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Author: Khushboo Vaishnav

Vagamon – Pristine Beauty of Kerala

Vagamon – Pristine Beauty of Kerala

I was really looking forward to this roadtrip. For financial and personal reasons, somehow we couldn’t take any trip last year. So I was very excited to begin our nomadic lifestyle after a break of almost an year. This time we would be gone for a month.  We chose to drive through the Western Ghats of Kerala.

I just had a family vacation of 15 days at my hometown Ahmedabad and was now ready to fly to Kochi via Mumbai. It was a long boring flight but the thought of driving to Vagamon from Kochi Airport after being picked up by my husband, really excited me. (My husband was already on his Roadtrip around Kodaikanal since last 15 days)

The road from Kochi to Vagamon via Thodapuzha was one of the most beautiful roads that we have drove through. I must say we almost decided to retire and make a house in Thodapuzha!!!!! Such an idyllic place it was.

Once we crossed Thodapuzha the ascend started & so did the beauty and serenity. Kerala is so so so green, especially for a person like me who hails from Ahmedabad and who has just spent last  15 days at an average temperature of 40 degree Celsius. The breeze around the Western Ghats was very soothing and cool on my skin. It rejuvenated me so much  that I almost forgot that I have been up since 4 am in the morning and had a tiresome flight journey of 5 hrs.

On my way to Vagamon through Thodapuzha

 

Right from your childhood all that you know about Kerala is Tea Gardens or Backwaters. And now that I am finally here. I cannot resist to take a selfie (though I am nto much of a selfie person because I can’t take one!!!!!)

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And as we traveled further, these Tea gardens were omnipresent. When you drive through them you feel God definitely must be a painter. The symmetry, color and the vastness just overwhelms you.

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And after a flight journey of 4 hours and a drive of 3 hours we reached Vagamon Holiday. It is a beautiful holiday home amidst the Tea Gardens of Vagamon called Holiday Vagamon. If you are looking for a Digital Detox with your loved ones, this place is just perfect for you. As soon as we arrived, I was pleased to see how spacious and clean our room was.

 

After settling down we just took a walk in the premises and were more than happy to do this. Just what you need for a cup of tea in the evening. A hammock !

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The premises & the overall property was very scenic and calm. We had tea gardens, plants, flowers and trees all around us to relax our mind. And when that happens you just doze off. So did we.

Next day we had a grand breakfast(included in tariff) that was simple yet fulfilling. I have always been a fan of local cuisine and a farm fresh fruits wherever I go. Oh I just forgot to take the pic of the buffet breakfast because I was so busy in eating !

But take my word the breakfast they offer is grand, simple, nutritious & light on you stomach. Thats what you just want when you are traveling.

Sightseeing in Vagamon

Since Vagamon is quite a small place, the sightseeing places are just limited. Perfect if you are planning to travel juts over a weekend.

Vagamon Pine Forest

We skipped it because it was too crowded as it was a weekend. We skip any place that is congested with tourist crowd. But if one is interested, it can definitely be visited. Worth a try.

Vagamon Falls

Since we visited this place in May, the waterfall was not active. But should be visited  from June to September.

Vagamon Lake

Now this is one visit that is memory of a lifetime, at least for me. Its a beautiful small lake amidst the Tea Gardens and very picturesque. Boating is very affordable and you can opt for Kayaking and Paddle Boating. We did both.

When we were paddle boating, the climate was very nice as you can see in the pictures.

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After enjoying our paddle boat We decided that we will go for also Kayaking (as we never did that before). I think that was the best decision we took over. By the time we bought our tickets for Kayaking, it started raining heavily.In Kerala, rainfall can happen anytime, even in May.

And just like that something as simple as just Kayaking became an adventure for us out of nowhere. Other tourists and visitors left the lake since the rainfall was very heavy and the visibility also was very less because of clouds. Nobody except the lake administrator was around the lake. And that’s what you want just to make that perfect & romantic for the lifetime.

We continued with the Kayak amidst heavy showers and cool water. It was difficult to see ahead because of heavy rain. One could see the rain droplets taking the form of beads & diamonds over the surface of water till the horizon  below you. Also water is falling all over you in the form of thousand knives from above because the water is cold and the rain is sharp. And you have to keep moving the paddle with your hands amidst all this, in sync with each other to take the path ahead. Isn’t that is how a relationship is ?!!!1

Oh! what a sight & experience it was. I wish I was able to capture it in a video or photographs but it was too risky to take out the camera amidst the heavy showers. But you can imagine looking at the photographs what this place must be like when it showers heavily.

Some memories can never be captured but only be cherished. And that is what we are doing now while writing this post.

Good luck if you can experience something similar when you visit this region. Because that is the best part about this place.  It can rain anywhere anytime.

Tips

  • Always carry an Umbrella or Rain Jackets with you because in Kerala Ghats it can rain anytime anywhere
  • Take Room no 4 at Holiday Vagamon, if you want to be secluded and have a view of Tea Garden from the bedroom window
  • Alerts
  • When you walk through the Tea Gardens, be careful about the leech. Wear socks or high ankle shoes.

