"He who does not travel does not know the value of men"

Saturday, July 24, 2010


My decision to visit the capital metro was not a pre-planned one. We were planning to go to the Pink city of India- Jaipur – where my sister and family reside. Due to the non-availability of direct train to Jaipur from Trivandrum (one weekly train from Ernakulam only), we had to opt Rajadhani Express and therefore we decided to go for two day roundup to Delhi and Agra.

We were supposed to start at 7PM on 5th of November, but due to the reschedule of the train, we could only start at 6.15 am on 6th.of November from Trivandrum. The seats were almost vacant, may be due to the rescheduling and we had a whole compartment for us till New Delhi. The kids had a good time and so did we. The pantry was good and provided the requirements. On the 8th we reached rather at an odd time -3AM at Nizamudeen railway station. We were picked by a friend’s friend of mine, Mr. Mohan who had arranged room for us at Hotel India Palace Hotel, Karol Bagh, NewDelhi (Ph 28750595, 41547695). The typical nature of the economy hotels in Delhi are that they don’t keep tariff card and charges room rent according to the situation. Therefore always check the tariff before you check in the hotels otherwise there is every chance of getting cheated. Because of the late arrival we had to reschedule our programme. We checked in at the hotel at 4AM and then got ready by 10 am for sight seeing. We hired a taxi (Tata Indigo) from near the Kerala House –the rate was reasonable Rs 850 for a whole day. I forgot the name of the driver and since I felt that he is genuine in his approach, the trip plan was left with him.

First we went to Rashtrapathi Bhavan. The security there was so tight that vehicles were not allowed to park near the premises. After quickly dropping the visitors the cars go for a round up and returns to pick them up.
Our next spot was the Indira House. Some sought of grief, respect, love, loss, the emotions we went through there is rather unexplainable. The house is neatly arranged and the exhibits include the saree, bag etc. worn by Indiraji when she was shot. The spot where she was shot is kept in a glass enclosure. We could find Malayalam newspaper in the exhibition area there.

We then moved on to the famous Qutab Minar. We had to pay Rs.10/- as entry fee but for foreigners its Rs 250/-. Built by the Muslim King, Qutab-ud-din Aibak and completed by Iltumish, it is a magnificient structure of 72.5 metres. Heavy rush prevented us from staying there for a long time.
Our lunch was from Saravana restaurant where our driver dropped on our preference for a veg. restaurant. Though the waiting time there was too much, we had a good lunch provided the rates were on the higher side. We couldn’t enter the Lotus temple, Monday being holiday there. We could get the glimpse of the architectural marvel of Bahai faith from outside, took some pictures and moved on to RajGhat.

The other national shrines like Shanti Van (Jawaharlal Nehru), Vijay Ghat (Lal Bahadur Sastri), Shakti Sthal (Indira Gandhi) and Vir Bhumi (Rajiv Gandhi) were near by. The atmosphere is very calm and the greenery and quietness adds to the beauty. Then we had a round up by car through the road to see the Red Fort and Juma Masjid. The irregular octagonal structure on the banks of Yamuna –the Red Fort is surrounded by a wall of about 2.5 metres. Due to shortage of time and heavy traffic we had to limit our visit inside these monuments.

During the evening time we reached near India Gate. The 42 metre high, free standing arch originally called All India War Memorial evokes in us the patriotic feel of a true Indian. Even though noisy because of the visitors, street vendors etc., there is serenity in the atmosphere. The names of the soldiers are inscribed along the walls of the arch. The eternal flame to honour Amar Jawan is protected by the sentries. They are very alert and security is very tight there.
To experience the journey through the metro rail we left the taxi at Rajiv Chowk. The kids enjoyed the short travel so did we. We reached the hotel by 8 pm.
Next morning we reached the New Delhi Railway station by an auto. The train, Taj express, was on time (7AM) and we reached Agra Cantonment by 10.15AM
My brother-in-law and my parents joined us in Agra from Jaipur. They reached by 10.30 AM and we hired a taxi for Agra sight seeing. After negotiation a prepaid taxi was hired for Rs 650 for 8hrs. Whether it is too much or reasonable I don’t know, but it was the only alternative. If you want to go to Fatehpur Sikri as well, it would be Rs 850/-. There is no much places of interest in Agra other than Agra Fort and TajMahal.

