Travelogue

Sights of ‘The Sundarbans’

I had always longed to go on Forest adventures, jungle safari’s across the national forests and jungles of India. But i haven’t been able to do any due to various reasons, reasons which are more related to planning out the logistics, itinerary, availability of leaves than anything to do with financial viability. Many of these forests reserves and sanctuaries are spread out so far apart from each other, across the length and breadth of the country, it would be very difficult for one to plan an itinerary involving more than one of these at a stretch. It would take you a life-time for you to visit all of these forests.

The stories of Jim corbett and his encounters with the man-eaters, stories of adventures of other hunters have always fascinated me.  Stories of hunters perched upon trees in ambush and waiting for these man-eaters for days together.  Well i cannot afford to be that adventurous, but i just wanted to witness this majestic animal in full glory in it’s home turf.  Hence, when i chanced upon an opportunity which would make a visit to the ‘Sunderbans’ feasible being a part of our regular itinerary, with my wife Sushma,i did not want to miss it.

We had originally planned a trip of visiting Puri – Konark – Chilka lake, and then travel to Calcutta from there overnight for a sight-seeing tour of Calcutta for the next couple of days. However, we had to drop out Chilka lake from our plan and include a day trip to Sunderbans instead.

Photo from our visit to Konark on the previous day.

Photo from our visit to Konark.

There were several excellent reviews of various tour organizers like Tour-de-sunderbans, Sunderbans Chalo (http://sundarbanchalo.com/) in tripadvisor. There were several packages they were offering, ranging from 1-day tour to 2-3 days tour with an home-stay accomodation in Sunderbans overnight. Due to our tight schedule we had to stick on to one-day tour. Tour-de-Sunderbans had some logistical problems in arranging a one-day trip for us since there were less number of people for a day tour on that particular day. However, ‘sunderbans Chalo’ group readily agreed and arranged a day trip for us.

The day prior to our Sunderbans trip, we visited Dakshineshwar Kali temple, Belur math, the Howrah bridge and did some shopping in Esplanade and the area around New Market. Our hotel, ‘The Heera International’ was close to the Park street, right in the heart of the city. It was at a walkable distance from most of the central shopping areas.  The day was eventful, where we got to witness some unique sights of the city which makes it what it is. The metro ride, ultra-modern shopping outlets and restaurants along the park street showcase us the flecks of modernization amidst the narrow crowded streets, the tongawallah’s, compact little city-buses which are more or less just tin boxes with wheels, the trams, old dilipidated victorian buildings along the narrow gullies. Perhaps it is these images of such contrast which makes one love kolkata, the grand old city and the locals swear by their city.

The most memorable experience of the day for me was the boat ride across the Ganges from Dakshineshwar Kali temple to the Belur math. I had heard stories of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa swim across this river in order to worship Kali and i was awestruck as to how he could do it, looking at the magnitude of the breadth of the river.

 

Boat ride along ganges ( Hoogli) from Dakshineshwar to Belur math

Boat ride along ganges ( Hoogli) from Dakshineshwar to Belur math

 

A dog enjoying a swim in the river ... to beat the scorching heat

A dog enjoying a swim in the river … to beat the scorching heat

We settled in our room after a good dinner, which we had ordered to our room itself.  Overall, it was a satisfying and enjoyable day, however i had some apprehensions about the next day: How safe would be the trip to sunderbans, how trustworthy are these organizers and what kind of people would accompany us. My apprehensions were two-fold given that i would be travelling alone with my wife. I gave a call to ‘Sunderbans Chalo’ team and there was some respite. There would probably be one more couple who would be accompanying us on the trip.  This was a welcome news and i had a good nights sleep. I fully hoped that the other couple would not miss out on the trip.

The trip – 31st March 2014

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We woke up early at around 5 AM to get ready. I got a call at around 6 AM from the driver who was waiting for us. It was a green coloured Tata Safari, cozy and comfortable for a group of 4 people. The driver was a decent chap, did not speak much. Once we were in, we set off to pick up our companions for the trip, the second couple, Vipul and his wife. They were staying in an Indian oil guest house, a little far off from the city center. It seems Vipul worked for Indian oil and hence he was put up there. They too, like us, were relieved to see us, happy to know that they were not alone in the trip.

All set and all introductions done, we set off towards Sunderbans, southeast of Kolkata. Our gateway to Sunderbans was supposed to be a village called ‘Gosaba’, the last inhabited village in Sunderbans. However, we could see a few more small villages along the delta.

