How to efficiently travel plan with the top 7 tips

Travel Planning

So you caught a bug to go places, see and do things but are anxious of how and where to begin? The thought of the gigantic mountain of things to do before starting the actual travel is enough to make a beginner feel jittery.

I won’t lie and tell you that I spent a lot of time reading stuff and learning how to plan for a successful trip. I do spend a lot of time reading now, but I had my own personal planner when I started travelling. The perks of a travel junkie spouse.

After having travelled a fair bit, I started participating in the planning, have my say and take control of the itenary.

The entire process booking tickets, researching the place and the overall planning gives me immense satisfaction and makes me giddy with anticipation of turning the plans into reality. I do the research and draw out the draft, which the both (my husband and I) of us sit and finalise.

While you plan, it is important (and fairly obvious) to take into consideration your budget, interests and priorities. Here are some things that we always take into account while planning our trips.

1.Travel tickets

Travel

Book as early as you can and go for the non-refundable ones if your dates are final. Saves a lot of money. Go for the no-frills airlines, like Tiger Air, that offer some of the cheapest tickets.

2.Accommodation

Hotels

Again non-refundable deals are the best. Hostels and shared accommodations work best for people who don’t mind strangers and the space constraints.

Location of your accommodation is important. Consider priorities of your group and think of a location that agrees with most (if not all) interests.

We are just back from Singapore and we stayed in little India to accommodate our parents’ strictly vegetarian palate. Hunting for a veggie restaurant everyday had the potential to spoil our day. So think about things that would turn the experience sour and accommodate for those needs.

3.Commute

Local commute

Make generous use of Google maps and find out the distances between your places of interest when deciding the mode of transport.

If you plan on using public transport, check their website and keep yourself informed about buying tickets or travel cards.

If you plan to use taxi, Google and read about others’ experiences with taxis at the places your are visiting.

I highly suggest to get a prepaid local number and data activated on it to use for maps.

4.Itenary

Itenary

Plan each day out and list out the activities. Best to write everything of importance you found while reading about the place and print it out to carry it with you.

Note down all places you want to visit and prioritise. Start the daily itenary with the high priority ones(obviously). Note down their opening and closing times, duration(approx) of the visit, tickets and options for commute.

Read a lot of reviews to get an idea about the experience.

Take into account lunch and other breaks you might need if you travel with elders and/or children.

That said, I highly recommend leaving a little room for spontaneity and surprises, if you can. This gives you an opportunity to explore the place and learn new things.

For eg., ask a local what they suggest for an evening experience or a little known place that you can visit.

5.Packing

Like every traveller worth his/her salt, I too recommend travelling light. Pack only the essentials.

Tip: If you are on a long trip, especially if you have to carry you luggage around, then instead of packing clothes for each day you can choose to re-use them as much as possible and make sure you have laundry facilities at the place of your accommodation.

Note: I will soon be uploading a free packing checklist to print. So you can save yourself the hassle of making a list and download it instead.

6.Cultural sensitivity & law

Each country is different, sometimes each state is different when it comes to law. Read about the strict rules and regulations of the place your are visiting and make a mental note of your habits that might violate the law.

For example, in Singapore littering is an offence and attracts heavy penalties. If you are from a country where littering isn’t that big of a deal, you would need to remember to keep the banana peel with you until you find the bin.

Also remember to read a bit about the culture and what might cause offence to the local population of the place you are travelling to. You would be surprised how what you think are small things might end up offending others. You always want to be a polite and thankful traveller.

7.Safety

Travel Planning

Not all places are safe, even in the city you live. It would do you good to be on your guard and read all you can about safety with respect to the places you want to visit and your time of visit. Make sure to have a working mobile phone that you can use during emergencies. If you read a lot of reviews that a place might not be safe, it is better to skip it. If you are on a long stay at a particular location, make local friends or hire travel guides who can accompany you to such places.

Hope you found these tips helpful to plan your next trip efficiently. I wish you an enjoyable trip.

Do you have more tips for the amateur traveller? Leave a comment below.

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Tips for air travel with kids

We recently got back from a long trip Melbourne Singapore India – Melbourne. This was the first long air travel for our daughter after the one she did at 9 months (she’s 3+ years now). So naturally I was a nervous wreck, googling for tips and tricks to be used during the travel. She is a good road traveller, as long as we have music and stop every 2-3 hours. But since air travel is completely different, I had to up my game (or create a new one).

Air travel with kids made easy with these tips.

Things to pack in your child’s carry on

  • Water bottle

Aircraft is an enclosed space without enough air. It is dehydrating and we get thirsty. Keep a water bottle from which your kid can sip whenever he/she likes. Especially useful for night travel when everyone is asleep and you have to ring for the stewardess for water. You can request them to fill it up once it is empty or before the child/ren sleep/s. For easy access it can be kept it in the space used to store books and catalogues in front of the child’s seat.

Tip: You child needs water for the commute to the airport and during your time at the airport. Empty the water bottle before security check and fill it up after. Empty it again for security at the transit.

  • Jacket+Blanket

Airplanes can be unpredictable; sometimes warm and sometimes cold. And when its cold, its very cold.  It is best to pack a jacket that the child can wear and you can sleep peacefully knowing that the child will be warm even though they don’t have a blanket up to their chin.

Tip: Carry a throw instead of a blanket for smaller children.

  • Kid’s travel pillow/neck support

This was helpful when she was sleeping in her own seat. We were worried we (I) would have to carry her through the night because it wasn’t a bed. She did sleep horizontally on the both of our laps but she wasn’t comfortable. And she slept really well in her own seat, with a pillow around her neck. The one in the picture is what she uses. And it is available at Kmart.

