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Friday, December 16, 2016

Murudeswara - A visit to Lord Shiva's abode

Murudeswara, Karnataka has been one of the most searched places on my search engine history and held the number one spot on my bucket list for must see places in South India. The colossal, larger than life Shiva statue along with the Arabian Sea allures a perfect background for this visual wonder.
My love for Lord Shiva has been going steady since my childhood. His power, magnanimity, and machismo graced by his peaceful poise and charm have always drawn me towards him. I have always believed that Lord Shiva would derive a fair judgment to any crisis.

Part 1: The trip to Murudeswara:
We were two days into our Gokarna trip when we decided that Murudeswara should also be on our itinerary. I showed less enthusiasm externally, but little did the others know, I fluttered rigorously deep down as I did not want to jinx my first visit to Lord Shiva's abode.
We hired a taxi from Gokarna to Murudeswara in the morning. Either side of the roads was picturesque with paddy fields, plantations, and at times even beaches.
The first ten minutes of reaching Murudeswara were quiet and serene. I couldn't help but shed a few tears, being unable to sink-in the overwhelming feeling of realizing that is all actually happening.
We were guided to remove our footwear and enter the temple from the main Gopura. The tall Gopura has excellent detailing and symmetry and I was excited that I managed to get a selfie with the entire height of the Gopura in one frame. The temple was crowded but everybody was moving around in a disciplined manner. The idols shimmered in the sunlight and were glossy gold. The heavy bells outside each deity made sure that no God could sleep in peace at Murudeswara. We were lucky to hear a temple orchestra playing percussions and drums. I could step up and sway to the rhythm of the music.
The aroma of food served in the common dining hall was so distracting and so was the ghee laddoo sold there as Prasad. I patiently waited for my turn to buy the Ghee laddoo with an overpowering flavour of Karpura and incense.
After relaxing in the temple surroundings for a bit we walked up the road leading to the illustrious Shiva statue. By then the sun was up and shining but the breeze from the ocean kept our spirits high.
The whole path was very touristy with small shops selling cold drinks, fried snacks, biscuits and ice cream. There was also enough security directing us to where to go next and relatively clean public toilets. When I say touristy, unfortunately, one has to realize this means a degree of eve-teasing and uninvited camera clicks as well.

Up the hill and a flight of stairs, we could get a closer look at the Shiva statue smiling away peacefully. Now it was getting difficult to fit the statue in the frame. There was also a small temple uphill and also a small museum depicting the story of Murudeshwar and its relevance. Dynamic life-size statues were built and an as we walked from frame to frame, a voice over in Hindi elaborating the story was being played.
The joy and contentment of ticking one thing off your bucket list is beyond what I can explain. I strongly recommend you to visit this beautiful place. It does justice to everything that you have seen in the pictures.

Part 2: The story of Murudeswara:
Raavan, the king of Lanka was a true devotee of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was impressed by Raavan’s devotion as he offered his prayers tirelessly. As a result Raavan was given a boon. He asked for the "Atmalinga" which would give longevity to his lifespan. Raavan was granted the boon but was instructed by Lord Shiva not to place the Atmalinga on the ground till he reached Lanka.

Narada anticipated that Raavan would misuse his powers and wanted to stop him from taking the Atmalinga back to Lanka. Narada approaches Lord Ganesha for help, who with the help of Lord Vishnu created an illusion of dusk knowing that Raavan would stop to offer his evening prayers. As expected Raavan, who was convinced that it was dusk, wanted to finish his prayers. That’s when Lord Ganesha approached him disguised as a Brahmin offered to hold the Atmalinga for him till he finished the prayers and also call out Raavan’s name three times before placing it down.
When Raavan finished his prayers, Lord Vishnu withdrew the illusion of dusk. Realizing that he has been tricked, he was angered and tried uprooting and destroying the Atmalinga. Bits and pieces of the Atmalinga fell on various villages forming different places of religious importance.
Murudeshwara is one such place!
We couldn't help but drool over how handsome and crude Raavan was with tough-guy attitude, body hair, power and of course his well-built muscular body. Though we confessed this only on our drive back home.