After having Darsan at Balaji Temple we went to Agra Fort. It’s a huge fort of which only 60% is open to the public. There is an entry fee of Rs 20. The entry is through a door like bridge which can be closed when needed. It took almost an hour and a half to have a quick round about there. The architectural skills and engineering has to be appreciated. From the fort we could get a glimpse of the Taj Mahal. There is a deep trench all round outside the fort which is said to have built to protect the fort from the enemies during the ancient times.

Next spot was the Taj, but in between we were taken to the U.P Handloom House. Taj Model, banana silk saris, mosquito repellent bed sheets etc. were the specialities. Those were made by the prison inmates said the sales men. We don’t know whether there is any cheating or the prices were on the higher side. But one thing is certain – the driver gets commission everywhere. We bought some saris, marble models and bed sheets. We had our lunch from a nearby veg. restaurant and moved on to the Taj –the pride of our nation and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Our driver arranged tickets through nearby gate. So we had to walk only 500 metres. Otherwise the walking distance is more. But the fact is that instead of paying Rs 25 (for 5 adults) we had to pay Rs.110. There too the driver earns. With children our choice was more comfortable. So we knowingly accepted it. The sculpture and its beauty is something inexplicable, that’s an experience. We spent almost two and a half hours there exploring the nook and corner. Although photography is prohibited many were taking photos with their mobiles. The entry to the tombs of Mumtaz and Shajahan was prohibited. People were seen throwing coins inside the wire mesh there! I don’t understand the history or secret behind it.

Carrying fond memories of Taj, we reached Agra Fort station to catch the Ajmer Sealdah Express to Jaipur at 8PM. But the train was late by 2 hrs. We decided to dine outside, but to our disgust we couldn’t find any good restaurant there. In spite of the bad condition of the road, traffic and showers we some how managed to find a restaurant which was bit far from the station. Apart from the world famous monument the condition of the city is really pathetic. Better not to explain about the neatness! It is another wonder that how a place which is attracted by lot of tourists, mainly foreigners could be maintained like this. I found a lot of foreigners in the railway station waiting for the trains, which are most often delayed, with their hands on the head. They couldn’t even get clean water or food. A part of the waiting room at the railway station was closed and it was hard to stand all the while. The place was very much occupied by passengers and nobody seemed to adjust. Then only we saw a boy of about 12 years who seemed to be in charge of collecting money at the pay and use toilet inside the room. Seeing my daughter and son he waved and smiled at them. We understood that he was dumb. Making friendship with them he became a little lenient. He took a key and opened the part of the room for us. He was trying to say in his language that it is opened only for special people. Through his behaviour he easily conveyed that his happiness is in getting tips. What all characters do we meet in a journey? U.P is poor in exploring the possibility of attracting tourists and it seems that there is not commitment in this area on the part of State Government. We gave our little friend some tips and moved to the Pink City by 10.15 pm in Ajmer Sealdah Express.
We reached my sister’s house by 3.15AM. We had a small shopping from Gourav Tower, in the evening where kids enjoyed many rides and all.
For a change we opted to go for Jaipur sight seeing with the conducted tour of the Rajasthan Tourism Department-Jaipur Darsan. We booked for it from the information office at the railway station. It’s only Rs 200 per person. The timing is from 9am to 6.30 pm. We were picked from the first point-Birla Mandir, opposite the Jaipur Development Authority which is fully on white marbles.

The first place of visit for the all the tour operators of Jaipur Darshan is the Birla Mandir as I could find lot of buses parking outside. One thing I couldn’t digest is the way in which the foreigners were treated. The streets were filled with beggars and I could find them even snatching food materials from the foreigners creating utter nuisance to them. Even from their body language I could find that they are upset with the service that is being rendered for the money collected from them. The authorities are neglecting the problems caused to the visiting tourists. In fact I am of opinion that these beggars, mostly women and children, should be rehabilitated at the expense of Government and they should not be allowed to trouble the visiting foreigners which would only help to create ill-reputation to our nation.

