Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in Retrospective

This year is almost over; some more hours to go to see the beginning of 2014. When 2013 comes to an end, I am just thinking on what I did in this year? There are some bright lines, and of course some not so bright lines as well.

Three things 2013 taught me are,
1. Change - the only constant thing in the world;
2. Dedication - it is important to dedicate the life for a cause, no matter whether it is to pass an exam or to climb a mountain;
3. Priorities - life is full of priorities. Some things are more important than others. The early we realise the better it will be.

Knowing a fact is different from understanding the same. I don't know whether I really understood the above mentioned ones, probably not. May be I can add it to the list of resolutions for next year.

Wishing a bright and prosperous new year too all. May this year turn out to be better than all the previous ones...


Friday, November 22, 2013

Silent Valley – Through the Valley of Silence

I was supposed to wake up early, supposed to have an early breakfast and supposed to take an early bus. But none of these things happened. I woke up late, skipped the breakfast and missed probably first and second bus. It was not supposed to start like that.

Some months back I and my friend Shihab discussed about visiting Silent Valley NP. This one is the closest NP to my home, school, collage; but I never been to these forests.

Unfortunately when only three days left for the D-Day, Shihab fell down from steps and expressed doubts about visiting the park. On that particular morning when I called him from Mannarkkad bus stand, he was not in a position to walk. Nothing else was planned for the day, so I decide to continue my journey and boarded an Anakatty bus to Mukkali.

Silent Valley

Let me spend the time to reach Mukkali to give you an overview about this national park.

Silent Valley NP, part of Nilgiri Hills and located in iconic Western Ghats, is one of the last stretch of land in Kerala not disturbed by any human activities. This small, ever green forest has a core zone and an associated buffer zone.

AKA Sairandhrivanam

According to legend, Draupadi - wife of Pandavas disguised herself as Sairandhri during their years in exile and served as queen Sudeshna's assistant - visited this place and reached the banks of river flowing through the forest. Drupadi and Pandavas were amazed by the view of a tiger and an elephant drinking water together both at dawn and dusk from river. After viewing these harmonious relations they decided to halt here.

First English expedition to these forests was during the time of Company in 1857 by a botanist called Robert Wight. They named this area Silent Valley because of the absence of Cicadas. During my visit I heard their sound; according to the driver and guide they exist on the sides of forest roads only - not inside.
Silent Valley was declared as Reserve Forest in 1914. However, timber available from these areas were so tempting that the lengthy hands subjected the land to forestry operations from 1927 – 76 (49 long years).

Administrators had other ideas also in the mind. In 1928, a location on Kunthipuzha River at Sirandhri was identified as an ideal place for hydro electric project. Later in 1958, project was revived and government conducted a study and survey of this area for a 120MW project at a cost of 17 crores. This decision resulted in one of the fierce movement for saving environment in Indian History (in 70s, aka ‘Save Silent Valley). In 1983 then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, decided to abandon the project and Silent Valley became a National Park (formerly inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985); latter in 1986 this area was included in the core zone of Nilgiri Bioreserve.

The main arguments rose for the conservation forest was its uniqueness and her iconic (as well as endangered) Lion Tailed Macaque.

In 2001 Kerala State Electricity Board and Kerala government woke up and removed dust from Silent Valley files. This time they proposed another dam – just 3.5 km away from original position and 500m outside the park boundaries. This announcement was followed by another round of protests. Finally this eco-friendly (according to government) plan was moved to freezer. One positive fallout from this fiasco was the proposal to create a buffer zone. This buffer zone later increased the overall area to 236.74 Sq.Km.
Main rivers draining this park are Kunthipuzha (later joins with Bharatapuzha) – one of the last rivers in Kerala which has a clean catchment area and Bhavani (flows to eastern and cross borders).

In Silent Valley you can see birds like – “Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Nilgiri Wood pigeon, White-bellied Treepie, Grey-headed Bulbul, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Rufous Babbler, Wynaad Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Nilgiri pipit...Ceylon Frogmouth and Great Indian Hornbill” – Wikipedia.

... Red winged crested cuckoo, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Pale harrier...Black-and-orange Flycatcher... most abundant bird was the Black bulbul – Wikipedia.

Mammals include Lion-tailed Macaque, Niligiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Nilgiri Tahr, Peshwa’s Bat (Myotis peshwa), Hairy-winged Bat etc – Wikipedia.

From Mukkali Forest office to Sairandhri forests

After going through several hairpins in Mannarkkad – Anakatty road, I finally reached Mukkaly. Forest office is located within a walkable distance.

There wasn’t any one waiting for a vehicle to go inside. Only a group form Bangalore was standing outside - but they already visited the park. Forest Department provide two type of facilities for tourists visiting the park – Jeep (Mahindra) and mini bus. Jeep can carry a maximum of 6 people - excluding driver and guide; minibus can carry 20+. If I am going alone, I have to pay around 1100. Hence I waited for someone to come. Two more people came and they were ready to take me in, but they may continue waiting for another two for rest of their friends.

