halebeedu on the way. If we did the former, we would have to stay an extra day since the long drive back would not have been possible at the end of a long day of water play. So, we decided on the latter. We checked out after breakfast and hit the road. Took us almost 45 minutes to reach Belur. We directly drove to the temple which is the main attraction here. Brought back memories of my childhood visit. We took a guided tour. I appreciated all the art a lot more now than my previous visits (may be my age?). PK was pretty amazed by it all. That 1000 years ago, when there were no mechanical tools or anything, they have done such precise and symmetrical carvings, is pretty mind-blowing. And all the intricate details in the jewelry, it is almost like paper cuttings, hard to believe it is stone. I was disappointed that the guided tour was pretty brief and hurried. After the temple tour, we stopped at the KSTDC hotel/restaurant for lunch. My main motivation to go here was the space and lack of any other people. And boy, it paid off! The loo was really clean and was a joy to use and take SK to. This is my biggest phobia of travel anywhere, but more so in India. About the food, the lesser said the better.

Then we headed to Halebeedu which is approximately 15 miles from Belur. More jaw dropping sculptures here.  And lot of open space and good landscaping around the temple. We spent about an hour enjoying the place. But it was quite hot and the stone was burning the feet (no socks sellers here! And we were not smart enough to carry ours). The Hoysala lake next to the temple was also very clean unlike other places which are usually littered with trash. Boating was going on, but it was way too hot for that. The kids were pretty tired too, so we started driving home at about 3 pm. Drive was mostly uneventful, except that the last 70 km stretch just killed the joy of the whole trip. The road from Kunigal to Nelamangala was horrible, which we had experienced while going in the opposite direction, but the notoriety rises exponentially at night time. Headlights from opposite side traffic were blinding – lots of gravel and medium size rocks on the road. Anyway, from Nelamangala onwards traffic just stands still or crawls at 5 kmph, so it was quite miserable. Finally reached parents house @ 8.30. Had dinner with family and came home by 11 pm. Another misadventure waited us here …

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Today’s agenda was Mullayanagiri, Bababudangiri and Manikyadhara falls.

Steps to the summit from the parking area

Mullayanagiri is the tallest peak in Karnataka @ 6300 feet. There is an auto road to the summit, which is about 8 km. At the top, you have to park the car and climb up about 400 steps to reach the summit. There is a very quiet and peaceful temple there. The mountain scenery is quitebreath-taking and the weather was awesome. A cool breeze was blowing the entire time we were there. A word about the drive – I don’t think it is me, it is the road. The drive is actually pretty dangerous in my opinion. The road is quite narrow (but I think it is true for all Indian roads, so it is not unusually narrow but after having driven on the wide mountainous roads in the U.S, this is very scary!) There are no guard rails, thus exposing you and the car to sheer drop-offs from the cliffs, which obviously gets worse as you go higher and higher. Every time another car came in the opposite direction, my heart would be in my mouth with a “will we or won’t we” feeling. This was one reason I didn’t completely enjoy the drive. The drive down was relatively relaxing. Next time, it is just better to hire a jeep for the day and leave the driving to the pros.

View from the top

Manikyadhara falls

Manikyadhara falls

Next stop was Manikyadhara falls. This was a total disappointment. If I cry, my flow of tears will probably be a thicker stream than the “thin as a hair strand” thread of water falling. It was quite crowded – apparently a sacred bathing place for muslims. SK was peacefully sleeping in the car, so we didn’t even get out here. We just drove to Baba_Budangiri. After the morning’s experience we were in a dilemma as to whether to do this or not, but we drove on. A couple of kms from the summit we saw very steep inclines which the smaller cars were struggling to climb up but the alternative of a U turn wasn’t simple either. We saw this from a distance and turned right around when the going was still good. We arrived back for a very late lunch. Most guests at the estate seemed to have arrived just then from their various day trips. Because all the 4 or 5 groups staying there were lined up for lunch at 4.15 pm. The evening was spent playing tennis, soccer and what not with the other groups. AK and SK were the only kids. Rest were all couples, bachelors and a mixed group of colleagues. AK was still scared of sleeping in the tree house, but we all slept much better the second night (fewer mosquitoes and kids had better blankets than previous night).

