Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Serene beaches of Karwar Day 1

"The sea beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realise that beauty of nature is not a mirage of imagination, but reflects the joy of the infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves into it.Where the universe is expressing itself in the magic of its laws it may not be strange if we miss its infinitude; but where the heart gets into immediate touch with immensity in the beauty of the meanest of things, is any room left for argument?"
Rabindranath Tagore,1916. It is said that Rabindranath Tagore had visited this beach and was inspired by its tranquil beauty to write his first play.

With Labor day approaching(an extended holiday) we were looking for a decent destination with all the hill stations being full we hit upon "Karwar" and after reading excellent reviews we planned a trip down to Karwar. There are a several ways to reach Karwar from Bangalore , we took the Hubli route. We reached Bangalore city railway station at around 7.15 Pm to board 6589 Rani Chennamma Express which leaves at 9.15 PM. I was very hungry and since we had couple of hours before the train was to leave we entered "Shree Raghavendra Hotel" at the Majestic bus stand. I had set dosas. The train left at right time 9.15 Pm from Banglaore City Railway station.

It was scheduled to reach Hubli by 5.30 AM but was late and reached at 6.45 AM after getting down from the train we started enquiring about way to Karwar and we were directed to take a bus from the 'old bus stand' of Hubli. We took a Auto though the guy asked Rs. 30 initially but when we told the actual price Rs.15 he agreed. Thanks to the shop owners who not only directed us but told the real fare as well. In Hubli the primary language spoken is Kannada but people speak Hindi also very well so we didnot have much communication issues. On reaching the bus stand which is maintained NWKSRTC we were told that buses are available for Karwar or we can hire a car/taxi but it'll be costly and they are run by travel agents. Since it was 7 AM in the morning none of the travel agents were open so we opted for the bus. We were told by the guy at the enquiry counter to wait at platform 8 and 9. At around 8 AM a bus for Karwar came and we scrambled to get in to secure a seat for all of us. There's bus every half an hour to 45 minutes from Hubli to Karwar. The fare is Rs.110 per head for a distance of about 160 Kms and it takes 4 hour 30 minutes to reach karwar with 2 stops at Yellapur and Ankola.


Map of North Karnataka district with Hubli, Yellapur, Ankola and Karwar

As it was month of May it was hot but the road from Hubli to Karwar passes through the lovely Western Ghats. The ride through thick forest was very pleasing and my friends slept but I was constanly looking out of the window. The trees were dry and dull but still they were blocking the sun and it was quiet cool. A almost dried river was also flowing along side the road for some portion of the road. One remarkable thing I noticed on the way was that there were a number of broken down trucks alongside the way also a number of tire retreading/vulcanzing plants beside the road. The road to Karwar from Ankola is up the Ghats alongside the Arabian Sea but the Navy's "Project Sea Bird" has blocked the breathtaking view of the Sea from the ghat road.

We reached Karwar Bus stand by 12.30 PM, It was really hot and humid and we decided we can't do without A/C rooms. The auto took us to Hotel Navarathna on Karwar Main Road. It was a good hotel and we were charged 1250/- per A/C double room(this was way beyond our budget but the weather didnot allow anything else). After check-in we freshened up and went for lunch at Hotel Sai International just accross the street. The food was quite nice with lots of variety from North Indian and chinese quisine. We returned to our rooms and thought of resting a while before going for local Karwar sight seeing.

Around 4 we got out of the Hotel it was still hot and hired an Auto Rickshaw for Devbagh beach which is about 5 Kms. from hotel but the Guy started asking for Rs.150/- he told "you see the place where I'll take you and then give whatever you like". He took us to a place from where we walked about a kilometer and half through the beautiful casuarina grove to reach the Log huts of the Devbagh Beach Resort from there we went on to the Devbagh Beach it was really serene with a few people bathing in sea we walked through the white sand in the backdrop of casuarina trees and clicked pictures of the setting sun.










Casuarina Grove of the Devbagh Beach










Sun set @ Serene and calm Devbagh Beach



Lone boat @ Devbagh Beach

The driver asked we want to watch the sun set from there or from a "better" spot near the Kali River Bridge. We agreed to him and he speeded up the Auto as the sun was decending rapidly and the driver was racing with the sun so that we reach vantage point before sun god calls off the day. We reached Kali river's bridge when sun was above the horizon but was hid behind the clouds so we could not see a 'perfect' sun set but clicked the pictures of the picturesque River Kali, the bridge in the background of the western ghats and houseboats in backwaters (yes they do have a kind of backwaters). Then we ate the local ice-creams u know like the baraf-ka-gola sort of thing.



River Kali Bridge











Backwaters of River Kali near the bridge

Then the Auto Driver took us to the Karwar beach or the Rabindranath Tagore Beach by now Sun had set and dusk had set in. We paid the Auto Driver Rs.200(50 extra for his excellent service) The beach is nothing special almost a mini version of Marina Beach of chennai but much cleaner. Small children were enjoying the sea water and we got down till knee-deep water to feel the Arabian sea. Then we sat on shore to watch the vastness of the Sea. Sitting there I was trying to figure out exactly where Rabindranath Tagore might have sat and seen such a beauty which was non-existent now. Gazing at the sea, we didn't realize When the watch had turned to 8 Pm , we then walked back to our Hotel which was close to the beach. Actually the main Karwar town is quite small you can literally walk around.

It was very warm and humid we were sweating like hell, actually my body had forgotten what sweating was after staying 3 yrs in Bangalore. I was reminded of my hometown the way I used to sweat profusely there. Then after cooling ourselves at the Hotel we returned to the Hotel Sai International for dinner with super chilled beer. After dinner we walked along the main road for ice-cream but all the shops were closed by then so we returned to our Hotel to find they have ice-cream and we had our fill. I also enquired with the staff for a cab to Go-karna for next day and they refered us to a cab driver who agreed after some bargaining for Rs. 1500/- including a trip to OM beach. So after fixing the cab we retired for the day exhausted.

Serene beaches of Karwar Day 2

On the day 2 we woke up late mainly due to the fatigue of the previous day and moreover we were not in hurry as it was very hot outside and the trip to Gokarna was planned only late afternoon. We had late breakfast which was a typical South Indian fare with Idly, Dosai, Appams etc at Hotel Purnima just a few metres off from the our Hotel. After breakfast we got back to Hotel as it was becoming too dificult to stay outside in that heat. In hotel we were watched the Hindi movie "Style" which was nice comedy. After the movie we went back for lunch and waited for the cab to come over. The cab driver came around 2.30 PM and by 3 we started for Go-karna.

Gokarna is 60 KMs south from Karwar.It is a is a Hindu pilgrimage centre. It is a temple town and is referred to in a number of Hindu historical literature pieces. Around the town lie a number of beaches and these serve as a major attraction for travellers. A number of interesting mythological stories are there about this place. The places of pilgimage include Mahabaleshwar Temple (Maha: great, bal: strength) a famous Shiva Temple and it houses the atmalinga. Named so after Ravana referred to the linga's great strength.

It is situated at the western end of the main street. The main deity here is two-armed, standing and at least 1500 years old. The idol of Lord Ganesha also is ancient. In the sanctuary is a stone linga, encased in brass, placed on a coiled stone serpent. The floor of the hall in front has an intricate engraving of a giant tortoise. One thing that surprised me was the Sign inside the temple bearing "Foreigners not allowed inside the sanctuary". The temple santuary is open for public from 8 AM to 12 Noon in the morning and from 5 PM to 8PM in the evening. Besides Mahabaleshwar temple there is Maha Ganapathi Temple built in honour of the boy Ganapathi, who deceived the demon Ravana. It is also worth a visit.










Pristine Beaches of Gokarna

The main street from the Shiva temple leads to the beach which nice and open but quite dirty. We decided to have a dip in the sea and go for the bath. The sea was comparatively calm and easy for a quick swim. After enjoying there for sometime we moved towards the OM beach.

The other beaches in Gokarna besides the Gokarna beach are the Kudle Beach, Om Beach, Half moon Beach and Paradise Beach (also known as Full moon). Kudle and Om are around 6 km from Gokarna town along a muddy hill; they are accessible by rickshaw or foot. Half moon and Paradise are beyond Om beach and are accessible only by foot or boat. Om beach is named so because it is shaped like the auspicious [Om] symbol. Om beach is the only naturally Om shaped beach. Two other beaches - Paradise and Half Moon - are smaller and remote beaches.