I waited for another half an hour. No one came. Finally I decided to go alone. Forest officials requested me to wait for some more time. I want to see the forest with sun’s bright and soft early rays. Suddenly, a couple from Kottayam came and I went along with them.

We started our journey in an old Mahindra Jeep through the mud roads. Jeeps are good for that surface, but our jeep was not at an ideal vehicle for viewing forest. First of all it’s completely closed with a non transparent cover. Back seats are aligned perpendicular to driver’s seat instead of arranging it parallel.

We stopped first to sign in a forest check post and then to see animals/birds/lion tiled Macaques etc. At one place there was a small waterfall, we stopped there for drink some water and take rest.

After travelling some 23kms we reached Silent Valley’s core zone; another one and half km to reach the viewing post. From this multi-storey high viewing post one can see Kunthipuzha River Valley and many other forest ranges.

Strict rules are in place for core zone. Tourist can go only one and half km and then a trek to Kunthipuzha. One can see paper, coffee etc in the beginning of buffer zone but nothing in core zone. Only research scientists – with relevant records and advance permissions – can wander through the core zone.

I was interested in the one km trek to Kunthipuzha River. What’s the point of going to forest, if you can’t trek? But the couples were reluctant to go. I decide to go alone, but then the guide told that travellers can’t go alone. As per the rules he is required to accompany me. I informed the couple that, I would like to go for trekking and see the river. This will of course add another half to one hour waiting time to their schedule (but this is part of the package). In the end I agreed with the guide and dropped the plan.

I still regret that decision. I could have press the matter and go to river. I don’t know why I agreed with them. May be I don’t want to go against so many opinions at that time, maybe I don’t want somebody else to wait because of me. However, now when I am looking back I think that was indeed a wrong decision. I don’t know when I will visit Silent Valley again. Kunthipuzha, when I will see your origins?



1. Wikipedia.

Right to Privacy, Snooping, Electronic Surveillance and Government of India (GoI)

"On November 15, a pair of investigative portals released a set of audio transcripts depicting an extraordinarily invasive and scrupulous surveillance of a young woman by the Gujarat Police." - The Hindu (Nov 22)

"Private detectives forge relations with policemen and unsuspecting people in telecom companies, as they have access to call data... Fresh arrests in a case relating to 'BJP' leader Arun Jaitley's call records being compromised have re-instilled fears on the snooping front... how private detectives were increasingly prying on personal details." - Business Standard (Nov 16)

We Indians generally don't care much about privacy. You can meet a person on a train and extract his family details in first 10 minutes itself. We often hesitate to say no... We often hesitate to say 'Sorry, its personal'.

An old friend once told me how much shocked he was, when heard about his salary details (break down structure) from future in-laws. This was not an isolated incident. Many times I got calls from marketing representatives on business phones, which I never shared. Spamming is an ever increasing problem.

These two incidents plus Radia tapes are shedding lights to dark areas of snooping into personal data, and compromising the right to privacy. Radia tapes revealed many things; but the point is, government was recording the conversation - according to some imaginary objectives. Worst part is, someone - who has access to these records – was ready to disclose this information to public. This raises new questions on how safe your private details are in government's hand.

Now I am really worried about the new initiatives from GoI. NatGrid, Aadhar etc may help government to manage and verify information. The million dollar question is, how secure this data with government? Access to NatGrid, Aadhar gives unprecedented privilege in the hands of many individuals in government. Will they live up to the expectation?

What you think about Aadhar id? Is it safe to reveal that id to someone else? If not, then what about our ids moving here and there in the files of gas agencies, banks, MGNREGA officials etc? Probably never in the history of India, any bureaucrat got the control such highly specific information. Here we are not talking about a name, address or phone number but fingerprints, iris images, unique ids etc.

Do you think this information is safe in government hands? Especially when,

"Investigations into Jaitley case revealed a group of private detectors had connived with police officers of the rank of assistant sub-inspectors, head constables and constable in the office of the ACP. These rogue policemen illegally sent mails from the ACP's office to service providers, seeking call details of politicians, businessmen and journalists. The scam was uncovered after one of the eight telecom service providers turned suspicious and decided to verify with the ACP concerned. So far, four policemen and a couple of private detectives have been arrested in the case."

We Indians need to think more about our privacy. Think twice before giving all your information in social networks. Think thrice before handing over PAN cards, Passport etc to someone else.

In a country which is much worried about terror networks and other internal and external agencies working 24*7 to destabilize the country, electronic surveillance is a good weapon in the hands of law and order officials. However in the absence of a strong and robust legal framework, these data may not be in the safe hands.


I think executive, legislatures and judiciary need to take a look into below mentioned points,

1. All snooping and surveillance activities should be in accordance with a new law passed by legislature not through an executive order.

2. Terms like public order, national security, destabilizing the country, public safety, defence of India rules etc should be defined clearly.