A few miles after we started from Kolkata, we were in the country-side. The road leading to sunderbans was mostly rough and worn-out in most of the parts with hardly any fully tarred, motorable road in the entire stretch. This is sad that the only accessible road to one of the world’s most famous landscape’s was in such a bad shape.

Sans the road, everything else was amazing.  You’ll see a common landscape all across the stretch until you reach Gosaba. Huts with thatched roof”s, small tables of water in front of each hut, with fields for cultivation alongside these ponds. These small private ponds form a source of water for the fields. These form of huts seem to be typical across the bengal country-side.

Huts of the local fishermen

Huts of the local fishermen

We reached Gosaba at around 10 AM. The gateway to the Sunderbans is not a very welcome sight. If you expect a cozy tourist information center, hotels, line of food stalls, private yachts, luxury boats …etc, you’ll be in for a huge disappointment. Forget any high-end luxury, this place lacks even basic amenities.

A narrow concrete road opposite a parking lot takes you to the dock. There were many steam boats here. We got into a double decker steam boat, hired by the sunderban chalo team for us. We were lucky that not many people were there for the tour on that day. It was just us, two couples, and we had the entire boat for ourselves. The driver came along with us.  They provided a modest breakfast for us in the boat, which consisted of a modest sandwich and banana.

The itinerary for the day was supposed to be as follows: We are three main watch towers in the forest, Sajnekhali, Sudhanyakhali and Dobanki. Dobanki is the farthest and deeper in the forest. We would reach Sajnekhali first, take a permission from the forest officers there and then proceed on-to Sudhanyakhali and later onto Dobanki and back to Gosaba to head back. A guide would accompany us from Sajnekhali. But it so happened, the driver later told us that we will have to miss out Dobanki since we reached Gosaba late, as it would be difficult for us to make it back if we went to Dobanki. He told us, he would instead take us inside into the mangroves into some canals interior, where the water levels are shallow and the chances of sighting a tiger is more.

A map of the Sunderbans

A map of the Sunderbans

Our steam boat and the pier leading to the boat .... at Gosaba

Our steam boat and the pier leading to the boat …. at Gosaba

 

Entrance to Sajnekhali watch tower

Entrance to Sajnekhali watch tower

 

Panorama of the sunderbans

Panorama of the sunderbans

Thus began our steam boat safari. This was my wife’s most favourite part of the trip since it did not involve any walking or running around. She could just sit in the comfort of a soft cushioned chair and enjoy the views around…. he he.  The boat started sailing along: for the first few minutes we were sailing along the banks of the village Gosaba. This gave us a few glimpses of the village life here: children running along the roads on the embankment, villagers commuting in cycles, typical village houses and there is a small boat docked alongside most of these houses.

The livelihood for most of the people along sunderbans is to venture deep into the forest to collect honey.  This is dangerous but this is what most of the villagers do for their bread and butter. There have been many instances of the tigers killing fishermen and honey-collectors here.

The tigers of Sunderbans are man-eaters. They are usually small in size compared to other tigers but are more fierce. There is lack of other animals in these marshy wetlands and hence the tigers have evolved into man-eaters and they often prey upon the villagers and honey collectors here. They are excellent swimmers too. They often swim across these mighty rivers from one island into other and sometimes into the villages. Hence the forest department has placed nets all along the borders of these forests, bordering the villages. You can see these nets along the forests when you are sailing through.

Net's placed along the borders of the forest to prevent tigers from coming into villages.

Net’s placed along the borders of the forest to prevent tigers from coming into villages.

All along these rivers and winding channels, you’ll see a lot of small boats and vessels belonging to fishermen and traders. All the fishing boats are similarly built. They are small, narrow and taper at the ends. Most of these boats have a temporary make-shift kind of shelter, a semicircular cylindrical object placed on the boat so that it can provide shelter. These fishermen and honey collectors, often venture into the forests for days together in search of honey and they carry along food, stove, cooking utensils and other ration along with them. Hence the necessity of these shelters on the boats.

A typical fising boat

A typical fising boat in Sunderbans

After roughly an hour to an hour and half of sailing along the forests and villages, we reached the sajnekhali watch tower. This is also a small forest guards outpost and you would need a permit and a guide accompanying you from here onwards. There is also a small museum here, which displays models of various animals in sunderbans forests, mannequins showing the lifestyle of the villagers along sunderbans ..etc. You get a very beautiful panorama of the sundarbans from the watch tower. The guide accompanied us from here.