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  • Snacks, lots of them and hand wipes

If your child is anything like mine, then they like to eat. A lot. So carry a variety of small(in size) non-perishable snacks. Things that the child can eat by themselves without making too much of a mess. You can buy from your usual store instead to buying the overpriced ones at the airport. Also think of snacks that can double up as food if needed (in case of delays). Call up the airlines and confirm how much food you can carry in your carry on. Make sure you don’t get them on a sugar high before sleep time though J

Eg: Dry fruits (for energy), wafers, biscuits, pretzels, mini cakes or cupcakes, candies/lollies, lollipops (to suck on for blocked ears during take-off and landing)

Tip: Hand wipes are different from the regular baby wipes. It is gross to use the ones from the same pack that is used to clean dirt/poo/puke, to wipe her/my hands. So I use Heinz sticky fingers for the purpose.

  • Things to play with

This is a no-brainer. Bring some things that the child enjoys playing with. Nothing huge though. I bought some less expensive new toys that she would be excited to spend some time with. I wanted to pack the magnetic board that she loves writing on at home, but it was simply too big. So buy a travel size magnetic board if you like. Also get colouring books. You can also make a DIY version by buying plain sheets in bulk , stapling them together, putting cellotape so that staple pins don’t hurt the child and make big drawings on the sheets with sharpies/markers. Let them choose some things but have a few as a surprise.

Eg: Miniature animals, small toy cars, wind up things, erasable boards/book and wipe-able markers, colouring book and washable crayons

Tip: Carry washable crayons that can be wiped with baby wipes if it gets on the tray or seat.

  • iPad/tablet and kid friendly headphones

Most people swear by this. We don’t have a tablet or iPad so I just loaded my mobile phone with songs that she likes and new ones that I thought she would be thrilled to watch (she doesn’t get much screen time at home). But we didn’t really get to use it much. The headphones that we bough for her, didn’t work (I forgot to check at home). And I was wary of letting her use our earphones. Thankfully she was content watching soundless cartoon video on the screen in front of her (I didn’t want her to use the earphones they provided and she wasn’t comfortable plugging them in her ears).

Tip: Check the headphones right after you buy them.

  • Extra pair or two of clothes +bibs + cloth napkins

I always carry two pairs because I’m paranoid that way. I like to be prepared for the worst case scenario. But it is pretty obvious why you might need clothes. Younger the child, more the clothes you need. Including the vest and socks (according to the weather).

I also like to be as sustainable as I can, by bringing two bibs and two cloth napkins for mealtimes. So I can avoid throwing away the disposable ones. Just bring a plastic carry bag that you can throw them in after use and wash them at your destination.

  • Enough diapers + extra and baby wipes

My child is out of the diapers during day but she wears them for bed. And I didn’t want to take a chance during our first air travel as a family, so I promptly put her in diapers when we left home. Saves a lot of headache, if you ask me. I suggest the same for older kids as well, especially if you have even a speck of doubt that they’ll wet their pants. Get them in a diaper before boarding and tell them they still have to pee in the toilet. It’s just for emergencies.

Pee before boarding, pee before take-off, pee before the meal and pee before the landing. Be sure to use the toilet beforehand to see its usability. Trust me, you want to do this. I took the child in without checking and the toilet was so gross I was worried she’ll catch a bug right on the plane. I used a ton of sanitizer afterwards and still couldn’t put my mind to ease.

Tip: Pack more diapers than you think you might need.  Face the delays like a boss.

  • Hand sanitizer

Keep it handy but don’t take it to the toilet (you still have to touch the door). Use it immediately after you are back in your seat – both you and the child. No matter how much you try and educate the child, they are just themselves and when you are in an extremely confined space that isn’t stable (aka plane bathroom), it is inevitable that they touch something in there.

  • Travel size baby lotion (optional)

For times when you or the child smells of poop/puke. Or when you are nauseous from the stale air inside the aircraft.

  • Medicines

Kids can get pain in their ears due to the pressure change inside the aircraft. Keep travel size kids paracetemol handy. I also keep a saline nose spray for her in case her nose gets blocked. But really just think of what your child might need medicine for: air sickness, diarrhoea or just band-aids for small wounds. If they are already on prescribed medicines, carry the prescription with you.

Tip: Incase you forgot to bring the paracetamol and you need some, ask the cabin crew. I was suggested to do so by my doctor.

  • Garbage bags

Bring small garbage bags that you can put garbage like soiled clothes etc in to carry back with you. I use nappy disposal bags for the purpose. They are scented and will keep the smell away.

On the plane, use the wrappers that the blankets are packed in as garbage bags. I carefully remove the wrapper so it can be used, tuck it in the pouch in the seat in front of me and use it to collect any trash that I don’t want to carry back with me.

Important things to do when you are flying with children

  • Prepare them for the travel

Start prepping the kid a week or so before the travel. Especially important for first timers. If they know what to expect they won’t be taken by surprise. Involve them in packing. Talk to them about security checks and the behaviour expected from them. Show them videos of planes, take-offs and landings and explain how it would be. Tell them about the new places you are going to see and how much fun you all will have.

  • Confirming meals on board

We travelled through Singapore Airlines. A few days before our travel, I logged in to their website using our ticket details and double checked our booking. I noticed that the meal information was missing. So I called them up to confirm the meals. I was informed that kid’s meals are available on board. But since I wasn’t sure about the contents or the quantity, I booked the same meal as ours for our daughter as well. So choose according to your preference. If your ticket doesn’t include meals, it is best to feed the child something before boarding, even if it is a short flight. This prevents their need to incessantly snack on the plane.

Tip: If it is a late flight and you are going to be served dinner, get your child fed before boarding. They might be tired and want to sleep right after they are buckled in. Ours did on one flight and missed her meal.

  • Use a stroller

If your child can be seated in a stroller, bring it for the airport. The fold-able umbrella kinds that are allowed by the airlines. Even if you don’t use it elsewhere in your destination. Airports can be big, little feet get tired of walking and the result might be a tantrum to be carried. If they want to walk, let them but when you need to move fast (late check-in?), just put them in and run. I’m assuming you have help with the trolley filled with check-in luggage.