3. Any snooping activities should be authorised at very high level officials.

4. Any private information acquired using electronic surveillance and (or) not followed the due process of law and (or) leaked to public domain should be inadmissible as evidence in courts.

5. Any such individual, or government official leaking telephone calls and other private information to general public or a group should be prosecuted (exception can be given, if leaking is under extraordinary circumstances and in the best interests of nation).

6. Colonial era laws - like Indian Telegraph Act etc - which served the purpose of colonial overloads should be replaced immediately.

7. Every citizen should have the right to privacy. Until and unless it serves the best interests of the nation (as per the due process established by law), no citizen of India be subjected to electronic surveillance.

8. Government machinery should not be misused for making private and commercial gains.

9. People who have access to order surveillance and power to access very confidential information should also be responsible for the protection of information so acquired.

10. All surveillance requests should be authorized by a screening committee which includes at least a person each from judiciary and Ministry of Law.

I hope GoI will look in to recent incidents and come with a robust framework.



Monday, November 18, 2013

SP leader Mulayam demands ban on English in Parliament!!!

Mulayam started kicking the dead dog. All of a sudden he wants to promote Hindi. Fine, it’s a good thing to promote his/her mother tongue. Father-son duo is currently ruling UP and they can allocate a huge sum to fund their efforts. But the problem is, he want to ban English also; that too from Parliament.

His reasoning is simple. "Countries which use their mother tongue are more developed. It's the need of the hour to promote Hindi".

Can anyone agree on a common mother tounge for entire nation?  Well, that altogether a different question.

If we follow his reasoning, India didn’t become a developed country because we didn’t promote mother tongue. So simple... GoI might be wondering, why they brought in ‘Reghuram Rajan’ to identify the route cause and fix the financial problems.

By the way his son, Akhilesh Yadav, got masters degree in Environmental Engineering from an Australian University.

Why media is taking this entire issue seriously? He went to a meeting to promote Hindi and said something to satisfy the audience.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tripartite Dialogue, Mr. Mirwaiz Farooq and Kashmir

Problem with Hurriyat and many of its leaders are, they often live far away from reality and demands something which practically won't happen any time soon. However, just like anybody else Hurriyat and its leaders too have the right to express their opinions.

So let’s a take a look at Hurriyat's moderate section's leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq's statement about tripartite dialogue for resolving Kashmir issue. Three parties mentioned here are - India, Pakistan and Kashmiri separatist leadership.

As a matter of fact, many assumptions about Kashmir issue are changed over a period of time.

1. Future dialogues between India and Pak will certainly include ‘K’ word, but may not enjoy the status it once had.
2. India's obsession with Pakistan is slowly but steadily declining.
3. A long peace session in Kashmir will certainly bring more tourists and business to the valley. I think business and people will be more inclined towards a peaceful spell. Once everyone enjoy the fruits of stability, there may not be much support for violence (even if the call for a separate Kashmir continued).
4. After witnessing and suffering from the results of terrorism in their own land, western governments may no longer remain sympathetic towards separatist’s demands in Kashmir.
5. Fair election process will slowly but steadily bring legitimacy to state government.
6. Siting out of the political system will certainly weaken the non-militant separatist leadership.

I think the best thing Hurriyat can do now is to join the state political system and participate in polls. This will certainly provide a real picture about their appeal in the state. Will they be ready for the same, is altogether a different question.

Will Mr. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and his party be ready to taste the waters and measure the strength of their popularity among Kashmiries?


CNR Rao calls politicians 'idiots'; Are they alone in that category?

"... for the money that government has given to scientific sector, we have done much more," he retorted.

"... Why the hell these idiots these politicians have given so little for us. Inspire of that we scientists have done something..." - TOI

Politicians may never imagined that, they would get such a reply soon after announcing Bharat Ratna to one of India's renowned scientist. Even if they knew, does it matter? Now-a-days public, media, bankers, industrialists etc. are so often calling them different names. In short, it doesn’t matter!!!

Still, I would like to say something about Mr. Rao's statement. It is true that a certain politician in UP thought, it is more important to create huge number of mammoth statues than to invest something in Science. It is true that another politician in a big Indian state found it essential to spent huge amount of money on irrigation projects (which hardly created any additional water flow) than to invest the same in a scientific establishment. It is true that, India is always ready to increase salaries of lawmakers than to give higher pay to scientists. It is true that politicians are ready to spent government money to buy TV to every household, in return for votes. It is true that, government is willing to burn enormous amount of cash to support a public airline - which hardly do any national service – than investing the same in scientific projects. Ready to recapitalize the banks which are competitively acquiring more NPA.

But isn’t it also true that, whatever money government is spending (that is not a small amount) is not creating proportional results? How many college professors/lectures are writing at least one article/year in a well-known international journal? What happened to enormous amount of money India spend in various projects? How many times we are hearing the cry for technological transfer (from foreign companies)? Why we are struggling to produce a native replacement for Bofors guns, even after having the drawings? How many aircraft engines we produced - original research - even after some labs are tirelessly working for a long time? Why Tejas is flying with a foreign engine? Even after having such a huge number of scientists in the payroll, how may high quality research papers are produced in a year? Why India’s import bill for electronics is rising so fast (soon it may even overrun India’s oil import bill)?