Here onwards, the forest became even more dense and the rivers much wider. We started getting actual glimpses of the unique ecosystem of Sunderbans here onwards. We spotted various birds like Egrets, storks and also a few monitor lizards, though we were not very lucky enough to spot tigers in the tiger reserve!!

There were several smaller canals branching out deeper into the forest from the main river. We went into one of the canals branching out, the breadth of the river was much smaller here and the water was supposedly much shallower.

You can see typical images of the mangroves here, with trees having aerial roots all along, marshy land. The banks along the forests were muddy and slippery, and the water levels rising and receding due to tides was evident here.

There were stilt roots and sharp cone roots rising out of the ground all along.

Stilt roots typical to mangroves

Stilt roots typical to mangroves

Narrow winding channels

Narrow winding channels

 

Cone roots typical to mangroves.

Cone roots typical to mangroves.

Muddy flat ground along the river bank.

Muddy flat ground along the river bank.

 

An Egret

An Egret

A stork on the river bank

A stork on the river bank

Some birds on the river bank

Some birds on the river bank

A crane

A crane

A bird

A bird

 

A monitor lizard

A monitor lizard

We wound along many shallow canals inside the forest, lucky enough to see a few birds like Egret’s, stork’s ..etc for a couple of hours. We were hoping to see some crocodile or Ganges and Irrawady Dolphins which are indigenous to this place, but we couldn’t spot any.

It was post noon by this time and we had our lunch. There was a small cabin beneath the deck of the boat, which consisted of a couple of beds, a kitchen and a toilet. It was a nice cozy little place.  There was a cook along with the crew members of the boat. He had cooked some nice vegetarian fare for us. It consisted of rice, Dal, and a couple of different vegetables. The food was very tasty and i thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our next stop in the safari was Sudhanyakhali watch tower. After winding along many more canals, we finally made it to Sudhanyakhali by late noon. There was an abandoned military vessel docked here. There was a board here with all the details of the latest tiger sightings. A tiger was supposedly spotted here in the previous week as per the board. We were not lucky enough to spot any tiger here too. All we could see from the watch tower was yet another Monitor lizard.

After spending a few more minutes in the watch tower here, and in the park adjacent, we filled our bottled of water and header towards the boat again.

Then began the final leg of our safari back towards the Gosaba village. For a couple of hours again, it was the same sight of the mangroves, muddy river banks, trees all along with cone and stilt roots … but not even a slightest hint of a tiger, no matter how far we stretched our eye balls. These sights started getting a little boring to us by now.

Vipul, our companion, started making some animal sounds himself to drive away the boredom and keep us entertained. He said there were better chances of sighting at least a few crocodiles in one of the similar mangroves in somewhere in Orissa.

We sailed along for a couple of more hours and by now we were almost in the edge of the forest and some villages started becoming visible. Our guide got down in one of these villages along the way and we bade him good-bye and continued our journey.

From inside the boat cabin

From inside the boat cabin

We sailed for another hour before we reached Gosaba. There were evidence of severe tides this place experiences, from the sight of loose mud  walls almost cracking all along the river. We reached Gosaba, and by this time, the sun was almost setting in the Sunderbans.

We bade good-bye to this place heavy heartedly with all hopes that we would come back to enjoy this place once again, and hoping even more that we are able to spot a tiger at-least then!!! 🙂

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The Kudremukh expedition

Preface
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I had a few vague memories of this place: of our trip to South Canara way back 12 years ago. But these were such strong images that one wouldn’t be able to delete from one’s memory so easily. A highway passing right on top of the mountain ranges with light green, moist, sloping grasslands on either side of the road. Patches of Shola forests at a distance forming darker shades of green. Right when your senses are completely dipped and soaked in all shades of green, your mind is jolted by a sudden contrast in colours. A sudden contrast in the landscape, which you wouldn’t expect.

An abandoned, ghostly township, right in the centre of the thick rain-forests. Huge mines, a large factory, rusted machinery, large industrial conveyor belts, railway lines to transport industry goods, an eerie silence with no humans around save a few security guards, who are watching over whatever is left of the wreck. Welcome to the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company. A huge mole on a beautiful countenance of these forests. How vicious must be the hearts of those men who thought of mining these hills for their own greed. On the flip-side, if there is an argument that these mines provided employment and empowered the locals, one would wonder how many locals were employed by this organization undertaken by the central government when even the security guards here were outsiders.

