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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).

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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.

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Day 13: Arrived, at last

Thu, June 18, 2009

Today was another day of constant driving. Our initial plan was to go to Lake Tahoe and spend a night there. That would break the monotony of two full days of driving, but after so many days on the road, we just wanted to reach CA. So we drove endlessly again. The kids did great. There were just two breaks again – one for lunch (at an Indian restaurant in Reno) and another for coffee/snacks around 4.30 pm. While in Reno, I did some desperate shopping in a strip mall, trying to use up some of the gift cards I had accumulated (Barnes and Noble, TJ Maxx etc). Wasn’t a pleasant experience – it was too hot, the kids were tired and cranky and I was forced to shop in a hurry.

Driving through NV was a breeze since the roads were empty. As soon as we entered CA, it got nasty. First there was some road work on the interstate, so only one lane was open. We crawled for what seemed like eternity. By the time we hit Sacramento, it was full blown rush hour traffic. Since we could use the car pool lane, it was manageable.

I was so glad to be in my friend’s home in San Jose. After so many days on the road, it was really nice to be in a house, eat home made food etc.

Miles driven today: 541

States: NV, CA

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Tue, June 16, 2009

Today’s plan was to go to Jenny lake, hike one of the trails and an activity on the lake. Weather was never great through out the trip, but it was particularly bad in South Dakota and Wyoming. Just cloudy, drizzly, foggy …

I had read and heard a whole bunch about Jenny lake and was eager to get there. We drove there quite early in the morning. There were no crowds. I had done some research on some hiking possibilities and we had decided on Inspiration point as the destination. There are two ways to do this hike. The longer way is that you walk along the shore of the lake from the visitor center for about 2 miles and then climb up to Inspiration point (1 mile). Or you can take a boat ride to the trail head and cut out the walk along the shore. Since SK was only 3.5 yrs, a 6 mile hike would have been too much for her, so we had decided to take the boat ride to the trail head. It’s a short 10 minute ride on calm waters with awesome views of the mountains.

Inspiration point - Jenny lake in the background

There were a good number of hikers and we started climbing up. After passing by a creek, at around ½ mile, is the hidden falls. But I could just catch a glimpse through dense trees and didn’t find any good viewing platform for the falls. We continued on to Inspiration point. The hike continues on into a Canyon, but we stopped here and enjoyed the views.

On our way back, I was curious if we could catch a better view of the Hidden falls. We had to look around quite a bit and we finally spotted some hikers coming from another path. And they asked us to go a few meters further up to catch a better view. Here we could see the full height of the falls and it was quite pretty. But hanging around there was difficult since the ground was very slushy and it was crowded too. So after a few pictures, we walked down to the boat dock and rode back. A better description of this hike (done by someone else) is here, complete with pictures.

Hidden falls

After lunch, we looked at something to do on the lake. There were no speed boats or kayaks here, so it had to be canoeing. PK is ok with kayaking, but in the past, when ever the conversation turned to canoeing, he would become resistant. But today the kids were eager to do something anything on the water, he agreed. Overall, all of us enjoyed the experience. When the boats across the lake came, the wake used to rock us a lot and that was a bit scary, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. At one point, it looked like PK was more worried about all the expensive stuff we had (HD camcorder, camera, 2 blackberries etc) than us! I think the best views of the mountains were from inside this lake.

After this we wanted to go up Signal mountain on the auto road. On the way from the Jenny lake center to Signal mountain, there were a line of cars pulled over by the roadside, so we joined the party. Turned out, there was a black bear cub limping about. Seems to have hurt one of his legs and he was hovering in that vicinity. Signal mountain road was a scenic drive and very nice views at the top – the lakes, the mountains, the park, Snake river …. But the mosquitoes and other insects there were very bothersome. So we didn’t stay for very long.

On our drive back, another car flagged us down about half way through the mountain. A cyclist who was going down had fallen and injured himself and there was problem with the bicycle too. The car which flagged us down was a sedan with an elderly couple inside. They wanted to help the cyclist but couldn’t fit both him and the bicycle in their car. So they wanted us to go along. Our SUV was stuffed to the brim (from stuff for the road trip and our India luggage) and there was barely room for a cat inside. We cleared out a few things and the kids squished themselves and he somehow squeezed in the backseat. He had to be dropped back to Jackson, WY (almost 50 miles away), in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I wasn’t too happy initially, but you gotta do the right thing, so we did. We had to exit the park, pass by the Jackson airport and reached Jackson in about an hour. Jackson is a charming city and I regretted that we didn’t get to spend any time there at all.