Probably My Rao is correct on his statement. I appreciate his balancing part as well.

“We also have to take blame on ourselves, Indians we don't work hard, we are not like Chinese. We are easy going and we are not as much nationalists ... If we get some-more money we are ready to go abroad." - TOI

With one leg we can't go fast. Along with funding we need a visionary, efficient administration and inspirational guiding figures to take us to the front line of scientific research. Otherwise the dreams of Satish Dhawan, Vikram Sarabhai, H.J. Baba etc will remain as dream only.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Kasargod, Bekkal and Me

Close to the waters of Arabian Sea
Ever watched the movie 'Bombay'? Remember the song 'Uyire' (Tamil)...'? Romantic couple standing on top of a lengthy wall projected to sea; waves from Arabian Sea hitting the rocks and splitting into thousands of droplets in the background... Wondering what I am about to say?

Kasarkode - History

A view from the beach

Kasarkod is the northern most district in Kerala. This place was a popular trade centre in between 9th and 14th century. Arabs called it - Harkwillia.

During Perumals rule these areas were part of Mahodayapuram (The Kodavalam inscription of King Bhasakara Ravi II is a fine testimony). After the decline of Perumals, by 12th century AD, these areas fell into the hands of Mushikas, Kolathiri etc. During this time Bekkal became an important port town in Tulunadu and Malabar.

Rise of Vijayanagar Empire formed new questions in front of Kolothiri (Nileshwaram was one his capitals); eventually Vijayanagar annexed this area. Following Talikotta war and subsequent decline of Vijayanagar, this region came under Ikkery Naiks.

Somewhere I read that, the characters appearing in Theyyam - popular folk dance in northern Kerala - represent those who had helped Kolathiri to fight against Vijayanagar. Kolathiris tried to regain the control; however these skirmishes finally came to an end with the rise of Hyder Ali and Mysore.

Hyder Ali conquered Bedanoor (Bidnur) - capital of Ikkery Naiks - in 1763AD. However, his attempt to capture Thalassery Fort was foiled. Later Mysore under Tipu Sultan annexed much of Malabar. Situation changed in 1792. According to ‘Sreerangapattanam Treaty’ signed by Tipu Sulthan, Malabar came under British control. After his death even ‘Mysore’ came under Company.

Pallikere Beach
During the early period of Company’s rule, Kasaragod was part of Bombay Presidency. Later in 1882 these regions were transferred to Madras Presidency and in 1947 joined with Indian Union. Reorganisation of states in 1956 made Kasarkode as part of Kerala.

As per various claims around 7 languages are popularly in use here - Malayalam, Kannada, Tulu, Beary bashe and Konkani.

Bekkal - History

Outer Walls

Spreading over 40 acres (1,60,000 metre squares) Bekkal Fort is located in between National Highway and Arabian Sea. This is considered as one of the largest forts in Kerala.

According to K P Padmanabha Menon, "The eldest of the male members reigned as sovereign Kolathiri. The next in succession, the heir apparent, was the Thekkelamkur. The residence assigned to him was the Vadakara fort. The third in succession was the Vadakkelamkur in charge of Vekkolath fort. This V(B)ekkolath fort is identified by some scholars as the present Bekal."

H A Stuart - Handbook of South Canara (1985) - states tha, "Several forts were built by the Shivappa Nayaks of Badnore between 1650 and 1670. The two forts of Bekal and Chandragiri were originally under the Kolathiri or Chirakkal Rajas until the time of Shivappa Nayaka's invasion. Perhaps, the Bednore rulers might have rebuilt and improved it."

You can see the fort walls behind
As per some records, Shivappa Nayaka of Bednore constructed the Bekal Fort in 1650AD.

Kanjagad, Pallikere beach and Bekal Fort

Paper boats???

I reached Bekkal - from Mangalore side - in Kannur express coming from Bangalore. Train was one hour late. As per the plan, I decided to visit Bekkal first and hence got down at Kanjagad Railway Station. I was running out of money - by mistake one ATM card was locked out and other one is empty for all practical purpose.

What to do? From Railway Station, I walked towards Kanjagad SBI branch to finance my further journeys. After walking for a while, I saw the blue board of SBI. Walked in, filled the withdrawal form, and joined the long queue to reach cashier’s desk. When my time came, I gave the signed withdrawal form to her.

"I don't have it with me"
"Then we can't give you money, how we know that you are the same person?"
"I have an Id card with me."
"In the absence of passbook, we can't give cash against a withdrawal form."
"But I have ID card"
"You can meet the manager"

I waited and went to Manager’s cabin. Same questions, same reply.

Finally he asked, "Your account is in which branch?"
"Ernankulam Main"
"We can't do anything as the account is with other branch."