Hmm .. let’s leave this to perception, I’m now sketching my Kudremukh trekking experience in the following paragraphs.

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The highway along the Kudremukh ranges.

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The kudremukh grasslands ..

Day 1(7th Nov 2014):
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Our itinerary for this expedition was as usual, over a week-end cramped between our busy work schedules and as usual, the nut-cases who were undertaking this expedition were myself, Jatin, Rohit, Preetam, Nagesh, Raghavendra and the kid in our gang, Aashit( Nagesh’s nephew ). We set off in a Qualis hired by us, and the owner of the Qualis Mr. Satish, was a decent chap, save a few instances where he lost his cool when the cashiers at toll booth took their own sweet time to give change for the toll charge. Murphy’s laws seemed to work perfectly here, whichever lane we took in every toll booth seemed to take the longest time to clear. The fact that he was the owner of the vehicle was a respite to us since he drove very carefully and gently throughout the trip.

The first leg of our journey was fun-filled, with all of us poking jokes at each other. Nagesh, compelled to being a little tight-lipped, just being a little extra careful so that he does not mouth any unwanted dialogues, thanks to the presence of his dear nephew. But he couldn’t help being a laughing stock, thanks to some of his dialogues that came out un-intentionally: Red light reflectors on the high way – danger zone( Don’t worry reader … only we understand the context of it.)

We took a break at the very famous Kottigehara junction ( I would take the liberty of calling it Neer-Dosa capital of Karnatka). The Neer-Dosa’s here are some of the best and we gulped down 7-8 neer-dosa’s in no time. After spending a few more minutes here, we set off again towards our destination. I was squashed in the middle seat of the car, with Rohit and Jatin sitting on either side of me, i wasn’t that lucky enough so that i could put my head on someone’s shoulder and sweetly snooze off…he he. I was too drowsy to realize how much time we took to reach the Balagal junction, where the mud-road towards the Mullodi village, which is the starting point for the trek, begins.

Day 2(8th Nov 2014):

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This was the most eventful day of our trip and the day of our actual trek. We reached Balagal at around 6.30 AM on this day. While most people prefer taking a jeep ride to cover this stretch from Balagal to Mullodi, we being an extraordinary group of hard-core trekkers, chose to walk this distance instead. But this in a way turned out to be a good decision: there were several small streams flowing amidst coffee and arecanut plantations on either side of the road. The sight of these streams were a joy for us, not because we could play out there, but just that this provided an ideal spot to perform our daily rites.
Rohit dashed off immediately to the very first stream he saw and showed us how to do it … we followed him …. he he…. please don’t take it literally, i meant he just led us by example. He also whole-heartedly donated his water bottle to do the post performance ritual. I felt it rather much easier doing it in flowing water rather than using a bottle .. he he.

Hmmm, all lighter vein apart, now coming to some serious notes, we continued our walk towards Mullodi along the kachha road. Jatin and Raghavendra who did not prefer on doing the community ritual found yet another small waterfall alongside to brush their teeth. Once done, a few more minutes of walk along the craters of the winding mud road led us to Mullodi. The first house you get in Mullodi is the house of Mr.Sathish, who provides homestay and guide facilities for all those venture out here. We struck a good deal inclusive of guide, forest entry fee, food and homestay facilities with Mr Sathish.

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The entrance to the mud-road at the balagal junction

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One of the streams along balagal-mullodi road where we brushed our teeth …..

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Our homestay..

Yet another up-hill stretch was visible from here. The herd of trekkers ahead of us seemed like a trail of ants creeping along. The up-hill stretch after Lobo’s house took us around 40 minutes to climb, immediately after which we get the very famous Onti-mara ( lonely tree) spot. You could say this is almost the mid-point of the trek. I was feeling happy thinking that i had completed some of the most treacherous parts of the trek, but was disappointed after our guide told us that we hadn’t seen anything as yet.

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The Kudremukh Peak at a distance …

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The Gang at the open field near Lobo’s house … the peak in the background.

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The first stretch of the trek …. path with all rocks and stones strewn around

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The onti-mara spot

The next leg of the trek for another around 4 kms consisted of flat grasslands, with some streams and valleys to cross. The view along this stretch is awesome, as you can see several peaks from here, with endless expanse of greenery, with varoius hues of green. You finally cross a valley to get into the hill which actually consists of the Kudremukh peak. The climb here become absolutely difficult and very steep. By this time we had over-taken many of the trekkers who were ahead of us. This stretch is a steep climb of almost around 60 degrees elevation for about a km. Many people preferred to return back from this point, having had a sense of achievement of reaching until here. We were determined to go ahead. Rohit and I were the first to reach the top of this hill. There was yet another trek of around 2 kms from here along the edge of the hill until the peak, which was almost level, with a small up-hill climb as we near the peak.
After having some peanuts offered by Rohit, we proceeded further. We did not want to wait for the rest of our gang who were way behind us.