Om Beach(L) the Arabian Sea washing the rocks(R)











The "Hills" and "Rocks" of the OM Beach

The cab took us to the OM beach which is a marvelous beach. It has a few beach side restaurants famous one being "Namaste Cafe" favorite with the international tourists. It was marvellous to look at the water gushing on the rocks. One of other tourists remarked "this water gives life takes it away as well" so true. We sat on the small hillock near the beach and watched the sunset on the rocks. It was a marvellous sight. After sunset we lied down on the hot rocks and gazed at the moon perpendicularly above us. The air was heavy and moist but a bit cooler. Slowly it started getting dark and we started moving back to Karwar with beautiful memories of the evening.










Sunset on the Rocks @ OM Beach

Serene beaches of Karwar Day 3

Day3 was primarily a day we marked for return as we had a train to catch from Hubli so after lunch at our old jaunt Hotel Sai accross the road. We started for the Karwar Bus stand @ 3 PM from the hotel after reaching there we waited for sometime and then got into a bus for Karwar which started at 4 and we were at Hubli Old bus stand at 7.30 PM. We were told about famous "Dharwad Peda" a speciality sweet from North Karnataka district. Dharwad Peda is made out of Milk, Sugar coating and Khoa. You can buy Dharwad Peda in Sweet Shops all around Hubli-Dharwad. So we spotted a shop near the bus stand "Mishras Peda" and purchased 500 gm box.


Dharwad Peda

Then picked up dinner and proceeded to Hubli Railway station for Rani Chennamma Express which leaves Hubli at 10.55 PM but it was about 30 mins late. The train reached Bangalore City next day at 8.30 AM about 1 hr late. And we were back to our 'normal' life after a 3 day sojourn to the pristine beaches of Karwar.

A few revelations from the trip:
Karwar is a very good destination if you want spend time with your family and friends in quiet and serene beaches with less crowds.
Best time to visit is between Oct-Feb but certainly not the summers and moonsoons.40% of time of our trip was spend inside hotel room due to the horrible weather.
Karwar can be reached directly from Bangalore by buses otherwise can be reached by train from Bangalore through Hubli, Longda. There are several trains which ply from Bangalore to Hubli but Rani Chennamma Express is best.
Karwar is about 100 Kms. from Panaji Goa so can be clubbed with a Goa trip ofcourse if you have time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nandi Hills - Revisited

This Saturday (25th April 2009) one of my friends with a new car wanted to go on a long drive and we decided to go to Mysore once again just for a drive. But then the distance overwhelmed my friend and he wanted to go for a drive on a shorter trip, so after checking many options we decided we would go to Lumbini Gardens a park near Hebbal in Bangalore.

It was planned that we will start at 9.30 AM though I was a little late but we started off and it took about an hour to reach Lumbini Park after asking for directions near Hebbal flyover. Lumbini Park is at the Nagwara crossing.Its basically a lake where you can boat and there are some games for kids. Hence we were completely dissappointed as it had nothing to offer to us.

We then decided to go to Nandi Hills about 60 Kms. from there, past the new Bangalore International Airport, Devanahalli. Though I had been there earlier my friends had not gone so Nandi Hills became 'the' best option. It would give him the much awaited long drive as well a drive into the hills.

The Nandi Hills is about 1100 mtrs. above the sea level. It is the nearest hill station from Bengaluru. To reach Nandi Hills take the NH7 from Bengaluru through Hebbala-Yelahanka. After 38kms along the highway, couple of kms past Devanahalli, you can see a road going to the left towards Nandi Hills. There is a sign board there and you should not miss it, if you are careful. After another 10kms you will reach a T-junction, from where you should take a left. 4 more kms, it is one more right turn followed by a ghat road leading to Nandi Hills.

On the way to Nandi Hills

The road from NH7 to the T-junctions is quite beautiful with nice tree lined roads, also you can buy grapes on the way. Entry fee is 3 Rs per person (make sure you buy the ticket, where the bus arrives). There's a ticket for Rs 60 for parking car and Rs 15 for Two wheelers. Around 2 Kms from entrance is the parking space where you need leave your car and move around by walk.

Bird's Eye view from the Nandi Hills

We started exploring the nearby areas, as it was very hot we could not trek far.The place offers a nice bird's eye view from the top.There are temples dedicated to Sri Ugra Narasimha and Sri Yoga Narasimha. On the lower hill there is a temple dedicated to Sri Bhoga Narasimha. Though nobody was interested in the temples as it was already seen in my earlier visit. On top was Tipu Sultan's summer retreat and the remains of Tipu's fort bear this out. Tipu's Drop, a 600 metre high cliff face, where prisoners were hurled down the precipice, is an awe-inspiring sight. Naturally we got very hungry by all the trekking. So we headed to Hotel Mayura the KSTDC restuarant which offer nice lunch with drinks as well. BTW consumption of alcohol outside the restuarant is strictly prohibited. We had chicken curry, chicken kebab, chicken butter masala with rice and chapattis.










Bird's eye view (L) and view from Tippu's drop (R)


Road sign @ Tippu's drop

After lunch we started our journey back and once we past the Devanahalli my friend was zooming like others but was ticketed for over speeding by the cops, who are equiped with speed guns so better be a little watchful and drive under 80 KMPH the maximum speed limit on that road.
I had been to Nandi Hills in the early part of 2008 and nothing much has changed except the new airport has become operational.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mysore - Ooty - Coonoor - Day3 - Coonoor

Day3 started not so early morning with hot water being delivered to the room and ordering idly coffee for breakfast. Thank god we were able to get our orders through because the guy would not understand anything other than Tamil and only southie languages we were little conversant being Kannada and Telugu. After Idly Coffee me and my dad walked to the Ooty Railway Station to get the tickets for the Ooty-Coonoor train but to our surprise we found a sizable amount of crowd and our position in the Queue was quite behind even at 7.30 AM. After 8 AM the counter for computerized tickets opened and only then we came to know that the tickets for First Class is issued through that counter and you need reserve seats atleast a couple of days before. So instead of trying for General ticket we decide to go to Coonoor by car itself.

Coonoor is the second largest hill station in the Nilgiris. It is about 19 km from Ooty. Coonoor is famous for its beautiful hillscapes and for a variety of wildflowers and birds. Coonoor is also famous for its production of the Nilgiri tea. The drive to coonoor from Ooty is exquisite for the narrow roads and the in-numerous tea plantations on the hills some trees so close that my mom picked a few tea leaves as well from the car window when the car was stopping due to traffic. It was also a trying time for our driver's patience and his skill again courtesy the Tamilnadu drivers :D.

The first attraction was Sim's Park a small botanical garden spread over an area of 12 hectares, its small enough for a comfortable walk around yet large enough to house a thousand varieties of trees, plants and flowers and a small lake.The park is open to public from 9:30 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. We walked around the garden and clicked some exotic pictures of flowers in the park. At the lake there were a number of fishes and the ladies fed them and there was a huge rush among the fishes to grab breakfast :) which attracted a few children from around who enjoyed the fish feeding.











Beautiful flowers in the Sim's Park

Roses in the Sim's Park, Coonoor

Next was the Doplhin's nose it's a huge rock resembling with a dolphin's nose is about 10 km from Coonoor.You can glimpse awe-inspiring Catherine Falls from atop the Dolphin nose. We got some breath taking view of the tea plantations as well. My sister got a instant photo of her with the tea basket posing as a Tea picker :). We spent time there and purchased the famed 'chocolate tea' from the nearby shops. One more thing beware of the monkeys as one of them snatched 'bhelpuri' packet from my sister, poor girl she was completely startled by the swiftness of our ancestor.

Panoramic view of the Catherine Falls from Dolphin's Nose Coonoor













Tea Gardens at the Dolphin's Nose




Below monkey mom & baby at Dolphin's Nose
The next destination was Lamb's Rock. It was named after the man Captain Lamb who tried in earnest to open a path to that particular point. With such a view, no wonder this man put forth such a valiant effort to reach the point. The rock is a jagged cliff that drops down several hundred feet to the lush jungle below. On the right hand is the Hulical ravine. It is possible to see the Coonoor stream some 5000 feet below. This vantage point also provides you with an excellent view of the Coimbatore plains. We had to trek about 500 mtrs through the jungle to get to the highest point which senior citizens avoided but we went ahead looked around.