The Pink city- Maharaj Sawai Jai Singh II is the founder of this city. The city has 9 gates all around. We entered the Pink city through the Chand Pol gate. We could only see pink everywhere which gives the name to the city. The newly constructed buildings too are painted pink. Every house, shop, walls etc. are of pink colour. We reached the Hawa Mahal. The Hawa Mahal built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Prathap Singh is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur. It’s a 5 storied semi octagonal monument with 365 windows –a fine piece of Rajput architecture.

Our next point was the Jantar Mantar. It’s really interesting. The huge masonry instruments used to study the movements of constellations and stars in the sky throws light on the intelligence of the society of the 19th century. It was built by the Maharaj Jai SinghII. The entry fee is Rs 20 per head.

Nearby Jantar Mantar is the City Palace and the SMS Museum. They are a blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture. Again there was an entry fee of Rs 40 and the camera charge of Rs 50. The palace has 4 entries. The present king lives there. Two flags were hoisted there. The guide informed that the smaller one if hoisted half way mark shows that the king is inside the palace.

It has to be mentioned that the guide was not at all good. It is the tourism department’s responsibility to check the quality of the guides. In spite of knowing Hindi and English we found it hard to collect information. If I am not wrong, Rajastan Tourism Department is rated as number one in India and from them such kind of lapses are not expected. We spent about 50 minutes in City Palace. The mixed fruit salad from the street vendor outside the museum with some salt and pepper at Rs 20 was really worthy and refreshing too.
We then moved to Nahargarh fort which is outside the Pink city. Cresting a hill about 600 feet above the city, the fort was built in 1734. The walls of the fort run along the ridge and within are the architectural beauties like Hawa Mandir and Madhavendra Bhawan. The guide left us near the entrance and we had to see all round without any assistance. There was an entry fee of Rs10 per person and we had to walk about 1km to reach top. We could see private vehicles entering and going above. It was really contradictions. It was almost lunch time and there was a small restaurant inside one of the old buildings. Of course to mention the menu one ordinary Thali meals costs 125rupees. (Just watch the picture taken) The fort is full of monkeys and that too harmful ones. One came and snatched the plate of a foreigner who was sitting outside. She was too scared and yelled. She was served inside later. After lunch it was time to check in the bus! I think the Tourism department intends to loot the tourists by giving lunch break in this place as there is no other option for food available for the tourists.

Our next point was the Jaigarh Fort. Standing on a hill top overlooks the palaces and the city of Amber. The world’s biggest cannon on wheels – the Jai Ban is positioned there. It has 20ft long barrel. 100kg gun powder has to be pumped into the cannon for a single shot. And to mention the entry fee! Rs 50 per head.

Then we proceed to the Amber Palace which is really worth seeing. From downhill, jeep has to be hired at a rate of Rs 200/-. The road is narrow and rocky. The Amber palace is remarkable as much for majestic grandeur of its surroundings as for its sturdy battlements and beautiful palaces. The palace complex is lavishly ornamented and displays the riches of Amber. Sheesh Mahal is a chamber of mirrors. The lattice windows, exquisitely painted doorways, halls, finely sculptured pillars etc. crave for attention. Everywhere it’s clean and secured too. The maintenance is also good. After spending 2 hrs there we had some shopping outside. The handicraft items were cheap and remarkable of the Rajasthani craftsmanship.

Our next point was the Kanak Vrindavan, a newly restored temple and garden – a popular picnic place with beautiful gardens. On the way we could see lots of peacocks dancing in the hill slopes. We had half an hour break there. The bus stopped near a restaurant where the guide directed us for tea. A very small cup of tea was charged Rs.10. but after a while we discovered that the opposite side shop was selling good tea that too in a big cup for Rs 5. What an idea setji! That is business!