Tip: Confirm with the airlines before you bring one (it should not be included in your allowed cabin baggage weight) and that it can be checked-in at the gate.

  • Tire them out

If you arrived early (which I suggest you do), let them run around and play at the kid’s play area after you have been checked-in. If they are tired before boarding, they are more likely to doze off without much trouble.

Tip: Be prepared for the tired, half-sleep tantrum, if they are over tired and not able sleep as well as you thought they would.

  • Ask for priority boarding

Most airlines provide this facility for families with children. Ask for it during your check-in or after you arrive at your gate. Stay near the gate so you don’t miss it when they call for boarding. It helps avoiding the crowd and getting your child settled before everyone else boards.

  • Get the child settled first

Once you board, get your little one comfortable by taking off their shoes and spreading blanket on their lap. The bag with all the child’s necessities goes under the seat in front of the child, for easy access. Store the water bottle in pouch of the seat in front of the child. Give them lollipop if you are worried about their ears popping during take-off.

  • Let it go

Travel is exciting as it is overwhelming. More so when you have little people for company who are just having too much fun to be worried about appropriateness. Airport or the airplane is not the place to re-inforce good behaviour. Though the basic decency is expected out of everybody, kids are just kids and you can’t do much when you are all in a confined enclosed metallic container. But to keep them relatively happy, you will have to break some of your own rules. Let them watch more TV or tablet than they would at home. Let them eat more candies than they are usually allowed. Rules don’t apply during travel. You just want them contained, entertained and happy. Try by all means to limit everything, but when it gets to the verge of a meltdown, you know you have to let go.

  • Ignore your co-passengers

I might sound like an anti-social parent, but hear me out. Sure you need to make friends, sure you need to be on good terms with people sitting next to you, be courteous and all that. But when things go downhill and you are already feeling guilty for being the cause of the mayhem (it’s your kid after all), you don’t need to worry about the stern glances from people all around you to make it worse.

It did happen to us during our late flight. After 30 minutes of sleep, she woke up screaming her lungs out. We didn’t know what to do. She isn’t young enough to be carried and pacified. I was desperately trying to find out what the problem was while hoping that she would go back to sleep. Many people around us woke up because of the noise and I couldn’t do anything until she fully woke up and didn’t want to sleep any more. I refused to look at anyone around me, not wanting either the pity or the reprimand.

Know that you are doing your best under the circumstance you are in and try not to care about how much the next person is judging your parenting abilities.

Extra tips:

If your child is asleep at meal times, check with the crew if they can bring the meal later. We didn’t and the croissant was gone by the time she woke up. If you are not sure they will bring it back, store some things like crackers/cheese/buns/croissants/yogurt tub with you for when they wake up.

Keep asking the child if he/she want to pee. All the time. Kids simply get excited or overwhelmed and might forget that they need to use the toilet.

Keep them hydrated. They can get cranky when they are tired and you don’t want to get dehydration to add to the chaos. Carrying a bottle is not hydrating. Remind them to drink up.

Here are some more air travel tips from Mara, who I regularly read.

Brahmagiri beckoning

I badly wanted to do Brahmagiri before end of 2012. No logical reason, but I just wanted to trek that mountain. Many are on my to-do list, but this was on the top. So the Christmas weekend gave us a very good opportunity and friends were able to take time off work and a plan was made.

We drove to Coorg, the four of us and were supposed to be joined by two there. Now, the beauty of driving is, you can stop where you want, take a detour and enjoy the surroundings. We planned to cover Melkote, Ranganthittu and Tibetian colony on our way to Ponnampet.

Mode of transport: Car
People: 4
Date: 22/12/2012 morning 7am
Place: Bangalore

We left home at 7am and stopped near Bidadi for breakfast at the awesome Shivadarshini thatte idli shop. Idlis there are absolutely awesome. I suggest to try this place for a break if you are traveling on Mysore-Bangalore road. We also tried chitranna which was ok. If you are a fan of strong coffee this is the place you should go. There are many other thatte idli hotels in the area, you can take your pick. We went here because it was recommended.

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Bidadi thatte idli – Shivadarshini hotel

Our next stop was Melkote, which isn’t much besides a Kalyani and a temple on the mountain. Get a water bottle when you start to climb the stairs though, steps are tall and tiring. We didn’t visit the famous two pillar place where lot of shooting happens. We simply didn’t have the interest after seeing all that crowd (due to it being a particularly auspicious day).

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Melkote kalyani (you can see the throng of people and clothes lined on the iron fence)

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Melkote temple – view from the road

Then we took a deviation towards Ranganthittu bird sanctuary. We had lunch at a restaurant there. It was decent, but not recommendable. Never take chapatis there, you’ll only get papads. Fried rice and pulao were edible enough. We also had ice creams since it was pretty hot.

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Ranganthittu bird sanctuary

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Lazy crocs at the sanctuary

We took a stroll to watch birds and unfortunately there weren’t many. There were the storks which were pretty comfortably colonized on a tree and a few lazy crocs basking in the sun. The place is pretty ill maintained (S however feels that it was well maintained!!!) and tourism isn’t promoted as well as it could have been. It made me feel wonder for what I paid Rs. 50 as entry fee. We left at around 2:15pm and decided to skip the Tibetian colony and hit straight towards Ponnampet.

We took Periypatna, Siddapur, Ammatthi route instead of the regular Hunsur road since it is in non-drivable condition. We expected to find a few elephants as it had gotten dark, but looks like the huge fellows gave us a miss.

We reached Gonikoppal at 7:30pm and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Gonikoppal is a small place and good restaurants are hard to come by. The one where we went was decent. Since it is a completely kodava community dominated place, almost all restaurants serve alcohol and non-veg. Picky vegetarians should get their food packed before reaching here.