Well I came out, suddenly I remembered about my mobile and did an online transfer - another 1 hour or so my empty ATM got replenished (so am I).

Washing the shores for a long time
I was wondering, what will happen to a person who is in immediate need of money - far away from his home branch and don't have an ATM? Can't the banks do some help? After coming back to Bangalore, I shared this doubt with my friend who is currently with Bank Of India. His reply was simple - you need to show your ID card, bank can verify it and can also go for signature verification. Well, can't that SBI branch think about it?

After having lemon juice, I boarded a bus to Bekal.  Before boarding I asked them whether it will go to Bekkal fort or not. They told you can get down at Pallikere beach; fort is right just after the beach.

They were right; fort is located at one end of the beach. Problem is one need to cover the entire beach to reach there.

I spend some time in the beach. A lot of boats were there in the sea, in search of fish. From a distance it looked like black coloured paper boats.

Taking rest, I am going next.
One can see the fort from the beach itself. I walked towards it. On the way many people were sitting in circles and cleaning their nylon nets. Honda's and Suzuki's engines were sitting idle here and there in that hot sand. Interestingly, in most of the fishing arbours and beaches I went, these two companies hold a duopoly over these engines. I think in some places I saw Yamaha also.

Walking, walking and walking. Finally, I reached in front of fort’s outer walls. To my horror, there was way to go inside!!! The only other way was a lengthy footpath circling fort’s walls (still under construction). As there was no other way, I followed the foot path.

It indeed provided a breath talking beautiful view of Arabian Sea. Waves were hitting on the sides of huge rocks and then splitting in to hundreds of small droplets, huge water body touching sky at the farthest end, boats painted in various colours were standing still in the ocean, huge walls of fort on the back side... beautiful.

I sat there, for a long time; if time permitted I was even ready to spend the whole day there itself. As we all now time will wait for anyone, and I am not an exception. I walked further and reached the other side. Here you can see the location of the song ‘Uyire...’ A group from Karnataka was walking through that area. When they left, I sat there – alone – for a while. Then a couple from Salem came there and after taking some pictures of them (as per their request) I walked towards the gate.

After walking here and there for a while, I finally settled in a bench placed under a tree.

I like to sit here for a long time.
Mercury was raising non-stop. More people were coming in, mainly in groups of 3 to 5. Then came a group of teenagers. One guy took his girlfriend on his shoulders and walked all the way to the top of watch tower located somewhere in the middle. They were very much exited.

Other than the big walls and a watch tower there is nothing much to see inside the fort.

It’s time to go, this time through the front gate. From a nearby bus stop,an old Kerala RTC bus took me to Kasargod town.


Splitting in to a thousand spears

Good road, bad road, and finally I were in the bus stand. My next destination was ‘Malik Deenar Mosque’ – probably the oldest mosque in Kasargod district. After checking with multiple people I finally find a person who knew where the mosque is. Even though mosque is located some kilometres away, I preferred to walk.

After crossing the Railway station some one or two kilometres more. In front of the mosque, there is football ground. When I reached there one tournament was about to start. This is not the football of 11 people and 90 minutes - but sevens (seven people and 20/30 minutes). This version of football is very much popular in northern Kerala – Palakkad above districts. Once can see the flags of prominent powers in world football - favourites are Argentina, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany etc – flying here and there.

I watched the matches for a while, and then went to mosque. This mosque is located close to an estuary. I spent some time in the premises and had a brief chat with security man. He was very much eager to explain mosque’s history and other related events.

Wonderful - Near Bekal fort
After saying bye to the guard, I went back to watch the football and sat there for a long time. Slowly sun set in the south, and I wake up and took an auto to Railway Station. From there Train would take me to Calicut and then will take me to home.


Inside the fort
Places to visit:
Ananthapura Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Ranipuram, Madhur Temple, Malik Deenar Mosque, Bekal Fort.

How to Reach?

By Bus:
Kasarkod is accessible form Mangalore, Kannur etc.

By Train:
One can use Kasarkode station or Kanhangad (for those who are coming from a distance, in train to visit Bekkal)

By Air
Nearest Airports are Calicut and Mangalore

Howz this?

Cannon Holes? 

Ohh.. finally i got my food

Fort has only outer walls?

I am standing in front of front gate

Monday, November 11, 2013

Crossing ‘Western Ghats’ – From Bangalore to Mangalore

Deep down here, I am flowing towards...
It was my fourth visit to Mangalore. However, I am yet to spend considerable time to see her beaches, Netravati and city’s wild Eastern Side. This time also it was not different; I may end up spending just one hour or so in Mangalore. What made the trip different was my determination to see the wilderness of Western Ghats.

From Bangalore, I boarded ‘Kannur Express’ (This train is also known as ‘Karwar Express’). Till Mangalore, train will carry passengers destined to go for Kannur side as well as to Karwar side. At Mangalore bogies will be separated and the ones carrying Passengers to Karwar will get a new engine and continue her journey towards north. Rest of the train will go to South – towards Kannur.