Part 3: Things you should know

          The Gopura has 20 storeys and the Shiva statue is 123ft tall making it the second-tallest Shiva statue in the world.
          Funded by Businessman Dr. R N Shetty and estimated to have spent INR 50 million on it.
          Not a great place to stay but excellent for a one day trip
          This a place that you best dress-up for modestly

How to get there:
          The temple is about 80 km by road from Gokarna. It's an easy addition to the itinerary of a Gokarna trip
          Buses and taxis frequent this route
          Bangalore to Murudeshwara is a 500 km trip

Food and beverage:
          The place has lots of good local vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants in the nearest town at a walkable distance from the temple.
          The Mangalore thali with tawa-fried fish was excellent is highly recommended.
          Do try the curry and ragi porridge as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A one day trek from Braemore estate to Ponmudi peak

“Write when your muscles are still sore and the experiences still raw

My trekking experience with a wonderful group of 13, two lady guards and a lead.
Kerala has an enthralling wildlife most of which is now not a pleasant sight in the summer with all the deforestation, lack of measures to protect natural resources and not to mention the summer’s heat. I remember many years ago while trekking at Chadayamangalams Jadayu para, Nelliambathy, Vagamon, Silent valley and even Neelakuringi at Munnar; I got the opportunity to experience lush green forests, bright flowers and of course, the wildlife.
Trekking gear and preparations
Getting hyped for the trip
For almost a week ahead of the trek I was rattling over a lack of information about what to expect out of this day squeezed between a wildly sad Good Friday and a Merry Easter. A friend of mine (who was also participating in the trek) and I had added a three-kilometre walk every alternate day to our routine as preparation for the trek. We wanted to ensure we were in the right shape before we just went ahead trekking.
5 am on 26/06/2016
Waking up early! Excitement! Fellow travellers!

I often wonder what inspires others to drive themselves to do something like this.
Could it be for the love of nature? Are they interested in protecting the environment? Trying to make new friends? Could they be professional hikers, avid travelers or simply going through a mid-life crisis?
We reached the pickup point 10 minutes prior to the reporting time. Met the group and journeyed to the second pick up point and reached the Braemore estate by 9am. Breakfast was organised at Nadan Bhakshana shala (a local food joint). As we started our journey uphill we did not know each other but when we reached the same point by the end of the day we knew ourselves and each other much better.
As our city-bred legs and unused muscles flexed, I knew it was that of day where pampering myself to a foot spa, cleaning my palm with sanitizer every hour were not on my to-do list. The jungle has its own rules and it does teach you a lesson or two, but at the same time, it is hospitable, welcoming and nurturing. City-bred individuals will get an opportunity to broaden their perspective of things: The color green is not always associated with envy, silence can always be the sound of crickets, clean drinking water could always have sediments of clay.
Signing the consent Letter
When I broke a tree trunk instead
The drive from the city to the base camp, where the trek starts, went by listening to Devotional songs (I love listening to these in the morning), gyrating heads, hairpin bends, narrow roads, power naps and signing the consent letter. The consent letter was merely them saying ‘Break your neck, not our problem’ in a politically correct way, plus collecting details like emergency contact information. One thing I fail to understand is the need for them to ask irrelevant questions like marital status/age and date of birth. I might as well expect a call on my birthday for them having asked me that.
Crossing the Bridge
The first kilometre felt exceptionally long, where you had to read the foreword to what you signed up for. The hot humid summer wasn't helping either. The climb uphill is strenuous and you are looking more at the ground than anything else. We take a pause to catch a breath rather than enjoy the beauty of nature. Our fellow travellers introduce themselves and it gives me immense pride to know these wonderful married/working men and women, taking a day off for themselves to follow their passion.