We reached Ponnampet at around 9:30pm and settled cozily at our friend’s quarters at CIT.

Date: 23/12/2012 morning 9am
Place: Ponnampet
People: 4

We were bathed and fed by around 9 am and packed lunch. We drove to the forest office at Srimangala to collect our permission for the trek, after which it was straight to the Brahmagiri base. We were quite late already, due to friends not making it in time.

We didn’t spend much time at Irupu falls as the water wasn’t that great and we had a big trek ahead of us. So we followed the guide assigned to us. Now this young man was very energetic, however lacked experience. We all took a guess at his age and we agreed it would be not more than 20. Since S had already done this trek once in oct 2007, we didn’t think his experience would be a problem.

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Map at the forest office, Srimangala

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A very meaningful board at the beginning of the trek

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Another save tiger board. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Friend K was leading together with the guide and due to lack of fitness I was the last and weakest link of our group, so S decided to walk with me. The sun was unforgiving and the heat unbearable. Off came my jacket, which was supposed to protect my skin. To hell with the skin when I was being cooked inside the jacket. Then started the sipping of water at regular intervals. Even with hats on we felt the our energy was being sucked out of us by the scorching sun.

After a couple of hours we first saw Narimale (Nari – Tiger, male – hill), and after a few minutes reached Narimale guest house, built by forest department for forest guards. Trekkers are also permitted to stay here for the night on their two day trek to Brahmagiri.

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Narimale

Our initial plan was two day trek – first day trek till Narimale guest house and stay. Second day trek the peak, come back, see around and climb down. However, our plan had to be changed as there was recent elephant attack on the guest house and the building was completely smashed. All for a packet of salt which people who cooked there the previous night of the attack, forgot to take inside. The packet which was left on the window sill attracted a herd of elephants who tore down the place just to get the salt. And now we were left with no place to stay the night. So one day trek it had to be.

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Forest guest house at Narimale thrashed by a herd of elephants

We replenished ourselves with huge gulps of energy drink and fruits and started walking again.

After a while we saw a couple walking far ahead of us with their guide, to whom our guide reached and after talking to them found out that they were walking to the temple in Kerala. Oh we didn’t know there was a route to the temple too.

We walked till 1:15pm when we saw a watch tower at around 2 kms. And we were climbing down instead of climbing up the peak. S couldn’t remember seeing a watch tower the last time. He briskly walked to the guide and stopped him. Where were we going? To the Kerala temple ofcourse. What the hell!!!

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The watch tower!

We had missed our deviation towards the Brahmagiri peak and walked further down to the Kerala side. Our guide didn’t even stop to ask us if that is where we were headed. Our guess is even he didn’t know the deviation to the peak.

By the time we retraced our steps back to the deviation it was 2:15 pm and we were hungry and tired and I almost fell down. We had lunch near a small stream and decided to call it a day. Yes, we decided to halt the trek and get back to the base before dark. It made no sense to keep walking as we wouldn’t be able to reach the base before dark if we wanted to see the peak. And we couldn’t stay at the Narimale guest house due to obvious reason. At lunch we got to know the age of our guide – 29 years!!!

On our way back we spotted a Bison at distance. It stared at us for a few seconds before disappearing into a bush. Wild animal spotting is always a joy! 🙂

By the time we reached our car, we were all exhausted. Perhaps not being in the best of health took a toll or may be the heat was too bad. Either ways, we couldn’t complete the trek. It was a bittersweet feeling for me. I was high on adrenaline due to the day’s events. But sad that I couldn’t see the peak.

On our way back, while people chose to dose off (except for the unfortunate soul who had to drive) I promised myself that, soon, I will be back to leave my footprint on the peak. Oh, I will.

The most memorable trek of my life

Warning: This is quite a long post and no pictures too. You’ll find out the reason as you read through.

Until now. And the most trying too. You’ll soon find out why.

The trail of Bababudangiri to Kemmangundi has been my favorite as it was my first trek where I slept overnight in a tent, in the middle of the forest and mountains, beneath the twinkling stars. It was unbelievable, it was magical and funny. You can find the details here and here.

Right after monsoon, we planned this trail again with new people. There was only one very experienced trekker – S. He had been here 6 times before this. I and friend K were the only ones who knew this from the previous trek.

So 9 of us started at around 6:30am from Bangalore in a tempo traveller. Some were meeting each other for the first time. Some were first time trekkers. We stopped at Hotel Mayura at Bellur cross for breakfast. After sumptuous idlis, dosas, vadas and khara bhaths, we got back on the road towards Chikmagalur via Hassan.

When so many people are together, a place can hardly be silent. What started as a friendly discussion, soon reached the status of heated arguments, which died down after we agreed to disagree (some rather reluctantly) and peace prevailed.

After reaching Chikmagalur (and picking up a tent from a friend), we took the road towards Mullayyanagiri and after a deviation, were climbing uphill towards Bababudangiri.We could see drifting black clouds and knew that rain was apparent. However, how much of rain, was something we couldn’t have expected. The prediction on Accuweather was that we could expect storm that night.

The road, towards the end was blocked due to construction work (just like the previous time but this time for a longer distance). We wore our belongings on our backs and like warriors marching towards battlefield, we marched towards Bababudangiri and then reached Gaalikere.

We couldn’t eat our lunch here, unlike last time as there were a lot more people. We walked further and then opened our lunch (packed at Chikmagalur) near a rock and ate. Food always tastes so amazing when had amidst nature. Much to our dislike, it started drizzling. We had 4 hours of walk ahead of us to reach the camping site and with rain it would get difficult and not to mention uncomfortable.