Apr 2nd was a holiday for Good Friday. It also happened to be our 13th wedding anniversary. So, it was time for a trip somewhere. The problem about near-by trips at this time of year is that the weather is terribly hot everywhere around. Trying to take a short trip (with in a 300 km radius) from Bangalore means that you can’t beat the heat. But flying out to far away places for every long weekend is also not practical. So the choices were Coorg and Chikmagalur. We settled on the latter.

It is about 250 km ride to Chikmagalur. We couldn’t start as early as we wanted, but ended up leaving by 8.30 am. We didn’t eat any breakfast because of time constraints and there was nothing appealing at home either. We decided to eat somewhere on the way. It was a big mistake. It took us 2 hrs to get out of Bangalore on to NH 48. Inside Bangalore, it probably makes no difference, holiday or not. The roads are always clogged. Anyway, at 10.30 we were on the highway, but it is such a pathetic one – lots of construction and detours. Absolutely no decent eateries along the way. We finally gave up and just ate some snacks in the car and kept driving. It was lunch time and still no sight of any eating places. We were approaching Shravanabelagola at 12.30 pm. Shravanabelagola is a very important Jain pilgrimage center. We thought surely there must be something here. Boy, were we wrong! But as soon as we got off the car, there were some guys soliciting customers for their home made food. They all call themselves Jain mess and serve home made food in their homes to the visitors. We were not really comfortable with the arrangement, but didn’t have a choice either. We had 700 steps to climb in the afternoon sun and were running on an empty stomach.

View from the top of Vindhyagiri

After lunch, we started climbing up Vindhyagiri, the main hill on top of which is the famous statue of Bahubali. It was about 1.30 pm and the sun was blazing down. The stone steps were scorching! There were a whole bunch of people selling socks since footwear is not allowed. The socks were “one size fits all”, so SK was searing the same size socks as PK 🙂 SK did pretty well given the conditions and complained only when we were almost at the top. There was a cool breeze blowing there which was a huge relief. The kids have no previous exposure to Jainism, so they had questions. I answered as much as I knew and referred them to our very good friends who are Jains. The climb down was uneventful and the round trip took us less than an hour.

At around 3 pm, we started driving towards Chikmagalur. Roads and driving conditions are not easy in India. The 4000+ mile cross country trip in the U.S was such a breeze compared to this 250 km (~150 miles) drive. Many of the NHs (National Highways) are not divided, so opposite side traffic is constantly in your lane for overtaking. Highways are narrow, traffic is chaotic (cars, trucks, buses, two wheelers, auto rickshaws which are three wheelers, bullock carts, you name it!). Anyway, we finally reached our destination around 5.30 pm.

Coffee plants in the estate where we stayed

Our home for the next couple of days was a tree house in the Devigiri Coffee Estate. It was pretty neat and we really enjoyed our stay here. It is in the middle of tall trees, some distance away from the main house and other accommodation. But the kids, especially AK, was scared at night. Not scared like crying, but as night approached he would be lost in his own thoughts, with a worried looking face but too proud to voice his fears. This one didn’t have electricity, so we just had a powerful lantern in case we needed it. After dinner, even the 3 min walk from the dining hall in the pitch darkness was adventurous.

Tree house

Tree house where we stayed

Evenings were spent playing badminton or soccer, but it was a challenge to keep the kids entertained from 6.45 to 8.30 (after sunset and before dinner). They couldn’t play in the dark and there was no TV or other entertainment. Luckily there were some other larger groups with energetic 20 somethings who did play with them, so it was a small break for us. PK’s comment was that the next time we do something like this we should come in a larger group. But it was not for my lack of trying when I planned this. We asked few friends/family and it just didn’t work out.