With the Lamb' Rock our sight seeing for conoor was over and it was time to return though nobody wanted it but we had to return. On the way back we stopped at Ooty's Preethi Palace hotel for Vegeterian lunch aka Karnataka-style. Also we stopped at one of the falls which was actually very tiny one. While returning we watched Kannada movie "Mungaru Male" the sensational film of 2006. We started from Ooty at around 3PM only stopped in between at Gundlupet for evening tea and then in a place at Mandya for dinner and we reached our home by midnight. It was end to a trip with lingering feeling for more and 3 days seemed to be too less.

Mysore - Ooty - Coonoor - Day2 - Ooty

After hot day at Mysore it was now time to proceed to much cooler Ooty on second day morning, so we started at 7 AM. The driver was hurrying as he said there will be a lot of traffic on road to Ooty. The drive from Mysore to Ooty was taken through Gundlupet where we stopped for breakfast, Bandipur and Mudumalai Reserve Forest. The road near Bandipur was not at all good with stretches actually not having anything called road but once we got into Tamilnadu through the Mudumalai forest the roads are very nice. There was a hope of spotting some wild animals while driving through the Mudumalai forest but they happen more in early mornings or evenings. Though we were lucky to spot a group of deers and we stopped to get some picture and my mom gave away some flower which she got at Mysore to one of the more brave deers who actually came very near to the vehicle for the flowers. Some more cars also stopped by to catch the deers in action. I had spotted a larger deer earlier in the woods but nobody believed to stop the car. We spotted few monkeys, mongoose here and there but not any other animals. Everybody were excited as it was their first tryst with wild life but I was not much impressed as I had seen more animals in Nagarhole Wild life sanctuary on my earlier visit to Coorg. In one place there were rows of Gold Mohar(Gulmohar) trees in full bloom we asked driver to stop in Hindi but probably he didn't understand by time we chanced upon the right words "STOP Maadi" he had driven long way to turn around so we just let the opportunity of beautiful pictures go by but we had discovered the code to stop the vehicle.









Deers in the Mudumalai forest on the way to Ooty

The drive up the ghat roads was quite pleasant as we were swerving through each 'Hairpin bend" the beauty of Nilgiris was unveiling itself. The heat of the plains started disappearing soon and the cool breeze of the hills were brushing our faces.The sudden dip in temperatures was welcome relief for all of us. The first stop was the Kalahatty falls on the way to Ooty we got down trekked around 500 mtrs. but could not locate the falls which had dried up due to the summer. The surrounding scenery was breath taking with the full view of the blue mountains (Nilgiris) so rightful name. We took pictures of some beautiful wild flowers of the hill.










Flowers (L) and View (R) from Kalahatty falls


Panoramic view from Kalahatty Falls

By now it was time to get into the Hotel in Ooty, Hotel Maneck in main bazar very close to the Ooty railway station and bus stand. The place was crowded and the lanes were very narrow and dirty as well but the Hotel was little better the one in Mysore. After check-in we decided to go for lunch the Hotel has a basement Jain restaurant but some of the members were keen for Non-veg food so they went with the driver, while we the veggies finished our lunch at the jain restaurant itself.
Post lunch we started the sight seeing in Ooty and our first destination was Doddabetta the highest point in Ooty. Its got a telescope tower from where you can see the entire Nilgiri hills and the region.The place was very nice but due to excess crowd we could not get to vantage points for better pictures. Doddabetta has a Entry fee.

Panoramic view from Doddabetta hill, Ooty

Next destination was the Rose Garden which is claimed to be the largest in the world.The Rose garden is in full bloom during November, December month as that's the season for roses.Its a huge Garden with several levels with every kind of rose grown. Here also you have an Entry fee along with a camera fee.

Roses in Rose Garden

From the Rose Garden as we were moving towards the botanical garden our vehicle was flagged down by the Cops as it was a different state vehicle that too not a commercial one. The cops were questioning about the owners etc and then ultimately let go after we paid 200 bucks bribe. It was the fault of the travel agent who had sent a private vehicle instead of a commercial one.This fiasco delayed us by an hour or so we told the to skip Botanical Garden and go to the Railway station for booking the tickets for next day's train to Coonoor on the Ooty Coonoor train. After a half hour wait we came to know that only general tickets were being issued half an hour before the train departs. There are first class tickets as well but they are offered in advance through computerised booking system. There are 4 trains that run to and fro from Ooty station three to Coonoor and one to Mettupalyam near Coimbatore. The train ride is supposed to be very nice worth the viewing but we thought we'll try the next day as the tickets are available from 8.30 AM. This debacle wasted a lot of time and we rushed to the final destination of the day the Ooty lake.


People boating at Ooty Lake


The Ooty lake is a beautiful lake where you can do boating with different types of boats like the motor boat, paddle boat, the row boats etc. There is an Entry fee to the lake and you have to hire boats as per different rates. There were long queues despite which we decided for a five seater row boat or 2 three seater row boat but unfortunately due to huge rush the boats were unavailable till the counters closed for the day. We disappointed took a few pictures of the lake and returned by now Ooty had turned very cold accompanied by cool breeze it was feeling very chilly something which we can't contemplate sitting at the plains. The ladies put on their sweaters/shawls and we were missing our jackets/sweater. As it was only around 7 when we returned to the hotel, the ladies decided to go for shopping as usual in the nearby market. Come on its the Main Bazaar(market) of Ooty how can they miss it. Me and my friend decided to relax in Hotel itself. At around 8.30 we went to the Jain restaurant for dinner and after dinner me and my friend decided for a walk down the streets near by the hotel. The weather was marvellous we put on the shawl and walking around with many young couples and groups of boys also strolling around. It seemed a perfect setting for Honeymooners and couples who want to spend some cosy time away from the heat of the plains.

As the day was ending certain points were pondering in mind like Ooty is not a place for one day trip. Its a place where you need to spend some time maybe a week or so. Also we need to avoid the crowded places and try to stay somewhere in the outskirts of Ooty near Coonoor.

Final word for drivers with vehicles bearing Karnataka registration watch out for those Tamilnadu vehicles as they might want to rub you on the wrong side and please donot loose your patience if they don't allow you to pass through as a number of times our vehicle was in difficult position due to the rogue attitude of the Tamilnadu drivers. After all Ooty is in Tamilnadu state and attitude is that they are the kings of the road. So better be a little careful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mysore - Ooty - Conoor - Day1 - Mysore

This is a series of 3 posts where I'll describe the Easter trip which we went for Mysore -Ooty-Conoor by car from Bangalore. As known this year we are having a number of extended weekends. So on this Easter weekend that is on 10th, 11th and 12th April we decided to go somewhere. After trying for many destinations Mysore-Ooty-Conoor was selected to be done by car. We booked a car for three days two nights trip from Bangalore which cost us Rs.9000(including driver batta, parking, toll tax etc everything). The deal was we'll only pay the amount rest all charges relating to vehicle would be borne by the agent.

It was decided that we start at 6 AM in the morning pick-up my friend and his mom on the way and start our journey to Mysore. We had requested the travel agent for a Hindi speaking driver as we are not so conversant in Kannada or any other southern languages. The driver came a little late due to some communication problem about the time etc... He came with a 7+1 seater Toyota Qualis equipped with DVD, VCD, Audio player. It was the kind of vehicle that we were precisely looking for.

After picking up my friend we were finally off to Srirangapatnam our first destination of the day. The drive along the Mysore Road was quite nice with some Rabindra Sangeet put on as a starter for the journey. There was lot of Mysore bound traffic it seemed everybody was heading out of town. we reached Srirangapatnam after drive of 2.5 hrs without any stop midway as we were already late.


Srirangapatna : This is town which was the capital of Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali its a historic town with lot of significance to people interested in history specially the early freedom struggle of India. The first place of interest was a place where Tipu was found dead after Final war against the British in which Tipu Sultan was defeated and killed. The British and victorious army had not only stormed Srirangaptanam but they also destroyed the town(including burning down Tipu's Palace) and whatever is left now is all ruins and nothing to see so we moved to the first stop of the day Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple its a vishnu(Hindu God) temple which was built by the Wodeyars of Mysore but had survived Haider Ali-Tipu Sultan era and subsequent British onslaught.