We donned our best jackets (few had to borrow since they came unprepared – good lesson for future) and marched forward. It was around 5pm when we reached our campsite. The light drizzle had started to gain more strength and it was obvious that we would have good rain that night. So a poll was taken whether to walk further and complete the trek in the dark (which I cannot even begin to imagine) or walk back to Bababudangiri (which would be disappointing and of-course means walking in dark) or to spend the night in tent in rain. I immediately knew that option three was best since it didn’t include walking in the dark. If we died, we would all die together in the storm and not by falling down the side of the mountain or being eaten by predators. You can say I have a very imaginative mind, especially during difficult circumstances.

Thankfully most people opted to stay back. We pitched tents in the rain. Talk about tents and rain and the scene that plays out in front of me is the pegs coming off after we repeatedly drive them inside the wet earth. And that is what was happening with us. However we finished all three tents and some very hopeful boys even tried lighting a fire! I need not say that they weren’t successful and we all got into our respective tents to settle down, which means push all the heavy bags at the corners of the tent so it doesn’t get blown away by the monstrous wind and sit and shiver. It was rather cold and we were all wet from head to toe.

After sometime we realized that the cold was becoming unbearable and we made the decision to spend as much time as possible in a single tent which was holding up well compared to the other two. Unfortunately that was a three men tent. We had to spend time until next day 7am with in each others warmth. That night, rain came down like I’ve never seen it come down. It lashed from all sides making the tent tremble and water came in through the net-like sun roof covered by a meager piece of material for roof. And we sat in there, not minding the water flowing beneath us and the tent coming down on us due to the roaring wind. The only thing we had to hold on to (besides each other) was hope.

Dinner of chapatis gave us something to do and that too was quickly over. Someone suggested talking. We did talk a lot, about  – first impression of each other, first crush, childhood dream etc. It all went pretty well in the beginning and the bottle of elixir (vodka in this case) was being passed around to keep us warm. As soon as we started getting sleepy is when we felt the suffocation. 9 of us were stuffed inside a 3 men tent. I made up my mind to move to another tent. S came with me and so did friend K. We saw that another 2 men tent lay flat due to the wind. The spacious one was holding up, to where we shifted.

From here, it is only my experience that I can document as I wasn’t aware what went on in the other tent. We didn’t talk after coming to the big tent. My teeth were talking to each other and I was shaking rather badly. I got into the sleeping bag, S took a blanket, so did friend K and we tried to sleep. The elixir worked well for sometime and I even slept for a while and when it started wearing off, I would wake up shaking only to take a sip and try to sleep. S started shaking bad and I opened up my now wet sleeping bag to get him in. We had each others warmth even though we couldn’t close the bag. We realized friend K was shivering. I could even feel it. But we could do nothing about it. He didn’t complain. I’m guessing he didn’t have the strength to. Sometime during the night he went to the other tent again to get some warmth but came back. Three from the other tent also followed him due to space constraint. and we all decided to sit up and spend the remaining time talking or rather breathing in each others breath.

Everything was wet, the tent, sleeping bag, backpacks, clothes we wore, jackets, everything. We prayed fervently to all the Gods we could remember. Eventually it was light and yes, we could see that our prayers yielded and rain stopped.

I still didn’t want to go out of the tent into the bone chilling cold. But I had no option. I came out and just stood still, biting my teeth together and making my mind immune to the cold.There was fog everywhere. Visibility was only a few meters. Few guys from the other tent were already out and about their business. Soon everybody was cleaned up and we finished the chapati breakfast. We started on our way further.

Since all of us were tired, we decided to not to go all the way to Kemmangundi (also because it is a very slippery descent) but to get down to a village called Santaveri. The two routes diverge at the British bungalow and that was where we were headed. I was filled with a renewed conviction of making it all the way to the end without letting out an ouch. Thorny bushes were really bad. There was no trail and bamboo had grown all over making us get our bags down and walk on all fours. I mustered all the strength that I could and pushed forward.

We had to cross a small stream the banks of which is filled with leeches. After that we walked uphill and lost our way. Just like that. Thick curtain of fog was not helping one bit. We couldn’t see any further than about 15 meters in any direction. So we decided to walk close to each other so the first person should be able to see the last.

We roamed for a while and reached spots we hadn’t seen on our last visit. Sometimes the path would end in a steep incline down the side of the mountain. We simply couldn’t see any of the features surrounding us. How was one supposed to decide which way to go. Even though compass directed us towards the right direction, we couldn’t be sure of the terrain. Time was running and we had to act if we didn’t want to spend another night there.

Now again, we were presented with two options. Either take our time, explore and find out route, if failed pitch tent for the second night. Or go back all the way to Bababudangiri. People were desperate and many suggested that we go back. Then I suggested to break for lunch after which we may take a poll and decide. S didn’t have lunch and went around looking for familiar trails. Friend R went another way. By the time we were done with lunch, fog lifted for a while and S said he was positive about a trail and we could take a chance. We decided to give it our best, again prayed to all Gods and walked. Surely, it was the right path.

I couldn’t contain my happiness on seeing the British bungalow. More than happiness it was relief, that from here, we couldn’t get lost. We spent some time there and started walking towards Santaveri, where we spotted few wild Sambar deers at close proximity. Road towards Santaveri is a jeep track used by forest department. Now it was filled with hungry leeches who made good use of the opportunity that presented them meal in form of us.

British bungalow pic from the previous visit
The ruined British bungalow pic from the previous visit

From there we walked like zombies until our vehicle came to pick us up. Bless their souls, S and friend R had dumped their luggage and gone to get the vehicle for us. They even got us bhajjis and mandakki.

There was talk of stopping on the way to shower. But I realized we were all completely dry right then and I couldn’t spare a minute out of my snoozing time to shower. Not then. Soon, we all dozed off, only to wake up for dinner at Hassan, then back to sleep until we reached Bangalore.