The cyclist turned out to be an interesting kid, in his teens. He was from Netherlands and on a 2 month trip to the U.S and was doing a cross-country trip. He was mainly taking public transportation between cities/points of interest, staying in hostels and doing local touring by bicycle. He had started in the east coast and gone to similar places we had (by bus or train). Everyone enjoyed the conversation and AK seemed in awe of that kid’s adventures. After dropping him off, it was a quiet ride back to the cabin.

Miles driven today:126

States: WY

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Mon, Jun 15, 2009

This was our last day in Yellowstone.  To start off, we drove on the South Rim Drive. Undeniably, the highlight of this part of the park is the Artist’s point. A postcard perfect spot to catch the Lower falls and the Yellowstone canyon! We wanted to hike down Uncle Tom’s trail but it had still not opened for the season. That was a disappointment since the viewing platforms on this trail are supposed to give the closest view of the falls.

We were done by mid-morning and we started driving down towards Grand Teton National Park. A milestone we passed through was the continental divide. The drive itself was short and soon enough we were in Grand Teton. We chose a picnic table by the Jackson lake with a view of the Tetons.

As far as accommodations were concerned, we had not made any advance reservations here before we left home, because our plan was to camp and the lady had said it was very early in the season and campgrounds would be pretty empty, so no need for reservations. But after the Yellowstone experience, no one was in the mood for another two freezing nights in the outdoors. So we went and checked into log cabins at the Colter Bay Village. The cabins were good and SK was pretty excited that there was a bathroom and a TV!

We went back near the marina to see if we could catch a ride on the speed boats. But it was quite expensive and rides were closing for the day in a few minutes, so we didn’t want to be hurried. We ditched that and took a small walk along the lake shore. Beautiful views …

Artist's point

I liked Grand Teton a lot. I’ve visited so many parks, many of them quite unique and beautiful, but somehow the small parks always impress me. Usually the parks are so big that even after a four-day stay, I leave with the feeling that I couldn’t do everything that I wanted. But the advantages of these smaller gems are that they are quite beautiful too, less crowded and in a 2-3 day stay, you get to see and do a lot more. I remember liking Zion National Park for similar reasons.

Miles driven today: 120

States: WY

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Day 9: More Yellowstone

Sun, Jun 14, 2009

Last night was far more peaceful. I think the two layers of pajamas made all the difference. We decided to drive north to the Mammoth Springs area. Here we saw the living quarters of the park staff. Looked like a nice residential area. From the top of mammoth springs itself, we got beautiful views of the town and the surrounding area. There was not a lot of water, but this one has unique geographic formations. The water was pretty hot to the touch. We walked on those boardwalk trails for a bit.

After that we drove to the Norris Geyser Basin. There was a ranger walk starting and we joined. The trail was very nice with some active small geysers and some were pretty colorful too. We came back early and caught up on laundry and just relaxed the rest of the evening.

Miles drive today: 102

States: WY

Mammoth Hot Springs

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Sat, Jun 13, 2009

Last night was a nightmare. We had expected it to be cold and were reasonably prepared, but didn’t think it would be in the 30s. We froze. The tent didn’t let any rain water seep in, but just the moisture in the air had dampened the insides. We had good comforters, but our heads, noses, ears etc were exposed. Sometime in the night, 3.5 yr old SK declared, “this is sooo not fun”.

But once it was past 9 in the morning, it became much more bearable. The shower facilities were awesome. After a nice hot shower, we set out to explore Yellowstone NP. We love NPs but Yellowstone is really unique. We drove on the North Rim drive and saw the Upper and Lower Yellowstone falls. The Canyon was pretty amazing too. Later in the day we saw the spectacular eruptions of several geysers, the Great Fountain Geyser being the best of them. It was almost an hour’s show. The sheer volume of water, the height to which it erupted and the duration of the eruption, it all came together for a one of a kind of experience. Later we drove to Old faithful and watched it erupt too. But after the Great Fountain Geyser, I was not at all impressed by Old faithful. There was just too much mist and dense fog to realize what was going on. But the visitor center was fabulous and we enjoyed some hot coffee and snacks there, which was perfect for the drippy weather.

On the drive back, there was only one thought on my mind – to see if we could get any sort of room for the night. It being the weekend, chances were slim, but I hoped a basic room may be available. When we checked at the reception, they had nothing open and the nearest place which had any availability was the Old faithful Inn and that too, only the pricey, exclusive suites. I confirmed with her that it was ok to get in the car and run the engine in the night, if it got too cold. With peace of mind that we had a plan B and wearing two layers of pajamas, we went to bed.

Miles driven today: 145

States: WY

Lower falls

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