Next stop was Daria Daulat Bag (Tipu Sultans summer Palace) this is the summer palace built by Tipu Sultan with a beautiful garden around the structure. It now houses a meuseum of the paintings of Tipu's sons and his family, different weapons used by Tipu's army, different coins in use during Tipu's regime etc, also the outer walls of the palace has splendid mural paintings of the wars fought by Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan and the durbar scenes of different contemporary kingdoms. Photography is not allowed inside the palace but you can take pictures outside in the gardens. There is a Entry fee to enter the palace. The place was too crowded but still we took some pictures and moved out.


Bronze Idol of Garuda(Lord Vishnu's Carrier) inside Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

The next destination in Srirangapatna was the Sangam its a Holy place where the other branch of the river Cauvery - Loakpavani is reunited . There is a common belief among people that their sins can be washed away if they take a dip in the sacred place.The place didn't look much apealing probably because it was summer and the rivers were not having much water flowing. There is the facilty of Coracle (round shape country boat) ride but they are too exhorbitant so we didnot venture for it.

Sangam at Srirangapatnam

Next was the Gumbaz built by Tipu Sultan but we skipped it as everybody seemed tired and it was very hot and crowded so we moved on to Mysore.
Mysore : By the time we reached Mysore it was well past noon and we decided that we head for the Hotel straight and finish-up the checkin formalities as the time mentioned was 12 noon. We had booked Hotel Dasarath Lodge near Mysore Zoo through yatra.com. The Hotel was a decent one for budget travellers like us though initially it was bit smelly and not very clean but the staff cleaned it and one of the lights in one room was not working but it was replaced promptly. After freshening up we decided to go for lunch when we asked the driver he took us to Hotel Ramanashree which is a star Hotel with a nice restaurant. After filling ourselves we headed for the Mysore Palace(the main centre of attraction in Mysore).


Mysore Palace

The Amba Vilasa Palace as the Mysore Palace is known is famous for its Grandeur and splendid works. The palace was the main palace of the Royal family of Mysore-the Wodeyars. There's a strict checking for camera as photography is strictly prohibited inside the palace. You need to take off your shoes as well before entering the complex. Inside you can the replica of the Grand throne and various artefacts of the Wodeyars including the potraits of the kings,queens,prince & princesses. Some of the doors are made of silver and ivory, the works are simiply excellent. My friend was trying capture it with his cell phone cam but was caught, the cop was nearly confiscating his cell phone but ultimately let off with a strong warning. The gardens around the palace was very beautiful but since it was too crowded we couldnot take many pictures. From Mysore palace we went to Saint Philomena's Church but couldnot get down for a closer look as the crowd was huge due to Easter celebrations, other than Palace, the church, there's the Mysore Zoo which we were not interested in. Besides there is Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary but its best to be visited in winter. So quite naturally our next and final destination was Brindavan Gardens KRS Dam.
On the way to Brindavan Gardens both my friend's and my mom wanted to watch a movie so we put on Hindi classic comedy "Golmaal".Brindavan Garden is very famous for the flora and beautiful fountains which become quite colourful after dark when the lights make the fountains awesome. The garden also has a musical fountain show which starts from 7 PM in the evening.Theres an entry fee plus a Rs.50 fee for still and 100 for video camera.If you are carrying more than 1 camera and like to save on the fees then better keep the other cameras inside pocket or bag(ie should not be visible) because theres checking and we had to pay 50 extra for the second cam. There's a boat service from main garden to the musical fountains arena, you can also walk but the boat service is good for the senior citizens who can't walk long. It was almost dark by the time we reached so after entering the main garden we clicked a few pictures then headed towards the musical, dancing fountains.By the time we reached the galleries were filled and we had to sit on the ground in front of the fountain you know the Front stall view like yester years Cinema theaters. The show had 1 Kannada, 1 Hindi, 1 English and the song "Sare jahan se achha" played to which the fountains danced with different colored lights lighting up the fountain the effect was really great. We saw the next show as well this time from the galleries, it was quite scintillating experience. After watching the antics of the fountain it was time to go back to our hotel and Day1 of the Easter trip came to an end. The dam was closed for public viewing for reason not known to us.

Few Revelations from the First day's experience :

  • If you want to enjoy every sight of Mysore, Srirangapatnam start as early as possible preferably before 6 AM from Bangalore. Like due to delayed start we had to drop Chamundeswari temple on the Chamundi Hills from our itenary.

  • Try to reach Brindavan Gardens atleast 1 hour before sun down then only you can enjoy the photography in light in the picturesque backgrounds of the gardens. Also you can watch the dancing/musical fountains and come back for the colourful display of the main garden fountains in lights.

  • Try to venture out during off season as during crowded times the rush of people become factor in your delays at different venues.

  • Also avoid in summers as it can be quite hot during the day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pappu ka Amrica Safar...Part 1(Chala pappu Amrica ...On the Way to Uncle Sam's Country)

Well in this post I am recording my first overseas visit. This is the visit to Greenville, South Carolina, US for my current project. Let me start from Visa process, well I had be on business visit(for a period of six weeks) so the Visa guys in my office asked for the documents and it was then discovered that my passport was expiring soon. Actually to get a US business visa you need the passport to be valid at least 6 months from the date of anticipated travel. I was one step behind and I needed to renew my passport. The renewal of the passport is itself a story which can become a separate post altogether. Omiting that part I got my passport ready after which I got my schedule to visit the US consulate office in Chennai.

I was briefed by the Visa team in my office about the Visa interview etc. And then I proceeded to get my Visa in Chennai and Thank God the whole process went uneventful and smooth !!! So the first step was done I had Visa for US now I had to shop some essentials and warm clothes as it was winter and Greenville was supposed be cold. The shopping part was mostly done by my parents with some contribution from me as well. Now we had everything shopped from sweaters/jackets to underwear to rice to medicines to some basic masalas almost everything was done. It was time for packing here again my parents chipped in with their years of travelling experience. So i was all set to travel with all my bags packed and all documents, dollars(this was first time I had any other currency other than INR :) in my wallet) everything in place.

The flight was at 3.30 AM but I was to be at airport minimum 3 hours ahead and this being my first international travel I didn't want to miss the flight so got the cab booked for 10.30 Pm. The cab reached airport by 11.30 and as that was post 26/11 so there was great amount of checking and frisking near the airport. Actually it looked like war zone with paramilitary forces posted in sandbag covered bunker and automatics weapons etc. As I reached almost 4 hrs before the flight I was not allowed into the airport for security reasons. Though I was a little irritated but as it was for our security I waited outside and must say was feeling sleepy. But had to be awake as i was travelling alone I had no one to look after the luggage. Around midnight I got into the airport and while check-in the Lufthansa guy asked for window or aisle seat but I was too engrossed in filling the immigration form that he did his own selection :(. Next was the passing through the Indian immigration. The guy on counter seemed to be pretty cheerful he greeted with a smile and asked routine questions and stamped the passport. Then after the security clearance I was waiting for the Flight to Frankfurt. Let me mention here I was flying from Bangalore to Frankfurt then from there to Chicago and from Chicago to Greenville my final destination. I was really excited that I will be actually boarding an international flight and my heart was pounding in anticipation of finally getting to see some foreign(German) air hostesses. Likewise the crew first boarded the flight with a few pretty air hostesses. Once again I was lost in thoughts trying to figure which one will be serving in my seating area. Then they announced the boarding of my flight it was first the First class/Business class passengers then we the Economy class. Now it was time to come face to face with the air hostesses(aha..) but to my disappointment a little plump lady was welcoming at the gate. Anyway I had the whole journey ahead so went searching for seat found it to be an aisle one. I was cursing myself for not having opted for the window seat it was the first overseas travel and had to be by window seat to see beautiful sights below from the window.

Anyway opportunity once missed is gone forever so i settled into my seat and as usual people were coming in and no good air hostesses around i was hoping at least some nice(beautiful European or American) co-passenger would take the seat beside me. It was only a hope a damn hope which got turned down as a old guy and his old wife stood in front of me looking for the
seats next to me. With the air hostesses not being to my expectation, I was wondering what happened to the beautiful ones that had boarded.... maybe they were serving the First Class/Business Class after all they pay more fares don't they.