Our first notable halt was at a resting point, where we cross a wooden trunk acting as a bridge. I couldn't even look down. To me, at the time, it looked an even more massive step than doing the 12 km trek itself. After drinking some water and getting the shade, we photograph nature and a temple tucked neatly in the jungle. There is definitely an eerie feel to the whole set up. If I were the creative type I would say it felt like invisible jungle Gods were watching over our alien selves, almost like we were trespassing.
The Bear effect
Trekkers going uphill
Things got easier as we went along, I got distracted by stories and travel experiences of men who’ve pretty much been there and done that. I get a flashback of what I defined as holidays staying in 5/7 star rated hotels with fine dining, lovely linens, gambling, swimming or getting a massage summing up to a perfect getaway. These people, however, have been in the wild, eaten the wild, drank from the springs, confronted the wildlife and lived the life.
A Pause to Pose
The biggest decisions made during the whole day of the trek was whether to choose a long and easy terrain or a short but hard terrain to reach the destination. The answer to that was always the SHORT hard terrain. We discipline ourselves behind the leader and play our part in helping each other to make the trek easier. Conversations and stories were the best way to go about this.
I remember vividly having asked the leader:
“So, what do we do if we see a leopard in the wild?”
To which the leader replies “We don’t have to do much, the leopard will do what needs to be done!”
It is not as humid as you go further into the jungle, the crickets engage in a sing-song, there is always a spring to get some icy cold face wash, the dry leaf is a perfect red carpet to the rare alien visitors. We also analyse the ageing animal droppings also to access if there is danger close by.
The tough terrain on the short trail was abruptly stopped by a deep throated growl which was getting more louder and vehemently.
Stunned and nearly facing death someone silently cracks a joke about how bears use their claws to scratch out the face and leave behind an unidentifiable pile of flesh.
We turned silently and starts the trek downhill to now be back on the LONG easy terrain. A close call indeed.

The last 1km
We are so near our destination now. We stand there and crave getting to sit and remove our shoes. We see the top of the mountain, some of the group members are already up there. We left the avenue of tall lofty trees to open grasslands. The clouds contouring the mountains. It was a point of almost giving up. Between wanting to give up and motivation to just do it. We were all helping each other and motivating each other. Also considering taking a bus to reach downhill to Vithura. Muscles were sore, backs sweaty not to mention the intense hunger and thirst that kicked in. The view, however, was simply alluring. The Varayattu mottai” mountain contouring the skies were seducing us to come back to her.
At 12.15pm, we hear the good news that our destination is just a kilometre away. We buck up and trek. Backpacks seem heavier, legs seem like giving up.
We reached ponmudi and walked downhill to the restaurant for food, water, barefoot walk, volini sprays , sunscreen touch-ups and our much-awaited group photo.
Tilted timer photo

The Yoga Session
Post lunch as my friend sat down to stretch her hamstring muscles she was soon joined by the rest of them doing their own style stretches and meditation. It was funny how we started our day washing our hands to eat the meal to sit on the dirty floors of a restaurant. The rapport of strangers coming together for a day of fun was unbelievable.
Ladies of the group

Cashew Apple Plucking
En route to Mankayam Falls was a lot of short steep roads and in most cases no roads at all. Thorny and itchy plants scraped through our skin. We never stopped for a break and treated ourselves to amazing fresh cashew apples.
We picked up the first red ripe cashew apple and bit into the juicy resinous flesh. Joked on how a snake would have tried this delectable dessert and left it halfway. Little did the others know, the story was just to get more of it between the few of us who liked it more. Thankfully it was a love-hate relationship between the cashew apple and us. Later plucking them became a sport for the next ten minutes.

Sita Kulicha Stalam (Sita’s bathing pond)
This was one place everybody wanted to see unanimously or should I say just the men in the group were excited to see this spot?
They say there are different ways to motivate different people. This motivated the men.
Once we reach the destination they were promised that they would be shown Sita’s bathing point. Well, as it turned out we didn’t get to see it. I wasn’t surprised that we didn’t, because Sita is not expected to be bathing in a spot anyone and everyone could walk into. I’m okay with that remaining a mystery.