Due to shortage of time, Jal Mahal (a palace set in the middle of Man Sagar Lake) and The Birla Planetarium were cut off and we got down near Albert Hall. Albert Hall is a graceful building found in 1876 in honour of the visit of Prince Albert to Jaipur. The climate had a subtle change during evening; we were finding it hard to withstand the chilled atmosphere. If you ever visit Jaipur don’t forget to enjoy the delicious milk products of SARAS.
Our return journey to Trivandrum was in Jaipur-Ernakulam Express Train carrying some sweet memories of our journey through the golden triangle.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


There is no exaggeration if you say that Parambikulam is the Wildlife capital of Kerala as there is no other place in the state where you can spot wild life in such abundance as in Parambikulam. The destination is a fine blend of everything that you expect in a Wildlife Sanctuary. Nature lovers are welcomed here with the saying “Once the entire world was wild, then we came we remade the world as we desired and now we wonder how the world was like earlier, this place shows how it was all like”. These words become absolutely true when you feel the beauty of the place while moving into the arms of the nature. The sanctuary is now a Tiger Reserve also. The way in which the sanctuary is maintained is highly appreciable. With proper restrictions and strictness the authorities are successful in allowing only the interested tourists/true nature lovers to explore the destination. Thanks to the effort put in by the Kerala Forest Department.

Day 1 (22.05.2010)

We (Shinu, Anoj and I) started our journey from Trivandrum at 4.30AM in a WagonR and in order to avoid the heavy rush through NH we decided to move via MCRoad ie via Kottarakkara Adoor- Chengannoor- Changanassery- Kottayam- Ettumanoor- Koothattukulam- Muvattupuzha – Vazhappally- Perumbavoor- Kalady. We had our breakfast from Koothattukulam. One could see the Pineapple cultivation in Muvattupuzha side which I was told is that of Mauritius origin. Although Kodanad the elephant training camp is near Kalady, we didn’t have enough time to visit there. We entered the National Highway in Angamaly and instead of going via Thrissur we agreed upon Shinu’s decision to go via Athirappally, Valparai Pollachi road to enjoy the scenic beauty of that route. Though I have been through this route with family, I couldn’t enjoy the drive as much I did this time. It’s safer to travel through this route without family.

Athirapplly can be accessed easily from Angamaly via Karayamparambu and through Planatation Corporation area. We could almost save 18 KM going via this route. But roads were not that good. We reached Athirappally at about 11AM. After spending half an hour enjoying the beauty of the waterfalls we moved further towards Valparai which is about 84 KM through dense forest. There is always a danger of elephant crossings and traffic through this route is very low. I think it is the longest public route through forest area after Pathanamthitta Kumily road via Gavi. We reached Valparai at about 2.45PM via Peringalkutthu, Malakkappara, which is the Kerala border. In between one could see Lower Sholayar Dam, penstock to Sholayar Power House. The Upper sholayar dam belongs to Tamil Nadu. After Malakkappara, where there is a forest check post and Police Station, most of the areas are tea plantations. This area is known for Leopards entering residential areas of plantation workers and attacking children. So there is always a danger to move via this route during night time.

After having lunch from the Green Hill Restaurant, Valparai we moved at about 3.45 PM. We took a break at Attakketti and had a good glimpse of Lower Aliyar Dam and Upper Aliyar Dam from the TNEB Guest House with the help of Bhadran who is known to Shinu. We then had to get down covering 42 hair pin bends down the hill to reach Aliyar Dam sight. After the dam via Kottor, which is the easiest route, we reached Anamalai (9KM) at about 7.15PM. As it was already late we didn’t try our luck to go to Parambikulam that night and settled in VPR Lodge (Ph: 04253-282250), near Masani Amman Kovil in Anamalai. An A/c room was charged 650/- We had good food from a small restaurant nearby. Anamalai is somewhat a moderate city where there are mobile towers and ATM centres (SBI). After going for a walk through the streets we settled in the room after 11PM.

DAY 2 (22.05.2010)

We had Darsan at Masani Amman Koil, Anamalai which had quite heavy rush during the morning time. From Anamalai, Topslip is almost 25 KM. We started at about 6 AM for Parambikulam. Till Sethumadai, roads are in good condition. For entry to Topslip Tamil Nadu forest Department charges Rs 15/- per person as entry fee and Rs 25/- for the vehicle. The check post authorities checks the vehicles and issues a bag to keep any plastic wastes. There is also a check post in Top Slip which belongs to Tamil Nadu. Permission need to be taken to enter the Kerala Forest Area for private vehicles.