A hot shower later, I could appreciate what I had, however less it was. I appreciated our small house, our small bed, the hot bath, hot food, just about everything. And I thanked, everybody existing and non-existing for what I had. That night, will always remind me to be thankful for what we have and to realize the strength that we don’t know we have.

I also appreciate everybody who shared the tent with me that night. Especially my two younger sisters who were on their first trek, and in all probability a last one with us :P. Also friends who lent their arms and legs to be used by others as headrests and whose breath I have inhaled to be alive. I appreciate S whose impeccable sense of direction and years worth of trekking experience helped to find out the right trail.

I will do this stretch again and again and again. It is so beautiful, that I cannot even begin to explain but in all probability I will never go again when there is a rain prediction.

Now time for moral of the post:

1. Always be over prepared when going out of civilization.

2. Always count in the unknowns and prepare for them.

3. Always have plan B. And plan C just in case.

4. Do not discourage or talk negative during difficult times.

5. Always wear good shoes and carry a good backpack.

6. Carry jackets and rain jackets according to weather predictions. Carry always if you are easily irritable.

7. Always carry compass and a map.

8. Get GPS with terrain if you are not sure about the trail.

9. It is best to have one or two experienced trekkers who know the trail very well. Best are qualified guides.

10. Lastly always help, share and smile. You’ll be lifting someone’s spirit.

You can find the pics from previous visit here.

Find the Kannada version of the trek from Thrilochana Rajappa here.

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Monsoon pilgrimage – Horanadu, Kuduremukha, Sringeri

Horanadu – Kuduremukha- Hanumangundi fallsSringeri

Date: 17 – 18 Aug 2012

Mode of transport: Car

It was 7:30pm when we reached Horanadu, as we did a stopover at BaLehonnuru matha. We went straight to the familiar lodge and got two rooms. The lodges at Hornad belong to the temple and hence cost Rs. 200/night. They have basic amenities, are very clean. Carrying bed sheets to cover the cot and blankets for yourselves is advisable.

We washed ourselves and got ready for the most awaited part of the trip: the meal at the temple dasoha. It is one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. I wonder how they manage to make it so tasty every-time, though it is prepared in a huge quantity. So, in the queue we stood and had delicious meal of simple rice, sambar, rasam and payasa. Then we went for the puja and darshana of goddess Annapurna. One can give daana (donation) of anna (rice) here at the temple. Or can sponsor one meal.

The idol of Annapurneshwari is so beautiful that I want to keep looking at her for a long time. In daylight, the mountains that surround the temple can be seen. If you are a mountain lover like me, you’ll find it peaceful and serene. The road that leads to Horanadu ends there and to go someplace, one has to go back by the same road.

There are many shops in the temple complex where Ayurvedic items, puja items and toys etc., are available. I bought two small oil lamps.

We slept peacefully that night and woke up early for the hot water. Hot water is available between 5:30am – 6am. After having breakfast of avalakki and hot filter coffee at the temple, we left for Kuduremukha.

View from Lakhya dam

View from Lakhya dam

We reached Lakhya dam and took a leisurely stroll. My heart broke on seeing the patches on the mountain-face created by mining. The brown patches on the green mountains stands witness to the greed of humans. A scenic beauty is spoiled forever. How many more centuries would it need to recover from this blow? I have no idea. I feels sorry for those mountains every time I go there. The dam has no water. It has silt which is actually the water after it is used to wash the iron ore.

Kuduremukha ranges can be trekked too. We have done the trek to Kuduremukha peak. You can find the details here.

Hanuman Gundi falls

Hanuman Gundi falls (pic taken on previous visit)

Our next stop, Hanumangundi falls is on the way from Kuduremukha to Sringeri. It started raining heavily as we were leaving Lakhya dam. We climbed down and up the falls in heavy rain, which is a first for me. The falls itself is beautiful as always, but I am kind of bored of visiting the same place. I just enjoyed the physical exertion of climbing the steep stairs that lead to it. When we got back, we were all dripping wet.

We reached Sringeri by 6pm and did the familiar routine of washing our feet in the river and visit to the temple. After the dinner at the temple, we started back towards Hassan.

All in all a mundane trip, save for the beautiful ghat section in which the places are. Malnad region and Coorg district are the most beautiful places in Karnataka.

Monsoon pilgrimage – Mullayyanagiri

I am back again and looks like this series is becoming pretty long winded. The reason I am doing installment posts of this trip is to do justice to all places that deserve a good deal of description.

Chikmagalur (Mullayyanagiri)

Date: 17 Aug 2012

Mode of transport: Car

We reached Chikmagalur by 12:30pm and were pretty hungry. Hence, it was unanimously voted that we need to get our stomachs filled before we went any further. Hotel opposite to the KSRTC bus stand was pretty decent. Only basic items were available. I chose veg-biryani and others took meals.

Our mood lifted as we drove towards the familiar road of Mullayyanagiri, the tallest peak in Karnataka. We had a few incidents en-route, courtesy our very rude and idiotic driver. Thankfully none of them related to accidents. He simply refused to drive to the top, arguing that no car can pull in that incline. Of course we being the seasoned travellers and given that S graduated from CKM, we didn’t buy his argument. In fact the car was very old and the engine was weak and hence all the drama.

Seethalayyana giri math is a stopover en-route.  Last time we rode here, we had stopped parked bike at this place and climbed on foot from there onwards.

After a lot of coaxing, we reached the base of the stairs in car. Light drizzle had started by then. It was cold and the climb up the stairs was nice. I soaked in all the beauty I could. On a non foggy day, beautiful mountain ranges are visible which make for very good photographs and backdrops for photographs. There was green everywhere and a little misty. Made me feel like it was a dream.

Mullayya temple at the top doesn’t fascinate me much. Added to it, this time there was a group from nearby village, one of whom had become God and demanding some stuff. Initially it got me curious and my mind was making plans to bust him, but common sense prevailed and I left the place.