There is a Church here built by the British here, which is now in a completely dilipidated state. We wondered how they managed to transport all the material and built a church at such a place. Our guide informed us that they managed to trasport all the construction material using horses.

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The peak

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The dilipidated church close to the peak

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The last steep climb of the trek

At almost the fag end of the trek, just before the last uphill stretch to the peak, there is a small stream. I and Rohit decided to rest a little here, this is when Rohit realized that he had lost his phone. He felt that it could fallen down at the place where we took rest and ate peanuts. He handed over all his stuff to me and started walking back to that spot.

In the mean-time i climbed up the last stretch and managed to be the first person in our group to complete the trek. The view from here was amazing the feeling was surreal. We were among the clouds. With this trek, i had managed to complete some of the biggest treks in Karnataka.

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The last mile in the trek.

The others followed a few minuted later. Rohit had finally managed to find his phone at the same spot. We all sat on a rock along the cliff. There was no way for us to tell what was beyond this cliff. We didn’t even dare to stretch our neck and look beyond the rock we were sitting upon, which was almost on the edge of the cliff.

The rock on the edge of the cliff in the peak where we sat.

The rock on the edge of the cliff in the peak where we sat.

The climb down-hill was much easier. We did not take much breaks since we were afraid it might become dark until we reached the village below. We just took a small break at the onti-mara spot where we chatted for a while and as usual making fun of each other. Preetham dashed ahead of all of us since he had to head back to bangalore tonight itself and he also had plans of taking a dip at the Mullodi falls.

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The Mullodi Falls

After the onti-mara break, we walked like mad until Mullodi village without taking any break. A piping hot cup of tea and some hot Bajji’s, we couldn’t have asked for anything more after such a hard trek non-stop downhill!

Mr Satish's house

Mr Satish’s house

Jatin gave is this crazy idea of doing another trek to Gangamoola next day. But, i guess that wasn’t a right time for proposing such an idea, when none of us could even feel our legs after such a hard day’s trek. When we reached our homestay, to our surprise, Preetham was still here, feasting upon his chicken and fish meal. He wouldn’t have missed this for anything, even the risk of missing his bus back home. After completing his feast and packing a bag full of red chilles for dowry, Preetham sought his way back in dark along the mud road towards Balagal, all alone in the night. After chit-chatting for somtime with the members of the family, a hot water bath, in a dimly lit mud walled bathroom with a huge oven placed in a corner, it felt like heaven. We played a game of UNO for sometime after bathing and the dinner was ready for us this time. After a sumptuous dinner along a camp-fire, we called it a day. None of us remember when we dozed off after we went and crashed into our beds.

Bheemeshwari Bike Expedition

The HooligansThe beginning
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Excitement unbound, elated feelings tore a ligament of my back the previous night. After Organizing the expedition, over-hauling my 125 cc beauty and sending across a beautiful invitation, with all Do’s and Dont’s included, me staying out of it was highly impossible. A bottle of IODEX and three buckets full of hot water for bath was all it took me to tone back to normalcy. This was a prelude to the trip from my side, but there was more to come. Each one had to give in their own contribution.

I tried hard to douse away, but in vain…sleep being dragged between my right buttock and my brain. I got up from my ‘awakening’ reluctantly trying not to ‘try sleeping’ anymore. After a quick alarm call to Suneel and Ashish (Both were ‘talli’ from previous night’s party I suppose),i left to Vijayanagar. God knows why i went there!!!Initially there were to be three bikes including mine and six of us and i had to pick up one(Naveen), But since one biker(Arvind) dropped out and yet another (Dev darshan) got an RX135 from a third person (Gopi) who was a friend of Nandish and thus there was no necessity of me going to Vijaynagar since there were three bikes for five !@##$#$. (Confused…!!!Well even i got my Maths wrong!!!). 30 minutes wait and 3 phone calls is what it took for Neeraj and Naveen to come over to the spot i was waiting for. But how can the royalty come before or even along the convoy. Prince DevDarshan and his princess Nandish were pushing their royal Chariot and coming along. Her highness’ counsel was kind enough not to tell that there was no petrol in the bike. Yet another waiting session; the chill of December causes me to dehydrate very often. I went searching for a right place to pee and Lo… behold… the royalty arrives.(I suppose this happens with everyone always… you go to pee and train arrives right at that exact time).