Mist and fog, miseries are far away

I tried hard not to slip into deep sleep. This forced me to woke up every now and then to check whether we started climbing ‘Western Ghats’ or not. At one point, when I woke up, I saw ‘SAKLESHPUR’ (SKLR) written over railways characteristic yellow plaque using black paint. From here, till next station - SUBRAHMANYA RD (SBHR) - one can view the beauty of Western Ghats for a total two and half hours. Try day trains for better view.

Towards that unseen destination, journey is still on....
It was around 3.15am, I could hardly see anything outside except the cool air creeping through the slightly opened windows. So I slept for a while and woke up after one hour. Then also it was hard to see outside; slowly it became clear - Trees, tunnels, small rivers and more - all the way to Subrahmanya Road. Beautiful...

93/0, hope this journey will never end
After a halt of around 15 - 20 minutes at Subrahmanya Road, we restarted our journey to Mangalore. Next beautiful entity to see on the way is magnificent ‘Netravati River’. After crossing the long bridge over the river, and travelling for some more kilometres, finally I reached Mangalore.


Project IGI - I am Going In

Project ICO - I am coming Out

You metal tracks, aren't you tired of waiting for me?

Subrahmanya Road - I reached the other side

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shimoga - The Southern End of Ashokan Empire

Badra Dam
Before going further let me tell you something about Shimoga’s history.


Shimoga (aka Shivamogga) is the head quarters of Shimoga district and located on the banks of Tunga River in Karnataka. According to some historians this district is probably the southern end of Ashoka's Maurayn Empire.

Shimoga saw the reign of many kings and dynasties like Kadambas (4th century), Chalukyas (6th century), Gangas, Rashtrakutas (8th century), Hoysalas (11th century), Vijayanagara (15th century), Kheldi Nayakas (Shivappa Nayaka is considered as the prominent of Kheldi Nayakas) and then the region came under Mysore kings, and later in 1947 integrated with Union Of India.

Coming to the City

After a long journey from Sagar, bus reached Shimoga bus stand. Here both private and KSRTC terminals are close to each other. My first job was to find Durga hotel, where I am planning to spend the night. With a map in hand, it was not a difficult task. After having bath, I left the room to roam around. After walking for a while, I suddenly remembered about Shivappa Nayaka Palace.  Why don’t go there? Well this time, map didn’t prove much useful. I went through the road following the map, but the palace was nowhere in sight.
After checking with a lot of people and walking for half an hour I reached in front of palace gate - only to see the locks. I checked my watch once again - it’s not even 5 ‘o’ clock (and Saturday is not a holiday for ASI museums). Then why? I was told to come again on next day.

Slowly I started walking back to the main road. Music was coming from various Ganesh idols planted close to the roads; people from Jain community were assembled in a building and various cultural programs were going on there; in between I saw a small road going towards the river. People were sitting on the banks and engaged in fishing; couple of minutes there as well.

As per the plan, in next day morning I went to private bus terminal to catch a bus to Badra River Project. Here I met Sahil. He is from Lakkavalli and working at a shop in Shimoga. In fact he missed the last bus in previous night and now waiting for this one to go home. We waited there for another 15 minutes. On the way to Badra dam we talked about various things, about Shimoga, Badra, Tunga, Bangalore, Baba Budan Range, Chikmanaglore, Kuvempu University etc.  After a while we reach in front of his college and university – Kuvembu University. Some more minutes to reach Badra Reservoir...

Badra Reservoir

Bhadra River originates from Gangamoola near Kudremukha - located in beautiful Western Ghats. Various tributaries will join the river before it reaches Lakkavalli. A big dam is built in Lakhavalli forming a huge reservoir behind it. From Lakhanvalli river continues her journey and cross Bhadravathi city. In Koodli she will shed her identity and join with Tunga to form Tungabhadra. Tungabadra will later join with Krishna (close to Alampur near Kurnool, Andra Pradesh) and finally find salvation in Bay of Bengal.

One can see the dam from road itself. I opened the rusted gates slowly and walked in. White water was coming out of dam’s two slightly opened crest gates. After checking with security guard, I took the steps on my right to reach the top - only to see another closed gate. There was a small opening, covered by bushes and trees. I walked slowly through that slippery path, which led me right in to the waters. From there, I could see various small islands popping their head out of the water; painted their body in green colour. At one end, there was a small bridge connecting an island to mainland.

Gate was opened for visitors by the time I came back. I had to put the camera inside as the visitors were not allowed to take photos. The reality is, a lot of people were taking  photos using mobile phones (which were stopped later by the guards). I don’t understand this concept. Now-a-days cameras on many high end phones are comparable to that of entry level DSLRs. Moreover, all these information is available through net – Google earth etc. Then why authorities want to restrict only cameras?