After the standard procedures the plane took off and pappu was finally off to America.The captain welcomed us and announced that the flight will take about 7 hrs to reach Frankfurt. The chief of the cabin crew announced that a small snack followed by a dinner and finally a breakfast will be served. Dinner in morning sounded very funny but I must say fun had just begun as I was travelling back in time. They put on the entertainment programme on tv but didnot give any headphones so i was trying to lip read the actors in the movie. Soon after 'dinner' most people went to sleep but my body was revolting as it was time to 'wake-up' back home and so i was wide awake trying entertain myself with lip reading the TV. BTW this was turning out to be a very long day for me as it was a working day so I had been to office by day and travelling by night. It was still around five and half hours to destination so i tried to sleep. I woke up and it was just an hour or so i had slept. It was really disgusting as the TV was showing just information about cruise altitude,outside temperature, time at destination etc...sometimes it was changing to a map showing the flight path and to add to it most of the passengers were snoring. Out of boredom i guess i started dozing off, this way i spent another hour or so. By now the old guy next to me starting speaking to me as he was also not able to sleep... atleast I found some company. I came to know that he's a German and had retired from his job as a government servant and was in India as a part some NGO to do some voluntary work. He and his wife go around the Third world coutries doing this social service. It was good to know that he liked India and its peculiarities. Once the breakfast was over we were ready for landing in Frankfurt. Thank God finally the first lap of the journey was ending. I walked down the steps of the aircraft and for the first time I saw the huge plane that had flown us from Bangalore to Frankfurt. The outside temperature was -3C and for the first time in my life I understood what it feels when you walk in sub-zero temperatures. The walk from the plane to bus was truly 'chilling', I almost ran to avoid freezing.
Frankfurt International Airport is really big and I had to walk miles (not really but it was about 3-4 Kms) before I reached the terminal for Flight to Chicago. Here I cleared the German immigration, the guy at the counter looked like a desi. Then there was security clearance after which I was at the gate where the actual flight was to leave for Chicago. All this walking and excitement of immigration, security check etc made me feel hungry. It must have been lunch time in India but in Germany it was morning. There were some food stalls at the gate but they charged in Euros and I was having Dollars & INR then I searched my backpack found 2 apples and Britania Cream Cracker biscuits packed by Mom. It was good enough for me. The waiting here was about 3 hrs but the transit to this gate took about an hour so I was to wait for two more hours. While waiting at the gate I was watching many desis/videshis some waiting like me, some sleeping, some chatting, One Mongolian lady, don't know whether Chinese or Japanese was clicking pics of her kids and herself and I was missing my camera which was packed in checked-in luggage. There were glass panels and you could see the activity outside like it happens in most of the airports in India also. Then came the giant aeroplane.... my god it was really huge, huge wings, large engines it was awesome. In the morning I could not see the whole plane but now whole of it was in front of me, this was Airbus A-320 I think the morning one was a Boeing. After it docked the ground staff started their work the huge engine blades looked majestic. This was the craft which would take me to US.

Once again I boarded my second plane of the day but this time airhostess at the gate was better and I felt maybe this could be my day. On entering the Economy Class section I saw the airhostesses were better and seats were nicer and they had personal TV screens I was overwhelmed. well well I probably will not have to lip read this time :).As I put my luggage in the compartment above I heard a sweet voice from behind "Excuse me Can you help me please" i turned I saw a beautiful girl asking for help with her heavy bag. I immediately picked up the bag stowed it into the compartment above with a smiling face. She thanked me for it. I was thanking the stars that finally I would have a good company and she sat on the seat across the aisle. I was contemplating on the prospects of starting a conversation etc. etc.... But as they say you cannot have all good things together, she seemed to have sat on the wrong seat and she moved to a seat two rows in the front :( :'( . The captain of the flight announced that it'll take about eight and half hours to reach Chicago. i thought this would be a longgggggg... flight and the flight would be across the Atlantic. As the airhostess gave the headphone I started the programmes in the personal tv. It had English movies, English music videos, Tamil movies, Hindi movies, Tamil and Hindi videos among host of other things. While browsing through the movies I could not find anything worth watching and after weighing different options I went for a Tamil movie "Yaaradi Nee Mohini" with English sub-titles. The lead actors were Nayanthara and Dhanush, it was a nice movie. Then I watched "Wall-e". In between meals were coming and I was walking upto the airhostess station for a drink or two in all the journey went well. As for that girl the seat beside her was empty and she made a cosy bed with the two seats and was mostly sleeping. Till then it was almost 17 hours I was travelling and my watch was still tuned to German time which I adjusted in Frankfurt to keep track of the local time. I again changed the time to Chicago time. In India it was late evening by then, in Frankfurt it was late afternoon but in Chicago it only about noon. In about an hour we were landing at Chicago before landing the cabin crew distributed the I-94 and customs declaration forms which were to be filled by non-immigrant visa holders entering US. I goofed a couple of times while filling the form and then could finally fill it correctly. After getting down from the plane I was directed to the US immigrant services. Naturally I was little nervous after all first international travel. I was waiting in queue for my turn and the lady before me seemed to be Spanish or French and the officer had tough time instructing her for the biometric verification process. When my turn came the officer greeted me asked very routine questions like why you are in US, which company you work for and how long are you going to stay etc. Then he asked me to stand in front of a webcam so that he can take a picture, probably i was pretty serious he said "A smile would be appreciated sir, it'll look good on our records" and I smiled, he clicked a picture and returned my passport after stamping the duration of stay. The guy seemed to be having a good sense of humour. Now I was to take my checked-in luggage so I was eagerly waiting for my luggage to appear. A number of luggage misplace stories were doing rounds in my head but finally both the bags appeared. I passed the customs and was to re-checkin the luggage and the lady near the conveyor said something i couldn't understand it was my first direct contact with typical US accent. Then she said "Hey man leave the trolley and go that way" is what I could gather ;) . If Frankfurt Airport was big Chicago O'Hare Intl Airport was huge you need to take a train to go from one terminal to other. Ultimately Pappu was in Uncle Sam's Country but still far away from my final destination.

In train I could see snow outside, this was my first live view of snow, the snow covered cars etc looked great. After reaching the domestic terminal I had to pass through security check where you have to take off your shoes and belts. Here I had to board a United Airlines flight to Greenville which was about 5 hours later so I had about 4 hours to spend. On reaching the right gate for the Greenville flight, hunger and thirst gripped me so I was looking for food and water, after searching I found fruits were the best option as I was not aware of the stuff being served in the different food stores there. As I was waiting I was seeing around watching the people of 'US'. A desi family was also waiting for a different flight, it was a typical Desi family with husband, wife, kids and mother-in-law. The entire family were speaking in accent except the mother-in-law. The adults were constantly arguing about something and they were speaking Sindhi I felt. One of the American Lady passengers asked the kids whether they were triplets one of the kids replied two of them were twins and he was separate and older than them. Meanwhile people were coming and waiting for sometime then boarding their planes and new set of people were coming it was looking like a busy railway station only more modern and clean. Finally Fatigue had started to seep in as it was almost 24 hrs since I had set out and it was actually time to sleep back home but here it was broad daylight. At this juncture a Mongolian woman started enquiring about the Greenville flight which was supposedly delayed by 30 minutes it was for the first time I heard someone asking about Greenville flight. Naturally I started to speak with her and came to know that she was from Philippines and coming to US to visit her relative who lives in Greenville. Meanwhile she told since we have some time for the flight why not go for walk and see around the airport and we started walking. This was her first US visit as well. We returned after a while and saw nothing written in displays for the Greenville flight. On enquiring we learnt that the gate for Greenville flight had been changed and we rushed to the new gate. It was already dark outside and while boarding the flight I once again faced the cold and wind it was freezing in Chicago as well. When I saw the aircraft I was suprised by the size it was tiny even compared to the low cost carrier Air Deccan plane, inside they had only 2+1 seating arrangement and in luggage compartment I couldnot fit my backpack and I was told to stash it under the seat. The airhostess a fat old lady confirmed that this flight was going to Greenville because another flight to Charlotte was being boarded beside simultaneously. Finally the plane took and while plane was taking to sky I could see why Chicago was on of the busiest airports in the world. There were so many aircrafts taking-off and landing simultaneously.