I had assured Ashish we would be there at 6’0 Clock, he challenged me we wouldn’t make it before seven and we managed to reach there by 7.30, after picking Brijesh. Suneel bestowed honour upon us with some of his usual pack of uncensored words(F#$k u, U$lu ke P#$%te…etc). But then there was no time to be wasted and we started immediately towards Kanakpura, filling petrol en-route and me bumping against Manish in the petrol
bunk. Suneel and Selva swamy (Referring him as swamy since he is going to Sabarimala!!!) being the senior-most tried to be the Patriarchs(or i thought so.) and made us all go front while they themselves were in a slower pace behind on a ‘Pulsar'(just like a mother Duck overlooking a flock of ducklings ahead of it). Little did i realize until they were really far behind that a round of ‘Sutta’ was the real reason for them to stay behind. We had a Photo-Session while waiting for the ‘Patriarchs’. Nandish’s long aspiration to take a photo of him riding a bike (but it’s a highly publicized secret that the stand of the bike was on) and me sitting behind him was like a Scene in ‘PremaLoka’ where Ravichandran teaches Juhi Chawla how to ride a bike(for die-hard Kannada film fans).

Nandi - Kiran

at KanakaPura
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We decided to have the break-fast at Kanakapura unless which our ‘Adam’ selva swamy wouldn’t let us go any further. We missed an average looking hotel and stopped at a petty hotel which looked more like a local barber shop. The owner promised us the best of the food ( He had an incredibly quiet a long menu for a hotel in such a pathetic state…Idli, Vada, Dosa-all kinds, Rice bath, Chow-chow bath…etc). We all went inside this hotel, washed our faces and finally decided to go back to the one seen earlier. The owner sat there staring at us open-mouthed wondering where he faltered. We were going around like a group of hooligans for ‘hafta vasool’. Amidst all this i forgot that i had Brijesh behind me and left without picking him. I had to go back to pick him up (It seems he was buying some bananas, i never got to eat any of them). Finally we fed ourselves in the hotel, created some hullabaloo there and some vain attempts to cover a few damsels sitting behind us in our photographs.

at the venue
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Once the break-fast and the chai-cum-Sutta session was over, we were on our way to Sathnur immediately. Dev’s RX135 had already drunk 5 Litres of Petrol. This delayed them a little. Me, Suneel and Ashish went way ahead and reached Sangam finally after treading across a few villages, mountains and a few sloppy roads. Doubting whether the others would make to this place, we were relieved to see that they arrived quiet early.

We crossed the river barefoot and had to further our journey by a Bus( I take the liberty of calling it a bus since it qualified for being so, 4 wheels, 1 engine,1 steering and a body) and 300 Rs for the luxurious journey, paid by Suneel(By the way, Suneel paid for the Break-fast also). We reached meke-Datu, yet another photo-session, with all possible funny poses. Me, Selva Swamy, Naveen and Brijesh tested our rock-climbing skills, got into the steepest part and very closer to the gushing water, took some photographs to display our heroics back home. Selva Swamy was so excited that he would have almost jumped into the water.

The Dakota Express

Once back to the restaurant in Sangam, where we had started off, we had our Lunch, as light as possible. Selva Swamy was insisting on having curd-rice also. We tried convincing him ‘Muthathi’ en-route B’shwari was famous for Curd-rice (This time, Suneel was careful enough not to pay the bill himself). We quickly set off to Bheemeshwari, a misguided ride of 4 Kms through a rough forest terrain seemed like a moto-cross race. Though misguided, this was one of the best stretches of our ride. A fruitless persuasion of a Guard at a Check-point, back by the same track.

We took a By-pass to Bheemeshwari while coming back from Sangam rather than going back all the way to Sathnur. The stretch between this by-pass and Muthathi was one of the Best. We were flying low on our bikes. A small argument with a person who claimed he had the Gram-Panchayat contract to collect a toll for the maintenance of the road. He went on supporting his claim for being the authorized contract from the Government for collecting the toll while our friends understood nothing. This reminded me of the episode of Malgudi Days ‘A horse and two Goats’.