I walked to the other side, curiously looking at the mapping instrument, mechanism to open the crest gate, crest gate etc. The second one is mammoth equipment imported from Germany!!! On the other side, pure water drops in white colour is jumping out of the slightly opened crest gates and touching the ground.
After spending some more time on the top I left for Shimoga. Interestingly, I got the same bus I came in.

Tunga – Badra Sangam at Kudli

My next destination was Tunga – Badra sangam at Kodli. From Shimoga stand I got a bus, which is passing around 2km away from Koodli (15 INR from Shimoga stand). After a while, I got down at the stop and started walking through that old and tired road dotted with holes. Here I met Sheik. He is in his early teens, dropped from school and working in a shop in the city. He was good in Hindi; I would rather say Urdu. Both sides of road were devoid of any human presence.

Talking about various things – Koodli, Shimoga, Gulf countries etc - we walked forward. When we reached his village, he showed me the way to go forward and ran to his hom for late lunch. Pot holed road gave her way to concrete ones. Soon after crossing the famous Sangameshwara Temple I reached the Sangam.
Some 15-20 people were either standing or sitting in the steps. After removing the shoes, I went in. A family was doing some poojas for salvation of their forefathers. I walked towards the tip and looked straight to the Sangam. Tunga River on my left; Badra on my right; joining at this point and forming Tungabadra in front of me and then flowing away in search of salvation, carrying the prayers of many others.

After a while I left the Sangam and went in an auto (which later proved a costly mistake) to bus stop.

Tunga Dam (aka Gajanur Dam)

Gajanur Dam is located some 14kms away on the sides of Shimoga-Thirthahalli road.
Buses to Tunga Dam start from a bus stop close to the stand. I went there and boarded a bus. After a while bus took a sudden right turn and moved to a small road. That road was so small that, branches of trees from both side were sometimes blocking the way.

What if any vehicle came in opposite direction? Forget about another bus, there was not enough space even for an auto. It looked more like a wild elephant running through a sugarcane plantation. Not a single bus came opposite to us. Would I stick in Gajanur for the whole night?

In this journey I met Somashekhar. He studies in a school close to dam. He explained me that, it’s a short cut to reach Tunga quickly!!! I didn’t think we were running late, then why on earth a private bus want to take a shortcut reach the destination?

After a while we got down at Tunga river project. This dam is still under construction. With 16 crest gates this dam structure is big compared to just 4 gates of Badra. However the reservoir formed by Tunga is much smaller than that of Badra.

By the way ‘Sakrebailu’ elephant camp is located on the next stop. If you get time don’t forget to go there.
Somashekhar and I undertook a long walk to get a full view of Tunga Dam; finally we got a view point. I felt like he was also reaching that point for the first time.

After spending some more time there, I told good bye to Somashakhar and boarded a bus back to Shimoga. By the time I reached the city, colour of western horizon change from Orange Red to whitish black.

Mysore Pak

Shimoga is also famous for ‘Mysore Paks’. Earlier Sahil asked me to try in ‘Venkateshwara Sweet House’ for sweets. It took a while for me to find it out. They gave me a very hot piece as sample. It was really good, one of the best piece I ever had. After buying sweets and having ‘Pani-Poori’, ‘Masala-Poori’ and ‘Masala Dosa’ on the way to bus stand; I finally sat in a chair waiting for my bus to come in.


How to reach?

By Road
NH 206 connects Bangalore with Shivamogga (274km). This road passes through Tumkur, Arsikere, Banavara, Kadur, Birur, Tarikere, and Bhadravathi. KSRTC operates a lot of services in this route.
Shimoga is accessible from Sringeri, Dharmastala, Hubli, Agumbe as well.

By Rail
Shimoga is connected to Bangalore and Mysore directly. For those who come from other states try nearby rail junctions like Birur Jn etc.

By Air
Shimoga airport is still under construction. Try Bangalore airport and take a bus or train.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Jog Falls – A day on the banks of Sharavati

From View Point

“Which is the biggest water fall in India?”
“Jog is on which river?”
“Hmmm... Sharavati”

When I was in school, these questions used to appear in history question paper or asked in quiz programs (People now consider ‘Nohkalikai Falls’ of Meghalaya as the tallest plunge waterfall in India).

My journey to Jog was postponed multiple times due to unprecedented heavy rain falls in Western Ghats during the beginning of this monsoon. Because of this I missed a chance to get a glimpse of Jog during those precious months when Sharavati furiously falls in to those gorges. On the other side, because of the same reason, I was able to go all the way to the bottom. If the amount of water is high, then one need to view Jog from a distance.

It was a Friday night; I boarded a BMTC bus to KSRTC’s Magestic bus stand in Bangalore. Traffic was very heavy- travelling each kilometer felt like an eternal wait for the next world. I reached majestic in time and boarded the bus to Jog. After a while, conductor came and verified tickets from a couple of people sitting behind me – interestingly neither he asked me nor did I give my tickets to him. After a while, I got call from an unknown number. I attended the call nothing was audible. After couple of minutes, I got another call from the same number, this time I was not even able to pick that call.