The flight from Chicago to Greenville was 1 hr 10 mins... in flight they serve soft beverages. Once I landed in Greenville I was extremely tired and was eagerly wanting to reach the hotel. Our onsite Transition Manager Kevin was there to recieve me at the airport. When I went to take my baggages I found the bigger bag's trolley was broken and the handle damaged. Kevin told that we can complain with the airlines and we'll get a new bag or compensation but i don't know why I was not in mood to wait anymore i said its ok we'll move. We reached his car and after loading the luggage in car-booty I started moving towards the left side of the car and was reminded that I ought to be on the other side as its 'US'. My first adaption US environment was vehicles there are left-hand driven. The moment car started moving onto road it was more confusing as vehicle were plying on the opposite side road as compared to India. Kevin was telling me about Greenville and we reached the hotel. In US to check-in to hotel you have to swipe your credit/debit card which will be charged once you finally check-out of the hotel.

Somewhere I had read America runs on plastic money I got a taste of it but my cards were not working due to some reason so Kevin swiped his card and told that if we can fix my cards then it'll be charged to my card. Finally I moved into the hotel room and quickly made a call home to inform about me safely reaching. I was not very sure about time and day back in India because in US it was still the same day 10th Dec 2008, 9 PM after 27-28 hrs.
This is the end of the first part of the series in my next part I'll talk about my stay in Greenville, South Carolina...
to be continued....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pappu ka Amrica Safar...Part 2(pappu Amrica mein kya kiya ??? What happened there??? )

First day in America : As told earlier I was very tired so I hit the bed at the earliest. Set the alarm for 6'O clock morning and went to sleep but Jet Lag caught me on and I was wide awake by 2 AM :D.... all my efforts to sleep went down the drain or must say down the bed and I was half asleep and half awake. Anyway got out of the bed at 6 AM got ready and went down for breakfast. Breakfast was pretty simple with just bread/jam and apples. After finishing my breakfast I was waiting at the reception for Kevin to take me to office. Kevin came in at 8.45 and we set off to office which was just next to the hotel. Once into office all my Indian colleague came rushing to see after who was this guy who became the talk of the town due to delay in arrival to US. Someone commented "Jeez you are here finally...its been quite a wait". After the 'Welcome' I quickly got down to business and started my work, soon it was lunch and one of the guys came over and asked about my plans I said no idea. He took me to his apartment for "Grand Indian lunch". It was a great feeling to have rice, dal and bhindi(lady's finger/okra) curry which he had prepared. Likewise after lunch it was back to work. In the evening I was 'invited' by another friend to his apartment and we had an Indian dinner. After dinner I was feeling very tired(Jet Lag) so went to my hotel room and called off the day. So the first day in US went very well.

First weekend in US :The first weekend started in very nice way with my friends taking me to a party for celebrating one of the guy's birthday and also to bid farewell to two others who were returning back to India. It was typical 'guyz nightout' with unlimited drinks, chicken and lots of controversial issues to argue and blow your vocal chords on. I didnotdrink as I am under an "drinks embargo" by the doctors, due to the appendicitis surgery a few months back. The night ended with around of 'Lemon rice'. Next day it was almost afternoon when we returned to my hotel room andgotready for lunch outside. We went to Chik-Fil-a the pioneers of chicken sandwich. I got the "chicken salad sandwich" with iced-tea my friends had chicken nuggets and burger. I must say the nuggets were real tasty and crispy too. Next stop was 'Wal-mart' for some groceries where I was shown how to swipe the card myself and sign the reciept electronically. This was bit different as in India the counter guys do the swiping. I had to walk carrying the groceries all way to the hotel which was about 2-3 kms from the store. In India i am used to carry groceries for 3-4 kms but there it seemed i was walking miles. The reason probably was we were the only souls walking. That night my dinner was fruits, crackers(biscuits), candies(chocolate) and fruit punch(mixed fruit juice) as I had enough through the day. Sunday I was supposed to go to one of the guys apartment for lunch at an Indian restaurant but couldn't make it, as another guy was coming in from India and I was to receive him at the hotel. The whole afternoon was spent chatting about his journey and other stuff like that. In the evening I watched Vinay Pathak's movies "Dasvidaniya" on my Laptop. So the first weekend was over and I slept early as I was to wake-up early next day as I was to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina for 2 days business trip.

Trip to Charlotte, North Carolina:The trip to Charlotte began early morning. Charlotte is about 100 miles(160 Kms) east of Greenville which is about 1 hour 45 mins drive. Charlotte is the second largest banking headquarters in the United States after New York City with two leading banks of US headquartered there. So we started at 7.30 AM. This was my first long drive in US and for the first time I was on Interstate Highway. The experience was very thrilling as the car was running at an average speed of 70 MPH (110 KPH). My manager who was driving me to Charlotte was explaining about the different places as they paced by with a little bit of history about the place thrown in. We reached our destination by 9.15 AM, on reaching it was business as usual. After checking in to the hotel my manager said we will have dinner at around7.30 PM. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday an 'American Restuarant' with guaranteed burgers and special steaks. Burger guarantee means if you don't like it they will replace it :). Though I was tempted to go for Steak but I had 'Ruby's Classic Burger ' the classical American burger. The next day we went for lunch at a Greek restuarant where I didnot experiment much... went for a chicken sandwich... which was barbecued breasts with salads rolled in 'Pita Bread'. I could not see much of Charlotte as we had to return that day. We reached Greenville around 4.30 pm. It was the day when I was to check-out of hotel and move to an apartment. This shifting was helped by our operations manager there...after shifting she took me to a grocery(Bi-Lo) to do the basic groceries so that i can start my life in apartment :).

Christmas in US :It is quite obvious that the trip was for six weeks and the trip covered the holidays (Christmas and New Year). Actually the holidays are pretty boring for outsiders like us... as everybody go on leave and we were the only few desis working. Anyway let me say how the Christmas was spent. Christmas eve was a holiday and we were told that all stores and everything closes down early on Christmas eve and everything is completely closed on Christmas so we better get our provisions in place beforehand itself. On Christmas eve we met in one of the apartments and prepared and had meals together. I had fried pappads and bhindi(Okra/Lady's finger), dal and rice was done by others. After lunch we decided we must go out as the weather was improving. Now let me mention here the weather was turning very bad for few days. It was raining and cold winds were blowing. So we went to downtown Greenville. Downtown is a sort of Central Business District or City Centre like MG Road area in Bangalore or Esplande in Kolkata. Actually US cities have this concept of Downtown, midtown and suburbs. Suburbs is where most people live and they work in & arounddowntown. Its a place where you find the offices, shopping malls, theatres, restaurants, night life etc.... A typical US downtown is generally tall buildings and agreeably narrow lanes with lots of twists and turns. Greenville downtown is bit different from others as there is a river flowing right through the downtown andabeautiful park with bridge and falls. The pictures on Greenville travel guides are very beautiful but thats all in Fall or Summer... in winters like the time we were all the beauty disappears. When we reached downtown it was around 2.30 pm and most of the stores, restaurants, art galleries were closed with notices that they'll open again on 26ththat is on boxing day. It was also very desertedwithvery little number of people moving around. We parked our car near the River Park and entered into the park. The park withriver, falls, bridge looked nice but the trees were all barren. The colors were gone after the Fall. Actually a few guys who were there during fall had taken some splendid pictures of the same place. We could not roam around for long as it was nearly freezing there. And one of the guys remembered he had to buy gift for his American friend withwhom he was living.... so we were running around looking for a gift store and came to know that there's this Mast General Store which will close by 4 pm. We started running towards the store as it was already 3.50 by then. As we entered the store they were announcing that they'll close by 4 and everybody was requested to co-operate. We were rushing through different items from toys to apparels to candies to handcrafted items...but the friend of ours was unable to decide so he asked the help of the counter girl and though she suggested some perfumes etc but he couldnot decide and by now it was already 4 andtheguys were closing the counters. My friend finally found a nice coffee mug which had been hand painted. He quickly purchased it and as we were leaving the store it was 4.10 and the manager was at the gate to wish us christmas very politely. There a bit of thing about this store ...its one of the oldest store in Greenville which is there right from the end of 1800s. So it was a heritage store :) maintaining much of its old worldly charm... After we came out we realized that it was the last store open in downtown and there was nothing much left to explore, so we returned. Now in India we celebrate Christmaswith cakes and grand dinners, lunches, likewise we had decided to cook chicken on Christmas in US as well and celebrate. The chicken and other ingredients were already procured on the day before Christmas eve. So we prepared and had chicken with rice, chappatis( tortillas) and curd (yogurt) for lunch. Again we went to downtown on Christmas and clicked some pictures and my digital camera started giving problems before going dead completely. In the evening I watched TV in my apartment had only rice and cauliflower/potato curry for dinner.