An early winter Dusk, made an excellent time for spending an hour or so on the banks of Cauvery. This setting cured all the fatigue of the long bike ride. The crocodiles did not seem to have any interest in playing host to us nor did we spot any fishes large enough to accommodate any of our fish eating friends.

The Departure
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Riding at a Avg speed of 60, slowing down at the glaring headlights of the approaching Trucks and Buses, which temporarily blinds us, my Hero Honda managed to keep in pace with the Pulsar, Unicorn and the Apache.(Discover makes no difference.) A convoy, one
in the front and one at back had always had to be there for Yamaha, for it had neither the Head-lights which never lit bright enough atleast to show a trace of the road nor the indicators or Break-lights to indicate it’s movement.

A few stops here and there, a few Suttas, filling petrol on way back, a ghostly Banyan tree near the petrol bunk were captured by our candid cameras on way back home. We reached Bangalore at around 10 PM, managing to overtake a contentious Lorry driver, who would not let us go ahead, bid farewell to each other.

Once back home I realized the irony, “A days adventure had cured all the back-pain i experienced the previous night!!!”.

Wonder La..!!

We do not know, for how long we are going to be together,
but this short period of togetherness has brought in memories
long enough to cherish throughout our lifetime.

May be we did not speak much with each other,
did not spend much time with each other,
but there is something which imbibes a
sense of togetherness amongst us.

Let this feeling flow throughout our hearts forever,
for they bond us together to eternity.
Let these memories stay in our hearts forever,
for they bring Solace to our mind
in times of loneliness.

Scene 1 (At my home):

It was morning 7’O clock. My mother woke me up reminding that i was supposed to go for Wonder La today. Yuppie… Wonder La… not to work. Suddenly some kind of energy imploded in me. It was a very energetic morning for me, after a very long time. The very thought of going to Wonder La had bought suddenly in an unknown energy into me. It was not those usual, dull mornings wherein i would lazily drag myself to getting ready to go to office.(Wow… i couldn’t believe i got up so early, it had been months since i got up at 7’O clock, last was when i used to go for French class).

Scene 2(At Vijayanagar Main Bus stand, IndraPrastha):

Neeraj had asked all of us to come to ‘Indra Prastha’ at ‘SHARP’ 9’0 Clock. ‘SHARP’ness implies different meanings to different people, it was so even with us. For me SHARPness of time implicitly meant not a minute more or less than farther the SHARP time. Anywayz, I was at 9.15 there. Rajesh (Motte, our restroom incident has become world famous amongst all our friends, may be we’ve got used to the American connotations by now), Dev( our 96 KG, lightweight friend, I’m proud of the fact that i took him doubles on my bike), Nandish ( Seemed to have drunk a lot of Sugarcane juice…he was full of energy), Naveen (Thamma, he’s getting married very soon) and Madhuri (the most calm, yet bravest girl amongst the lot, she dared to come for the rides which even some guys stayed away from) were already there, with another guy called Arpan.

I was welcomed with huge yelling. The very great, punctilious Neeraj who had fixed the appointment himself was missing. I was told that he had gone to ATM to draw money. But it seemed as if was drawing money forever. God knows how much money he had in his account( But…hey…he gets the same salary as i do…!!!). Naveen (After Dr Rajkumar passed away, he has taken the responsibility to be Karnataka’s Anna, referred so from now onwards), had gone to his Doddamma’s house to get his bike, it seems he had kept it there ( Now, i can’t imagine how his Doddamma rode a 150 CC Unicorn… very Maverick, i suppose) and Rajgopal was still near Corporation (I think he was arguing with Bangalore Mayor over the BMIC Issue).

The Love-Birds Arvind and JaiShankar (After VishnuVardhan’s retirement, this one’s going to take is place, he’s practicing hitting people with left-hand from now only) arrived after some time. Shoba and Shuba(My way of defining her: A hyper-exaggerated specimen of Indian women) arrived a little later. Nandish and Arvind started their usual Fracas in their ‘SLUM’ language and went away to eat Idly-vada at Indra Prastha. We thought that some of us leave first in order to get ticket. So me and Jaishankar in my bike, Rajesh and Madhuri in their 350 CC TVS SUPER( Really a superb vehicle, it was steady as ever even at a speed of 70’s), Neeraj and Shuba(In Neeraj’s Newly wedded bike, Apache 150 CC) and Dev along with Shoba started off. Thus our journney began. It was totally 13 of us to go to Wonder La.