Trivia: Mullayyanagiri is the tallest peak of Karnataka. Standing at 1930 meters above sea level, it is one of the trekking routes in Karnataka. The place Chikmagalur district itself belongs to Malnad region and the peak decorates the majestic Western ghats. Hence green and cold can be witnessed at the top.

One can visit Bababudangiri and Manikyadhara falls too.

We drove back to Chikmagalur and started towards Hornad.

My latest trek/travel buys

I visited Decathlon store (Bannerghatta road) and bought two very important things. I must say something about the store itself. It has a lot of room and people can do trials of bicycles, skates and just about anything. It has a wide variety of travel, sports and trekking stuff, which is why it attracted us. Definitely looking forward to buy some more stuff here.

I didn’t own a trekking backpack, so I had to buy one. I found one in green which is wonderfully done with padding at the right places to ease the weight and pouches for utility stuff. It has a vertical zip through which I can search through the bag. It also has holders for sleeping mat and bag. I guess I can also carry a tent, however, the chances are slim. Tents are pretty heavy and I leave it to S to carry it for both of us. This green 50L bug came at Rs. 2800

My green bug

Hiking shoes from Quechua

These are my new shoes from Quechua. Aren’t they simply stunning. They are decent basic ones in wonderful color combination. They came at 800 Rs. Pretty decent eh? I checked for grip, how tight around the ankles they are and space for the toes. I tried it out at a trek and they turned out wonderful. They are a little heavy than the old shoes. But the old ones were only running shoes.

I realized that I need to buy a rain cover for my bag. In the previous trek, this bug got filled with rain water.

Next, looking to buy a sleeping bag and a jacket.

I also got a late birthday present by S. I had mentioned in passing that I need a sturdy watch for treks, something like sports watch. Ta-da! I got this.

My new G-shock

We have also bought rain jackets from Decathlon which proved very useful.

You can buy at Decathlon only if you have membership, to appy for which, your organization needs to be a partner. Or you should be from a sports group. Visit the store to know more.

Monsoon pilgrimage – Belur

On our annual trip this time, we visited Belur and Mullayyanagiri together with Hornad and Sringeri. This time with the in-laws in tow. It was raining and added to the beauty of the nature during the drive.

We started from Hassan at 9 am in a hired Indica and reached Belur in less than an hour. I have been to Belur innumerable times in the past. I was a child though and didn’t understand the value or beauty of those stone temples. So this time I was keen and curious. We went straight to the temple and hired a guide. The guides are all certified and the fare is standard and fixed (200 Rs). They will be waiting for the tourists and will take turns. I was very happy to see women guides helping and taking foreign tourists around.

Belur temple premises

The main Chennakeshava temple construction was started by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana and took more than 100 years to complete, hence witnessing three generation of Hoysala Kings. Most of the sculptures have been done by renowned sculptor Jakanachari. The darpana sundari (mirror beauty) is one of the most famous statues. The other structures inside the premises include Kappe-Chennigaraya temple, two shrines, a kalyani filled with water and a dhwaja sthamba (flag post).

Inside the temple is very dark and as usual many pillars can be seen. One particular pillar has very intricate carvings. It is said to contain the miniatures of all the major statues carved outside. And there is a flashlight for the sole purpose of viewing the sculpted ceiling. There is a raised platform in the centre, meant to be used as dancing platform in those days.

The temple is marvelous and I was spellbound by the sculptures. With such patience and devotion did the sculptors dedicate their time and energy to producing such marvels. It did make me wonder if I could ever gather so much of confidence, concentration and patience in doing one thing which I knew took ages to complete. We all want to see immediate results, don’t we? Which made me realize how ordinary I am and hence can not create history. So much to learn from history and we hardly realize it during school, as we just want to pass and get good marks than learn something meaningful. Anyways that’s a post for another day.

We bade good-bye to our guide after learning about Hoysalas, their architecture, many important sculptures and spent sometime thinking about the by-gone era and its splendor. Then it was time to leave.

Monsoon trip continued – Part II

And so after a lot of procrastinating I sat to write and finish the trip details at once. I am not good at writing posts in parts, I simply feel that there won’t be enough continuity. Or the break that I take in between the parts make it difficult to get continuity. Sorry for the long break; will try and avoid it.

Kukke Subramanya – Bisle – Sakleshpur (Manjrabad fort) – Hassan

Date: 16 Aug

After reaching Kukke Subramanya, we walked around a bit searching for lodges maintained by the temple. All of them were full. Only private lodges were available. Our friend wanted to eat churmuri and bhajjis which we bought from a shop nearby. We asked the bhajji guy for assistance regarding our lodging. He suggested a homestay a kilometer away, which we found was pretty good and hygenic. There were two rooms and we took both. It cost us 450 Rs per room.

After freshening up a bit, we went for God Subramanya’s darshana. It started to drizzle, so I and S opened our newly bought rain jackets to walk to the temple. We stopped on the way and enquired to hire jeep for the next day’s journey. The guy agreed for 2000 rupees to take us through Bisile ghat and drop us at Sakleshpur. Had tasty dinner at the temple dasoha and walked back to the room. We sat around and talked for a while before going to sleep. Woke up nice and early to the chirping of birds. The arecanut trees in the background were providing beautiful green view. It was a little cold, which was much to our liking.

We had to fill hot water from a tumbler/bindige. It made me nostalgic of the days at my home where I used to fill water from a bindige (kannada for a big round tumbler/container used to fill water). Had breakfast at a hotel near the temple, topping it with filter coffee. We met the jeep guy and started our journey towards Bisile.