Lunch at the Indian Restaurants in Greenville:As I mentioned earlier I missed lunch at Indian Restaurant on that Sunday I was given an opportunity on 26th December-the boxing day when my friends took me to Handi-Indian cuisine in downtown. It was nice to be able have Indian food in a foreign land. Its not that I was missing it but I thought... lets see what are these guys serving the NRIs and Americans in the name of Indian cuisine....I must say the food was "Good try" ;) and it was expensive. The following Sunday I was taken to another Indian restaurant Saffron which is supposed to be the best Indian cuisine in town. I guess the food was "better" then 'Handi'.

New Year Celebrations in US:As the New Year approached lots of planning started happening around... also this created some differences in opnion with one set of guys wanting to have party at home other small set wanting to go out. I was more for going out as partying indoor is something we can do back home in India but don't know whether I'll get chance celebrate a New Year in US more specifically in Greenville. Nevertheless a consensus was reached with plan that food would be prepared at home alongwithfew drinks then who so ever wanted to go out would go out.... The plan looked good on paper with having best of the both sides :) ....but noone seemed to have considered the time factor. Anyway as planned we started our new year eve after office by getting chicken and other items. Then cooking for so many(about 10 ppl) took quite a while and by the time we were ready to go it was 11.30 Pm. Eventually when we started it turned out that everyone was willing to go out.... so we set out in 2 cars towards downtown to see how they celebrate in Greenville. We reached downtown by 11.45 - 15 min from the New Year, after parking the car we started walking down the Main Street which was decorated with lights etc. Andwepassed a pub with a lot of noisy crowd. We wanted to enter but guy at the door asked for ids (age proof) , its mandatory in South Carolina to be above 18 to have alcohol. Thus the Pubs, Clubs, Stores all ask for ids before allowing anyone alcohol. Except one of H1B guys nobody was having Ids. So we were roaming everywhere not being able to get in anywhere just peeping from outside. It was freezing outside and it was almost midnight but nothing could be done. We were cribbing about not coming earlier and being a part of the whole thing. It seemed a great environment with so many young goris dancing inside. Then the clock struck 12 andthe revelry reached feverish pitch with everyone erupting and shouting wishes. Fireworks started lighting up the sky. We stood there watching from the sidelines very disappointed with ourselves. After about 20 minutes we decided to call it a days started moving towards the car. While passing the corner of the Main Street we came across a Bar and Night club called 'Blu Martini' and one of the most optimistic guys in the group said "Let's try one last time". So we walked up to the entrance and as usual the guy at the door asked for id we said "only one of us has it. can't you allow" He said "Any id'll do sir !!! Even Indian one'll do" we looked in our pockets and wallets and said "Sorry" he then thought for a while andpointed towards the lady inside and said "Pay $10 there and get in" we were little startled and asked "all of us?" He said "yes". We got in and it was usual pub kinda place with loads of drunk people dancing to music. We looked around for the drinks counter and they got a beer each and got to the dance floor. We started dancing and lots of people were coming and joining us. One of the goris cameand started to dance with H1B guy and had brief conversation after which she drifted away. I was overwhlemed to able to dance with so many Goris ;) . The party went on till 2 Am and the music stopped couple of the goris were asking for numbers etc but I didn't have any to share. So do we say then "Where there's will there's way" I guess we should. 2009 started on a quite unexpected note. We reached home almost in morning and slept.

Trip to Atlanta, Georgia:The trip to Atlanta was planned as we all wanted to go around and see some places around Greenville. Likewise a Rental car was booked, hotel booked and the entire itenary planned that is the places we like to see. Atlanta is about 145 miles (233 Kms) from Greenville and it takes about 2 hours 30 mins drive to reach there. So we started pretty early about 7.30 Am in the morning. The H1B guy had got a smart SUV(Black Toyota RAV4) and I was overwhelmed by its looks. It was cold, foggy morning with huge fog cover. After driving about two and half hours we reached our first destination of the day 'The Georgia Aquarium" by 10 AM but we had about an hour or so before the place opened up. So we looked around for breakfast and foundadecent place nearby. After breakfast we headed back to the Aquarium. It is the world’s largest Aquarium withover 8 million gallons of water – the top Atlanta attraction, right in the heart of downtown. Inside we saw lots of different types of fish andother aquatic animals like squids, sting rays, jelly fish, sea-otters, whales etc. It had some amazing displays of the animals withvolunteersexplaining their lifestyle, behaviour etc. It took more than 2 hours to see around the entire aquarium. By this time it was already lunch time and everybody wanted to go for lunch into an Indian Restaurant Swapna. The buffet was awesome actually the H1B guy who was driving us was not feeling hungry and wished for something 'light' but the taste of Swapna made him eat the full course actually he overate. Why only him infact all of us had overeaten. Result was that we needed a walk post lunch and after that we visited an Indian Grocers as I had to pick-up "sona masoori" rice which was a little cheap in Atlanta compared to Greenville. After which we had to check-in to hotel but before that we dropped one of the guy's to his Indian friend's place. After freshening-up and a brief rest we planned for a night out andthis was not in my itinerary as someone else had taken the responsibility. Armed with the addresses of a few clubs and pubs we headed out of hotel at 7 Pm. As we had lot of time we planned to go for movie and searched for IMAX and ended-up in a deserted museum and eventually gave up the idea of movie. Then we move towards the clubs by now it was past 8 PM. We searched for a few places andgoingin circles trying to find a free- parking, finally ended up in a place called LocaLuna a Restaurant cum bar with Live music. Once insidewe discovered that it was Latino night with salsa music playing and people doing salsa to it. The guys ordered drink andI ordered plain water withno ice :-D . After looking at the menu we were not able to figure out what to order so we asked the help of the waitress who suggested Grilled Chicken Skewers withCrispy Plantains with Cuban Mojo Sauce which turned out to be a tasty starter. We ordered a couple more of the same dish. Meanwhile as the night progressed the crowd started to grow and more and more hot girls, lesbians started pouring in. We then ordered the main course Tacos- Taco de Pollo, Chipotle and Onion Braised Chicken, Lettuce, Lime Crema which was also very nice. Once the dinner was over it was around midnight and crowd had swollen greatly and most were busy dancing. We wanted to join but the problem was we didnot know salsa !!!! also didnot have any female company. After spending some time watching the crowd dance we moved back to our hotel. While coming out the interesting thing we noted was here also ids were being asked andprobablythere was an entry fee. Finally the first day at Atlanta ended with each of us jumping into our beds alone :( .Next day started little late naturally as all were very tired the previous day. We got ready by 9 and after having breakfast we headed towards the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir located in Lilburn. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Atlanta is the sixth BAPS traditional Hindu stone temple built outside of India. It is also the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India. It serves members of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism, which originated in India more than 200 years ago. This is the same sect which has built Akshardham (Delhi), Akshardham (Gandhinagar) andothertemples around the world. The temple is built fully in marble and it looked splendid in the morning sun. Insidethe sculptures are simply breathtaking all done in marble stone. Pictures are allowed only outside so we clicked a lots of pictures. The whole ambience was simply superb and nobody wanted to move out. But we had to go as the complex was closing by noon to be opened again in evening. Next stop was Global Mall, Norcross it was most recommended by the Indian community in Greenville. The Global Mall, the first indoor South Asian Mall in North America, is home to a rich Indian culture. The Global Mall, one of Atlanta's premier shopping centers, boasts over 60 specialty stores andrestaurants. At the Global Mall, we foundone-of-a-kind stores and services, clothing, jewelry, furniture, banking, dining, dancing, tutoring, arts and crafts, make-up professionals, beauty salons, entertainment, game rooms, and much more. Let me mention here that Atlanta has a fairly large concentration of South-Asian community like other big cities of US namely New York, Chicago etc. It was nice to see 2nd, 3rd generation Indians learning Indian dance, music, art etc. We had lunch at one of the Indian Restuarantswhichwas worst Indian food I had in a while. Now we decide to check out the movie theatre which showed Indian movies 'Galaxy Peachtree FunPlex' in Norcross only. They were showing a Telugu movie, a Tamil movie, a Malayalam movie and Hindi movies Rab Ne Banadi Jodi & Ghajini After looking at the theatre and the prices we decided to drop the idea as most of us had watched the movies back in India. It made sense for people living in US and have no chance to see Indian movies. Hence we decided to head towards downtown for the Olympic centennial park. One thing is important to mention here is the distances between two location were huge andmuchtime was taken navigating around. Also we went off-course many times despite having GPS to guide, simply because we were missing turns and getting into wrong street as most of us were inexperienced in deciphiring the GPS instructions. After reaching Olympic centennial park we clicked pictures androamed around the downtown. The downtown looked very desolate and scary to move alone. There were shady characters andhomeless roaming around. Sometimes they were approaching us but we were just ignoring them, moreover seeing a group of 5 mostly they were not bothering us. There are lots of stories about safety concerns in Atlanta downtown. As it was getting dark also it was time for us to go to our last destination of the Atlanta Trip-the house of our account manager. Actually when he came to know that we were in town he invited us for dinner at his house. This was something 'un American' as they generally donotinvite people they do not know so well personally or otherwise. We reached his house with brownies and cakes . After a few drinks andsnacks we sat for dinner. It was my first experience of dinner with an American family. Our hostess apologized for not being able to cook a grand meal. She asked whether anybody could prepare barbecue sauces but we could help her. She had barbecued chicken, prawns, vegetables and rice. Everything tasted very nice and we were chatting about 'arranged' marriages v/s 'love' marriages and it seemed that a few Americans nowadays were turning to marriages 'arranged' by their friends and family. They gave an example of their co-worker whose recent marriage was 'arranged' by them. Also they talked about 'Slumdog Millionare' and they were raving about the film, expressing that it'll sweep the Oscars this year and look at the irony except me nobody else in the group had even heard of 'Slumdog' :-P . Can we say 'Ignorance is bliss' :D . By the time we finished dinner and desert rounds were done it was almost 9 Pm time to leave. After thanking our hosts we headed back for Greenville and reached our apartments around 11 and the 'Trip to Atlanta' came to an end.