Scene 3( At the Wonder La Entrance):

We decided to go through Nagarbhavi Main Rd, then Outer Ring Rd which connects to Mysore Rd Via Kengeri. We started Off and Rajesh was ahead of all of us. Neeraj Rd his new bike as if he was celebrating first night with his Wife… very gently and carefully. I managed to overtake Rajesh, but the very strong and daring TVS kept in pace with my bike. Jai did not speak much during our ride till Kengeri. I understood the reason for this, he desperately wanted to piss, it had become very urgent for him. He asked me to stop somewhere. But i thought we’d reach Wonder LA and do the jobs all at once. But a phone call by Shoba asking us to stop since we had gone very far ahead was a nice excuse for him. I had to deliberately stop and even i joined him in pissing. In the mean-time neeraj and Dev over-took us, but i again managed to be the first one to reach Wonder La.

At last here we were… the Final Destination. Now we started collecting money for the tickets. Some of us had to put in extra since few of friends were yet to come. We got the tickets very easily, it was not much crowded since it was a weekday. After buying the tickets we me rajesh decided to get some eatables to take inside. We brought few bottles of Pepsi and a few chips packets. But later we came to know of the fact that they were not allowed inside. But we managed to convince the guard at the gate to take it inside. Once all our friends came we went inside the park.

Scene 4(Inside Wonder La):

Once Inside Wonder La we directly went to the Changing room. We took 3 lockers and kept all our bags and baggages there and started towards the games. Once outside the Changing room, we had to wait for the girls to come. They took their own sweet time. We were wondering if they were just changing their dress to play around or getting ready for a beauty pageant. After a arduous wait of 30 mins, we were finally lucky enough to get the ‘darshan’ of their faces(One wouldn’t wait so long for Thirupathi thimmappa’s laddu also).

I do not remember the names of the rides, but each one was very exciting in it’s own way. The first was, the one which had a single row of seats and this one would be oscillated to and fro. The Drop zone was not much exciting, we all booed at it. The scariest one was the Y scream. This rotated us up and down, left and right, we were thrown around like dolls. I can’t remember Shuba coming to any of the rides. She was scared like a hell. She acted as if she would never come back alive once she came into these rides. But Madhuri and Shoba were quite sportive, they enjoyed all the rides.

I never thought Anna was such a scare-crow. He is a total disgrace to his name. He stayed away from most of the rides. Shuba was far better than him.

We had most of the fun in water-games, especially the water pipes and slides. The water game in which we have to lie down on our backs and slide down was most exciting. Rajesh was unbeatable in this, since he was the heaviest amongst all of us he was the first to reach the base. The tidal waves were not that exciting. But people went mad over it. I wondered what fun is there in just jumping around when wave comes across. Moreover it used to get crowded. We missed the Virtual Reality theatre since we were not allowed to go inside wet. Only me, Anna, Arvind and Nandish managed to go the Giant Wheel. They operated it just for the four of us, that too twice. There was one small roller-coaster ride for children, Nandish enjoyed it the most.

Scene 5: ( The final moments)

Overall, the day was most enjoyable, except one event, that would have marred the revelry badly. Neeraj had lost his bike keys. He had dropped it at the parking place by mistake. He was so much involved in the fun and frolic that he did not realise he dropped his bike key until the very end when we were getting ready to pack up and set back to home. He enquired in the ‘Lost & Found’ Dept and luckily for him, the guard had collected the key from the place where he had dropped and kept it with him safely. After much of pampering and interrogation of Neeraj, did he give back the keys.

At around 6.30 PM slight drizzle started to pour. Entire Wonder La was lighted to it’s glory. People were enjoying the games in the rain too. We settled down for some Snacks and Tea. Finally at around 7’O Clock, the shutters were coming down and Life started oozing out of Wonder La. Same with us. The Rain god seemed to have pacified a little. It was time to say Good Bye. It was a heavy-hearted exit from Wonder La.

Our celebrations of “First year of Entry into the Company” very far far away from the company had come to an End. We started towards our homes. RajGopal behind me, the journey back seemed endless. The raindrops splattering on my face seemed to ridicule me. It seemed to to have a message for me:” How you mortals find happiness in such funny ways, being thrown around by Robotic arms, finding pleasure in scaring youselves, drenching yourselves in artificial pools. You’ve meticulously manipulated the way you live to suit whatever you’ve created. Come unto me and see what’s life….”. This seemed to be a prologue for our next jouney.

I would like to end my travelogue with the following words:

“Memories are much sweeter than the events; dreams are more exciting than reality.”