Finally bus started moving, her wipers were working non-stop to clear water from the front glass. Conductor came back and started verifying tickets from all. This time he saw my ticket, hold it for some time, look towards me and told “we called you twice, but you were disconnecting the calls’!!!

Rain was gaining strength.

From Majestic, you will get a lot of buses to Shimoga and some to Sagara as well. However there are only one or two KSRTC buses directly Jog (from Bangalore). In case you are travelling in train you can get down at Shimoga, Sagara, Talaguppa (this one is the closest) and catch a bus.
Close to morning we reached Shimoga, and then Jog. I got down at a stop close to Jog view point. From bus stop view point is hardly 2-3 minutes away. After paying 5 INR for entry (no separate charge for camera) I walked towards the view point. 

Close up

In front of me Sharavati was falling down to great depths, forming one of the biggest waterfalls in India. It was like, a name which I saw only in school text books acquired flesh and blood and standing in front of me. The sad point was, amount of water falling down looked like a skeleton of what it supposed to be. It looked like a poverty stricken kid who was eating only twice in a day for the past three years.

Problem here is the dams, which controls the water flow to the river. In short, if shutters are down then there won’t be much water to fall down in the first place. Moreover, other than monsoon there aren’t many factors which compels the authorities to open the dam.

At this point, waters from Sharavati are falling down to a depth of 290m (or 960ft) in the form of four distinct segments called - Raja, Roarer (which meets Raja on its way down), Rocket and Rani. One can reach the bottom of these falls using steps – 1389 or so – built by authorities. During early monsoons, when Jog is on its majestic shape, this path will be closed.

Here I met a guy called Mathew. He is originally from Thrissur district of Kerala and works here as a guide cum driver for tourists. Along with him, in his taxi, I went to see the power station, Dam, Rani, Raja, Rocket and Roarer falls more closely. After a while we came back and he dropped me at Jog view point.

With Mathew on the way to another view point

Next step was walking to the bottom of the falls through labyrinths of steps, that also with a backpack. People – even the very young and kids coming opposite to me– were struggling to climb the steps. It took a lot of time for me to reach the bottom.

After the steps, it’s river plane. A lot of boulders were blocking the way to go further close to the falls. I walked and jumped over many of them to get a better view.

960ft long gigantic wall was standing on my both sides; water was falling down from the top of it in an animated fashion. That sound and various other sounds produced by river were indeed music to ears. However, other than water, a number of common trees and a group of fearless butterflies there was nothing much to say about flora or fauna. I tried to walk closer to the falls over those slippery boulders and finally sat down over a rock on the river level to see the falls.
I don’t remember how much time I sat there. Finally it was time to leave Jog, hence woke up and turned around. The next thing I remember is waking up from water. Camera was on my one hand, and phone fortunately inside a sealed hand bag. I did the only thing I can do – remove the droplets from it as fast as possible.

Various segments of Jog - from different view points
Finally it’s the time to go up. After seeing the big backpack one guy even wished me good luck. It was really a hard and tiresome journey... At some points numbers of steps are engraved on the stone, to encourage or to discourage? I was completely drenched in sweat by the time I reached the top.

Suddenly two police personal called me from a nearby outpost located close to the view point. They opened my backpack and checked all the items.

“From where you are coming?” (Question was in Kannada)

I didn’t get the meaning at first; second one repeated the question - “From where you are coming?” (in Kannada itself).

I simply told them “Kannada gothilva” (I don’t know Kannada)
By this time I made it out what they were asking, they repeated the question again in English – 

“You are from Bangalore and don’t know Kannada?”
Well for a moment I cursed myself. I could have say – ‘Kerala’ - and there won’t be any unnecessary comments.

In fact what happened was, they saw me sweating and panting that too in an early morning. So they were very much eager to know how I reached there? After hearing that I am coming from the bottom of falls there were no further questions.

Me in Jog

After standing idle in the bus stop for half an hour I got a local bus to Shimoga. My plan was to get down at Sagara and visit ‘Sigandur Chowdeshwari Temple’ if time permits; otherwise go straight to Shimoga. However the bus went very slow, stopping every now and then till I reach 

Jog – Sagar – Shimoga bus route pass through some scenic areas. Light rain added a different flavour to those agri fields and forests.


How to Reach Jog?

By Train:
Talaguppa station (closest one)
Sagar (SRF): For Sagar 30 km

By Bus:
Direct KSRTC buses are available to Jog from Bangalore etc.
Alternately you can take a bus to Shimoga/ Sagara and collect another one to Jog from there.

By Air:
Hubli Domestic Airport (HBX) 130 km.
Mangalore Domestic  Airport (IXE): 200 km
Bengaluru International Airport(BLR): 340 km

Goa International Airport(GOI): 246 km

1391 Steps? 

This is not a tree

Is this a picture?

Eternal Beauty

Pure water

On the way to Sagara - Captured from a running bus