Since the time I have been back in Bangalore, I have had the chance to travel more – both closer to and farther from home. Travel has been largely an intellectual passion of mine, another something about which I used to fantasise a lot. But, things have changed and in the last 5 months, I got a chance to use my passport for the first time, visited some beautiful lakes in Bengalooru and took two successive trips through the beautiful sanctuaries south of Mysore – Bandipur, BR Hills, Wayanad and Nagarhole. I also armed myself with an affordable camera-phone, the Nokia N72 and am exploring my photography skills as well.
Harsha, my best friend, hosted me down at Singapore in September and we had a gala time over a week, as I criss-crossed through Sentosa, Bangkok and Pattaya. Singapore is a fascinating place with great infrastructure, a visionary government and mixed cultural influences. I loved the convinence and comfort the city offers but was present there long enough to sense the lack of a strong cultural identity. As a young nation, they have worked hard and somewhere, sadly, have lost out on the fun aspect. Harsha had (and still has, I suspect) no such feelings, since he has close friends from India and numerous activities to keep him busy and happy. I loved Thailand’s lazy and sanguine beaches that reminded me of Goa but with more doses of fun, exotic and international flavour. Bangkok resembles Mumbai in many ways – crowded and noisy but it’s nightlife is ……… (umm, censored). It was an action-packed week and I forget what we did on which day – Sight-seeing at Sentosa, getting over-awed at Mustafa, staring down at Singapore from the 71st floor of the Asian Bar. It was all too much and I suffered a severe bout of Singapre-sickness the week after I returned. Severe enough for me to search for jobs on Singapore Job Posting boards!
Also, the comfort of having my own transport again meant that I and a friend went off on frequent picnics around Bangalore. It is a joy to be living in a city that is blessed with so many lakes and I hope they do not suffer the enroachment fate that past lakes did. Hesarghatta is a place that pulls you away from the concrete existence of Bangalore and transports you to a place of abounding joy and peace. The cool breeze coming in and the pleasant morning ride was a very memorable picnic. We also visited the woody GKVK campus, the crowded-yet-beautiful Hebbal lake and the closest-to-forest-in-Bangalore Bannerghatta. I loved all the trips and the fact that you have someone to share it with makes it unforgettable.
In December, the beautiful Jacarandas in full bloom in Bengalooru brought me much cheer. On many lazy mornings, the sight of these bright pink flowers would fill me with a very positive feel about the entire world, traffic and honking horns be damned. Nature is wonderful in that she lets her beauty show even through ugly man-made traffic jungles. For instance, my favourite Jacaranda tree was just after Chinnaswamy stadium, on the road parallel to MG Road, a road that is full of nosiy vehicles and black smoke. As if to mock at cynics like myself, the Jacaranda would stand in full glory and shine on. By the end of the month though, they dried up and stand like bleak loners, leaving me wondering if they reflect my moods, or if my moods reflect their changes.
December also took me to first, BR Hills and Bandipur on a car drive and then, the most memorable trip of my life, a motorcycle ride through Mysore, Gopalswamy and to Wayanad. BR Hills still holds the same mystique to me as it did five years back – a quiet settlement in the middle of prime forest area that seems to have frozen in time. The nights here taught me what pitch-black means, what with even the shining start seeming like a speck of white dot far, far away to make any impact. We drove through the forest ranges sighting elephants, bisons, wild boar and deers. We traveled to Bandipur next and though we sighted many more elephants, it was not difficult to sense that the animals here were more used to, and hence, in a sense domesticated to, the presence of humans. Nonetheless, the forests in these ranges, once the realm of that butcher of nature, Veerappan, give you the chance to walk into nature’s lap.
As the new year dawned, I and my cousin took off on a debut road trip on his Bajaj Avenger. We had the time of our lives through out the entire trip that would takes us through Mysore to Wayanad and back on the same route. We started off by making good time through the Bangalore-Mysore highway, pit-stopping fewer times than we thought would. By late noon, we were on top of Himad Gopalswamy, just off Gundlupet. As the name suggests, this picturesque hill plays host to the Gopalswamy diety, offering him a mist-filled abode all through the year. Since we reached later in the day (and on a Vaikunta Ekadasi), we were greeted by a lot of noise and the hot winter sun. My cousin, Manju, was taken aback since he had been earlier and this was the first time had noticed such a large gathering at this isolated hill. The temple sits neatly on the top of a hill and is surrounded all around by grasslands, which offers a perfect view of the mountain-forest ranges.
We drove on to, after a brief lunch at Gundlupet, to cross the Kerala border into Sultan Bathery. Manoj had given me a good low-down on the place and drive, since this was new territory for either of us and we were apprehensive of what to expect. We need not have worried for Kerala, if what Wayanad is any indication, is really God’s own country. The government here has worked hard to make this a top tourist destination what with good roads (even through tiny villages), very hospitable and friendly people, helpful directions and information at every town and good maintenance. We chose to halt at Sultan Bathery and found a very good and affordable loding at Hotel Prince. Bathery itself has more than a dozen places in a radius of 25-30 kms which were more than sufficient for our two-day itinerary. We visited Edakkal Caves, the Tribal Musuem, went half-way through to Meenmutty watefalls and generally enjoyed the country-side. It was a perfect way to ring in the new year.
On the way, I got a chance to see the industriousness of young Keralites, apart from relishing what they had to offer. A make-shift tent on the road had these 4 kids, all younger than 12-13, selling coconuts and marinated vegetables/fruits. As this was my first time, I tried the vinegar and chilly marinated pineapples and was blown over. The strong tastes roused my tongue and left me thirsting for more. I and Manju went bonkers over them and drunk it down with icy-cool coconut water. As we sat down to relax, I saw these kids opening their register and writing down the particulars of each sale carefully. I marveled at their business skills and rode on.
The trip also offered me glimpses of the cuisine and lifestyles in Kerala. Apart from being very yummicious, the food was also quite healthy. Appams were served, not with fatty coconut chutneys as they do here, but with spiced-up sprouts. The Porottas (Kerala Parathas in Empire) were less oily and came with a tomato curry, cooked with spices freshly ground, and not the greasy masala gravy that is dished out in cities. Water is served boiled and shaded in pink, supposedly because of some herbal additives. All the people we met were extremely helpful and appear quite hard-working. We hardly saw any loitering villagers anywhere. Most of the children are in school and use their vacations to earn for themselves. For instance, on the way to Meenmutty, we saw this school-kid, helping out his mates in running up a lassi-shop. He spoke very good English and informed us that he was spending time here for the Christmas vacations.
Driving on a bike was an exhilarating experience, especially on wide, well-tarred roads. The feel of the breeze hitting you as you sail on the cruiser on an early-morning crusade is unmatched to what you would feel on any other drive. On the drive back to Bangalore, after we went off on a rocky detour through horrid roads of HD Kote, we were like two kids starved of candies. It had taken us more than two hours to get past less than 10 kms and we were worked up. As soon as we got back on the Mysore-Bangalore freeway, we let the bike do her job and worked up speeds over 100k. My butt took a beating and by the time we reached Bangalore, we were exhausted but thrilled. I went back home, tired but contented. Less than a day later, I was thirsting for more. I am aiming to make 2007, the year of travel and trips.