Trip to Columbia,SC, Charleston,SC and Ashville, NC :The penultimate weekend was spent going around these places. The trip was planned hastily as we got a good deal for car on Friday night. Due to communication gap between me and my friend we started late for Columbia at about 10 AM. Columbia is about 90 miles (145 Kms) from Greenville it takes about one and half hrs. to reach. We reached Columbia's Lake Murray but could not do much because of extreme cold. The Lake has a beautiful earthen dam. The next stop was Finlay Park in Columbia Downtown. Before moving there we decided thought of picking up some supplies like cold drinks, chips etc... from Aldi supermarket. Its here we made a startling discovery that the GPS was not getting power from the car's power outlet. The GPS box lost all its power and was dead. The car was a brand new red Toyota Camry 2009 an awesome car but it was not supporting my friend's GPS box. Without a GPS box driving around unknown towns in US is almost impossible. To add to our worries the friends phone was also on low battery but still he could make a call to the car rental co. and they said to take the car to the Columbia airport where it can be fixed or replaced. Now the question was how to get to the airport without GPS :) , I told my friend to ask someone the directions. He went ahead & asked a lady who gave rough directions and told to follow the road signs. So we followed her directions and the road signs to reach the airport finally. At the airport the guys took the car to the workshop got it checked and foundno problem with the power outlet. They then decided to change the car and gave a White Chevrolet Cobalt. This car was supporting the GPS but was an older model not really very impressive. We again started moving after about one and half hours at the airport. We reached the Finlay Park but it was empty and not anything special other a big park. We decided to grab something to eat so we entered into Subway outlet and I picked turkey $5 footlong. While driving through the downtown we reached Downtown, Five Points and parked our car. The area is north of USC around the intersections of Harden Street, Devine Street and SanteeAvenue. with different boutiques, shops, restaurants infact therewas this Indian Restaurant named "India Pavilion" right there. The place was beautifully decorated with fountains, restaurants andpubshaving tables outside on the street like the European cities. We clicked some pictures and started towards Charleston, SC around 3.30 PM. Charleston is a beach town of South Carolina its also has significant place in the Revolutionary war andhistoryof USA. It is about 113 miles from Columbia, it took around2 hrs with Resting in a 'Rest Area' on I26 (Interstate 26). At the rest area I got the feel of speed of vehicle travelling on the highway, they were just zooming @ avg speed of 60-75 miles. When we reached Charleston it was already dark and we drove upto the Folly beach andcameback as it was already closed. On the way we crossed the lovely 'Ashley River Memorial Bridge' tried to take pictures from inside the car but didn't come out well. Then we drove to Kings street in downtown which seemed to be famous for its Night life. Once in kings street we were overwhelmed by the number of young people on the street on a chilly winter evening. This was for first time in US we saw people (specifically young girls) walking alone on streets. All this made us desperate to look for a place to stay at night and we started searching in GPS for B&Bs but as the luck had it nowhere there was space. One very polite owner came out on the cold street and pointed us to a few B&Bs as she didn't have space. Many places no one was there to answer the doors or the offices were closed with phone nos. to be contacted but we couldn't call as my friend's phone battery had gone dead. It was extremely cold out there andwalking around knocking doors seemed to be very difficult. At last we had to abandon the idea of staying there after searching for more than an hour. All this searching and roaming made us hungry so started looking for places to eat and ended up in Nirlep Indian Restaurant on Savannah Hwy. We had dinner of 'Baingan Bharta' an eggplant( Brinjal) curry and Dal Makhani, these dinner entrees come with basmati rice and onion chutney. I must tell just two dishes were too much for us and we actually struggled to finish them. It was about 10 pm and we decided to turn back because it would was about three and half hours drive back to Greenville. While returning I kept blabbering all the time because I didnotwant my friend to fall asleep on the wheel, still he felt drowsy and we turned into a gas exit for gas(fuel) and some rest for him as well. Finally we reached home around 2 AM. I told him to sleep in my apartment as we didnot want to delay next day.On Sunday we were searching for a nearby place to go as my friend didn't want to drive far and we zeroed upon Asheville, North Carolina.Its about 50 miles from Greenvile and is just about an hour's drive. Drive from Greenville to Asheville is very nice as you have to pass through the mountains and the roads are simply awesome. We could see icicles in some places also some of the water bodies were frozen. This place must be very beautiful during spring or the fall. The first stop in Asheville was Biltmore House in Biltmore estate its claimed to be the "largest" home in North America. We reached there by 10.30 and it was very cold. To enter the complex we required to take tickets which were expensive, though I was willing to go in but one of the other guys didn't want to go in and"waste time" seeing "a large house" so we had return from outside. Next we headed straight for the downtown to see "Buildings". It was pretty cold but still there were tourists roaming around the downtown. The place was very romantic with some very beautiful buildings more like European structures. We kept moving around andclicking pictures, there were many pretty faces aroundtoo;). For lunch we found out only Indian restaurant Mela. Though Mela is an Indian restuarant its waited by pretty American girls in short skirts :D which took us by complete surprise, moreover we were the only desis having lunch there. Also one more thing, I felt overwhlemed by the popularity of Indian Cuisine in US, that it had reached every nook andcorner. Whichever city I went ended up finding a decent Indian restaurant. After lunch we looked around some Art Galleries. We returned to Greenville by 6 PM so my city trips in US came to an end for this trip of US....

Trivia :Other than going around to many cities we also had been local mall namely Haywood mall or went shopping at woodruff road. One of the saturdays we went to 'Prime Outlets' at Gaffney, its a place where biggest brands like Reebok, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic, American Eagle, Samsonite, Bose etc had their factory outlets. I didnot shop much except a couple of sweaters from Tommy Hilfiger as most of the apparels were with "Made in India/China/Vietnam" tags, does it make sense to pay in $ for stuff produced in Asia.
It was time to return in no time and six weeks in US were coming to an end ,with me packing my bags, only this time doing everything myself, though I had not shopped much and some of the items like rice etc was emptied, it was easier to pack. I was all set for flying back on 24th Jan. The story of flight back home in my next post :) . It'll be the final part of this series.....
to be continued....