 The Environmentalist
Prior to action, the best thing one can gain is awareness. It’s great that we share pictures/videos and show our concern for mother earth, but going into the wild and experiencing something first hand is another feeling altogether.
Trek back to the base with no defined road

This has been the hottest decade we have all faced in our lifetime. This has also been the hottest recorded decade mother earth has faced in her lifetime! Yet it is also the most developed we have been as a progressive civilisation.
But are we really a progressive society?
What do we want to leave behind for the next generation? Is our progress actually sending us backwards?
Our forests are now cities, a large segment of our wildlife is headed for extinction, the leftover forests are no longer lush and dense as they were a decade ago!
Where are we headed?
I understand that major steps may not be possible for us as individuals, but small steps are the key to going forward. I was in awe of how the fellow trekkers ensured that we did not litter the place and insisted we carry the waste back to the base from where we started. We were equally concerned about the future of our planet and felt the pain wholly.
As much as we wanted to remain safe and sound, deep-down I really wanted to see a wild animal in its natural habitat. Despite walking 12 km in total all we heard was one bear in the vicinity.
Here’s a few things we can do to play our part in helping:-
- Do not litter. The mark we should leave on our trail is flowers and butterflies, not plastic and waste!
- Use both sides of the paper. Do not print unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Support farm produce and natives who live in and around the forests. Drive into these areas for your monthly supply of honey, vegetables, coffee, tea and several other items. As a bonus, these naturally grown crops will also benefit you health wise.
- Say no to housing exotic pets. Exotic is something that’s exclusive to the jungle.
- Have a home garden. Plant a lot of trees. Try and produce your own vegetables.
I can only hope that we might get to experience what our ancestors experienced of nature and I hope that we’re able to show our future generations what we’re able to see now at the very least.

A little something about Mankayam Falls / Braemore Estate
Tucked in 40kms away from the city is this small waterfall/river near Palode in Nedumangad. A one day trek to the peak would lead to ponmudi through the braemore estate. One can seek guide assistance from the check post and it is mandatory to take female guides for female trekkers.

How to get there?
Buses from Trivandrum are frequent. The KTDC restaurant is the boarding point for the buses and time schedule is written there.
Alternatively, you can also drive down to Braemore estate and take a jeep ride to take you around the forest and water falls if you are not a trekker.
Best time to visit
November – December.
But beware of leeches!

Prerequisites of a trek
1)     Water and empty bottles to fill up from small streams en route
2)     Sunscreen, calamine lotion, tablets for sore throat/headache
3)     Band-aid for cuts and bandages for sprains with volini
4)     Light snacks and dry fruits
5)     Glucose/energy drinks
6)     Umbrella
7)     Hats/scarves
8)     Pen/note, only if you want to take notes of course
9)     Socks and comfortable shoes with strong grip.
10) Tissues and wet wipes
11) Camera/phone/power banks
12) Towel and change of clothes
13) Sunglasses
14) Salt to kill leeches 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Anchengo Fort

Being a traveller is like a chip embedded in your skin. Nothing can stop you from wanting to travel. As a kid, I had the opportunity to travel with my own family and cousins to many parts of India, which could be one of the many reasons why I always look for a possibility to travel. Moving back to Kerala is not one of my favourite decisions but I still started revisiting local sites and tourist spots to see it from a fresh far-reaching perspective.
My friends had asked me to join them for a one day drive to Varkala from Trivandrum, where we could go spend some time at the cliff enjoying the view accompanied by good food and beer.
I decided to squeeze in an Anchenjo fort visit en route.
Anchenjo, short form for “Anchuthengu” which means 5 coconut trees, is an abandoned fort which strongly reflects the Dutch/Portuguese and British influence in Kerala back in the 1700’s.
Unlike the picture of a typical fort that would come to our mind, this is more of an enclosed land mostly used as a signalling point for ships, building ships, storing ammunitions and so on. The tall walls are made of laterite and have stairs to access the top the fort. It is square in shape with two bastions land-locked and two facing the sea.
Anchenjo fort is also said to be one of the first set-ups of the East India company in Kerala. The reason why the fort was built was to break the monopoly of the Dutch in Pepper and Coir trade in Kerala.
The Rani of Attingal gave permission to the British to build the fort near Varkala and she was well pleased by expensive and exclusive gifts offered to her. But the chief men and the feudal lords demanded that anything given to the queen may be passed on only through them, which the British did not agree to and there was a rebellion against the East India company by the locals.