The road was really bad. Only jeeps could tread that road and hence the humongous amount we paid to hire one. There were not many vehicles for the same reason. However, the journey was lovely. We talked, made jokes and enjoyed the lovely green surroundings. En-route was a temple, where we ourselves could do the puja. A small spring nearby where cold water was flowing. I felt like I could just live there.

Chamundeshwari temple

Small spring near the temple

A beautiful and roaring river en-route

We reached Bisile beauty spot at 12pm. The view from the view point is simple breathtaking. We can see water flowing in the distance. And the beauty of mountain ranges of Western ghats need no description We stood there for a while, took pictures. Came back and sat down on the benches and talked.

Gate to the bisile beauty spot

View from Bisile beauty spot

Next stop – Manjarabad fort. We stopped at the junction on NH 48 and had to walk for about half a kilometer up to the fort. Boys had some fun jumping around and trying to click the jump. Trivia: this fort is pretty famous as a popular shooting spot for Kannada movies. Tippu Sultan has got this fort constructed and it is in star shape. The shape is not readily visible as it is in dilapated state. But we got to see the star shape in a picture kept at the shop at the junction. We had tea and eatables at the shop and started towards Sakleshpur bus stand.

Entrance to Manjarabad fort

Boys having fun

View of the fort

We saw a new and pretty decent hotel before we reached bus stand so we bid good bye to our Jeep guy there. We filled our stomachs and walked towards the bus stand, which was about a kilometer away from the hotel. A bus going towards Bangalore was ready, so we grabbed our seats. I and S took tickets for Hassan and rest of the gang travelled to Bangalore.

Reached Hassan at 6pm and simply crashed for the day. It was a wonderful and memorable journey through the ghats. We reminisced all that we did and saw photographs over and again. That said I don’t think I’ll do the train journey again, just because I hate crowd and I hate loud crowd even more. I prayed to Lord Subramanya to give our people more commonsense.

Next up: Hassan – Belur – Chikmagalur – Hornad – Sringeri

Monsoon pilgrimage through nature

Whooshing wind in the hair, whistle of the train, rain drops that are forced inside the window, serene and mystic nature, mist, green trees, cold pristine flowing water, beautiful pink flower that couldn’t be pluck. So many beautiful memories to take back home from this monsoon trip, yet my heart yearns to do it all over again.

Independence day holiday, if comes in the middle of the week, can lead to a trip. We being the opportunists, grabbed the opportunity of taking two days leave from office and getting whole of 5 days vacation out of it. Aren’t we simply smart? Turns out many other smarties also thought of the same, as we later found out.

We made hay of the holiday on August 15 and planned two trips. One with friends and one with family.

Bangalore – Kukke – Hassan

Who: Me, S and three friends

When: 15-16 Aug

Mode of transport: train, jeep, KSRTC bus

I wanted to experience the famous Mangalore train route (which is actually Karwar train which goes through Mangalore) since quite sometime and when I suggested the same to S, he readily agreed. Tickets booked and we were ready for it. Our spirits were doused by the cancelling of the same train on the previous week. So we started looking out for alternatives. Elated to find out that our train wasn’t cancelled, we started packing bags on Tuesday evening.

Started for Yeshwantpur railway station at 5:30am on 15th August. It was very nice and refreshing. I once again made a pact with myself to wake up early and go for walk on daily basis, which until now remains un-done. BMTC bus was relatively empty and we reached Majestic in 45 minutes. A friend joined us and from there we boarded a bus to yeshwantpur railway station.

Reached the station at 7:00am and waited for two more to join us and boarded the train at 7:20. Our reserved seats were near the toilet so we sat down on the un-reserved seats. Thankfully there was not much crowd.

At 7:30 am the train started and we started getting chatty and soon we were all hungry. I had packed ragi-rotti, idlis, palya and kempu(red)-chutney for all of us from home. The joy of eating while traveling is something only travelers can understand. I don’t know if it is the dust, sights and smells that affects our perception but everything tasted supreme that day, even if I say so myself.

A railway station on the way

Arasikere railway station

However much I want to say that the engine chugged, I can’t. Because it didn’t. It made sounds like dum dum – tak tak. Diesel engine you see, not the good old steam engine which would invariably chug. Sitting there watching the trees and buildings go by made me nostalgic. So many train journeys that I’ve undertaken in my life and there are only a few which I resent and that is mostly due to crowd. Given a choice of travelling comfortably in train and bus I’d pick a less crowded comfortable train any day. There is a strange almost losing-oneself kind of feeling in letting the wind shuffle your hair every way. Only I’d  have to ignore the fact that I’d look like Cruella from 101 Dalmatians minus the black and white partition of course.

It was an uneventful and quite the routine journey until Hassan. We grabbed idlis and vadas at the Arasikere station for our afternoon meal.Terrain started changing after the train left Hassan. Tall coconut trees slowly started getting replaced first by coffee bushes and then by thick growth of forest trees. It was a lovely transformation, the one which we made this journey for.

Board at Sakleshpur station

The train reached Sakleshpur at around 2pm from where the journey became real slow. I could run beside the train if I wanted to. I guess it is only the steep valleys and dangerous looking rock faces that stopped other young people from doing the same. I can’t describe the scenic beauty that only gets enhanced with passing time.

Crazy people hanging out of the train

The scenes for which we boarded the train

This route has around 40-45 tunnels, journeying through which would’ve been amazing had there not been loud hooting and screaming by the aforementioned young people who filled the train. Everybody wanted their share of seat at the door. Everybody flocked the the side of windows where the scene was the best. I for once, traveled someplace inside my mind and was quiet as is my nature when I am with nature and went straight into contemplative mood. While people were busy photographing trough the windows, I was thinking of things that I wouldn’t have on a normal day.

Reaching Kukke Station made me let out a sigh of relief of being relieved from those screamers. I can’t be so lucky so easily; could I? Most of the people got down at the same station and below scene played out.

Crowd at Kukke Subramanya station

To be continued…