After top slip is the Kerala forest area which is lush green and dense. The Kerala forest check post at the entry itself is a good building. We were amazed to see a peacock welcoming us to Parambikulam with the traditional dance spreading his plumage. That was something rare that one could see in such a close distance. We also saw Bisons, Deer, and Monkeys on the way itself. We reached the Parambikulam Check Post at about 8AM and after paying the required fees for the Tram way trek we moved further. Babu, our guide, joined us and we proceeded towards Parambikulam via Thoonakkadavu. At Thoonakkadavu there is a good tree top where the forest department provides accommodation. The details can be obtained from the official website of Parambikulam (www.parambikulam.org). We reached Parambikulam at about 8.30AM. We had our breakfast from a small hotel there. The food is tasty but there is no guarantee for the water. We had covered a total distance of 472KM from Trivandrum to reach Parambikulam via Valparai route.

Tramway Trek in Parambikulam

After parking the vehicle at the Forest office, we started our 20KM Tramway trek at about 10AM. Babu, and Sulaiman, forest guides accompanied us with sleeping beds and required materials for the preparation of food. We moved beside Parambikulam Dam and reached the starting point of tram service which was operated by the Britishers to transport heavy wood from Parambikulam forest to Chalakkudy. The remainings of the rail heads and other items were found. Most of the good materials have been taken over by some private agencies on winding up of this service by the Britishers.

The forest was quite dense and even after one KM walk we could see pack of wolves attacking and killing a deer. Even within a short span of time the wolves had eaten half of the prey and on seeing us they ran inside the forest and were hiding behind the trees. Babu told that they will be coming back soon after our departure to eat the remaining part of the deer left over there. Babu was skillful in identifying and smelling the presence of animals. We saw several peacocks, deer and bison in between. Amazing thing about the animals in Parambikulam is that they are never frightened of human presence and here all live in tandem. After 8 km walk through the forest we reached Salim Ali Centre where there is Forest Range Office. We took half an hour break there.

We can see a watch tower at rather good height which belongs to Forest Department. This forest range is also having good number of Sandal wood and therefore there is night patrolling to track poachers. The skills of Britishers in construction of bridges are admirable and these bridges are still strong enough. We got lot of information from Babu about their experience in forest and things going on there. Gopalakrishnan, one of the tribes who work as laison also joined us and he was explaining us their grievances. This helped us to forget the long walk and strain that we had to undergo to cover this 20KM trek.

We had our lunch at Medanchalu which is enroute to Orukomban where the trek ends. We chilled ourselves by having a dip in the river before having our lunch which made us fresh. We reached Orukomban at about 4.30PM after a long "effortless" walk of 20KM. We were provided accommodation in the one of the forest cottages which is having only limited facilities as it is deep inside the forest. I was stunned to know from Babu that Vazhachal is not more than 15KM if we travel through the forest. But there is no specific route and these guys go by walk through this route quite often. River is nearby and we had a nice and long bath in the river in the evening. After dinner prepared by Sulaiman, we settled in the room early as we were all very tired.

Day 3 (23.05.2010)

We were lucky to get a forest jeep going to Parambikulam from Orukomban and thus we could avoid the 20KM walk back. We had arranged local sight seeing in Parambikulam with the help of Gopalakrishnan. Tunnel view,the place where the water from Parambikulam reservoir is taken and Kannimara Teak, which is the largest teak, are the main attractions in addition to some other sight seeing spots.

We were lucky enough to escape from the attack of an elephant on our way to Tunnel view. We could spot the elephant only when we reached so close to him in a turning road. He got irritated with the red colour of the vehicle and Sulaiman tactfully faced the situation with less panic. Even though we waited there for so long, the elephant didn’t move an inch. He was standing there as if he was doubtful that we would cause danger to his group. We managed to escape from the spot after waiting for a long time. We could also spot a huge bison in a gap of 10metres. It was oily black but due to heavy risk we could take a snap of the bison from inside the vehicle only.

After having lunch from Parambikulam, we returned at about 3PM via Sethumadai, Pollachi- Thrissur road to reach Wadakkancherry via Nenmara which is the easiest route to reach Trivandrum. After a long drive (almost 350KM) we reached Trivandrum late night.