You can enjoy the breath-taking  view of the unexplored azure beach bordered by coconut trees from the top of the fort. Also soaring high stands the magnificent lighthouse painted black and white, which was used mainly to signal ships hailing from England.
It is probably a bad idea to go there on a summer day as there is no shade or place to cool off. The garden is not maintained so well nor is the security friendly. Even though the timings say 10am to 6pm the day we went they closed the fort for lunch forcing us to rush through the exploration.
The lighthouse opens only between 3pm tp 5 pm but if you have already been to the one at Trivandrum then this is no big wonder.
There is no entry fee
Carry lots of Sunscreen, Binoculars, Scarves.
No eateries nearby. Carry food and water.
Parking not available.
Photography is allowed.

Best to club it with a visit to Varkala. Not worth a visit only to Anchengo Fort. But even if a small part of you likes history then add this to your list of old landmarks to visit.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year resolutions!


    1)      Be Happy! Well, it is easier than being sad
    2)      Smile more. Show some teeth!
    3)      Drink 3 litres of water everyday. No entry fee for frequent loo visits.
    4)      Cut down on sugar, You are sweet anyways!
    5)      Exercise everyday! Climbing stairs is not exercise!
    6)      Get rid of at least one addiction. Checking your phone frequently, maybe?
    7)      Eat healthy, die healthy!
    8)      Start eating your vitamins. It helps psychologically!(at least) 
    9)      Fall sick less. Feel sick lesser
   10)   Fit into the normal weight bracket. Underweight <Normal < Overweight
    Be the favourite middle child!
   11)   Handle stress better.
   12)   Get adequate sleep
   13)   Get a health check up
   14)   Quit Caffeine. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life
   15)   Be different. Bring yourself is easier than copying someone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Get to know Sharada Vijay and "Make it 2"

I love reading biographies and inspirational stories about personalities but it is only now that I have started looking around to notice friends and acquaintances who are inspiring go-getters.
It is impossible to miss how enthusiastic and passionate each one of them are, in their field of expertise. Such is one person, I am going to introduce in the blog tour for this month.
Sharada Vijay….A hearty congratulations to her on the success of her book “Make it 2”
An Excerpt from my conversation with Ms. Sharada     

1)   How is “A day in the life of Sharada Vijay” different from “ A day in AUTHOR Sharada Vijay’s Life” ?
Wake up at 7.30 am. Have my green tea. Make lunch for Vijay. Chit chat with the house helper. Have a lazy late breakfast. Scribble something on my notepad. Watch some TV. Green tea again. Do my content writing assignments. Catch up with a friend maybe. Evening chat with Vijay once he is back home. Eat dinner. Fight over the remote. End up watching WWE. Content writing post 11 pm.
The difference being….
It's as normal as any other woman. Very normal. But the difference is whatever I see around, I start to observe a lot and whenever I see a particular character in someone, my mind starts to weave a story around him/her. I have this uncontrollable need to pen it down then and there and that's why I always carry a notepad.

    2)   Take us through the transition and stages, content, publishing, reaching the audience?
    Being a writer and being a story writer are two completely different things. My respect for story tellers and writers have gone several notches higher. It's not easy weaving a story , especially something you haven't been a parts of. I started to write it randomly and one led to another and somehow the links kept getting longer and the story started to come alive. My suggestion to those writers would be to free their minds and not restrict their thoughts to what they think is right. Your story need not reflect you. The best thing about story writing is you can get to think and be whatever you wanted to be and couldn't be through your characters.
    3)   Tell us about "Make it 2" and reasons as to why it is a must read for the audience?
"Make it 2" is a simple story. No frills. As simple as what could happen to you or the person next to you. It's a short read while u sip a cuppa or bored during a journey. It's fun. It's love. Its making love. It's passion. It's human. Read it ! You'll not want your money back )

4) Sharada Vijay has a multi faceted personality! 

What other aspect
than being an author should we look forward to experiencing?
Multi faceted? Really? J I have always loved RJing. I have started my own audio series talking about societal issues and about anything that caught my attention. I'm hoping to get into RJ'ing soon enough. I have found a new interest in voice over and dubbing and look forward to exploring that as well. I do stand up comedy occasionally though not finding the time but I still do it for my close circle J
5) Words of wisdom?

 Hope. Love. Believe. Laugh. Repeat.

Wishing Sharada Vijay all success in 2016.
Get a copy and read on at