 

 

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 12 : Ooty – Hyderabad

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 12 : Ooty – Hyderabad

Hyderabad / May 28 – May 29
It was time to get back. I wanted to drive all the way back to Hyderabad but we started late around 10:30 AM from Ooty. In addition to that we have this soft rule which prevents us from driving after dark. We have driven enough in the dark and it’s just not enjoyable.

Route Recap
Hyderabad – Chennai – KodaikanalMarayoor – Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here


May 28, 2016
Started at 10:30 AM because of delays caused by multiple factors. Route via Gudalur-Mysore was the obvious choice. It took quite sometime to drive down those hairpin bends. I stayed in 2nd gear mostly as oncoming cars were being driven unnecessarily fast for this road. Probable weekend mania and people getting restless to reach Ooty.

Lovely elephant with his/her kiddo by the side. Somewhere on NH-181.

Roads were smooth mostly till Nanjangudu. Between Nanjangudu and Mysore there is still a 3-4 KM stretch which is still a work in progress. Mysore ring road is mostly a useless road despite being six lane. No flyovers at interchanges and countless famous barricades. Still it’s much better than going through Mysore. NH-275 Bangalore-Mysore again doesn’t feel like a highway. Passes through many densely populated areas. Urgent need for a few bypasses on this stretch.

All was well, till we hit the NH-4 after exiting NICE Ring Road. It’s a maze with only a little signage. A smart city planner will put directions for Hyderabad at every interchange or flyover entry because he wouldn’t want people bypassing the city accidentally getting lost and contributing to the already monstrous traffic.

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We took this route to bypass Bangalore. Not sure if that’s the best way. Traffic in our direction was not much but the oncoming traffic jam was like a few kilometers at least. There is a flyover on Railway track which is still a work in progress.

Once we crossed Bangalore, it already started feeling like home. But it was already 5:00 PM or so. We were targeting Kurnool earlier and Ananthpur was plan B. After another hour, there was no plan A and we decided that we’ll find a hotel in Ananthpur and stay there irrespective of how it is.

We reached Hotel Masineni Grand and was totally surprised to find this amazingly neat and clean upmarket hotel at a really affordable price. This was probably the best value for money stay for the entire trip.

Mind
Blown

They have a regular restaurant and a pure vegetarian restaurant.

May 29, 2016

There was no rush really. We don’t have a single traffic signal between Ananthpur and home Yeah, beat that! We drove real slow, enjoyed the rain drive for a while as well and were home by 3:00 PM I guess. But I guess adventurous stuff just follows us. We had this right before we hit the NH-44 in Ananthpur.

If you live in Bangalore, first thing that comes to your mind is Bellandur Lake.
People have to walk through this poison
It’s so cool that people want pictures with it.

And a broader picture

That’s all for this adventure. Well, we had a time of our life driving through the Western Ghats, crossing the borders of Tamil Nadu & Kerala. We transcended through Valleys, Tea Gardens, Forests, Sanctuaries, Caves, Waterfalls, Lakes, Dams & what not….

We never knew that such a small part of India can have so much to offer. This trail or region is ideal for making roadtrips across months as one can find one or the other thing at every 150-200 kms. We believe we had the most of this region but still as a traveler if you feel you have some better recommendations & suggestions from you past experiences, do enlighten us!!!!

Feel free to make suggestions, recommendations & give feedback in the comment box to make our travel experiences better.

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 11 : Ooty

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 11 : Ooty

Ooty / May 23 – May 27
Despite knowing the fact that Ooty is probably the most crowded hill station in this region, we decided to stay there for a week.

Route Recap
Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal Marayoor Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here


May 23, 2016
We checked out around 10:00 AM and started for Ooty. We had been warned several times about the hairpin bends and steep inclines on Ooty road. I didn’t ignore them completely but didn’t take them too religiously either. The warning/advice was something we needed. This stretch is not to be taken lightly. We encountered two totaled vehicles on the way. There are a total of 36 hairpin bends between Masinagudi and Ooty. The steep inclines at the hairpin bends add to the difficulty level. We were in first gear on most of these. The car was not feeling all that good even in second gear on some of them and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Hairpin Bends on Masinagudi-Ooty Route

All hairpin bends are equipped with convex mirrors for enhanced visibility. Also, the bends are numbered so that you can monitor your progress.

A section of the same route.

It took us around 1.5 hours to reach Ooty. Then started the real trouble. It felt like high altitude version of Bangalore without potholes. Too many people, too many cars and super confusing roads. To add to the trouble, Google maps trolled us like a boss. It took us into some real narrow lanes. We had to finally call the home-stay owner to guide us on phone. Another interesting thing that came out of all this experiment was how your perspective makes you its slave. The narrow lanes where I was having a tough time reversing my Honda City with all the reversing aid, a Tata LPT 1612 full size truck was unloading cement. How did he even get there! How is he ever going to take a U turn to go back. Anyways, philosophy aside, it took us close to 1 hour to locate the home-stay.

Since we were ultra frustrated after the navigational mess, we opted for pizza home delivery. Ate and slept. Not much to talk.

May 24, 2016

While searching for places to visit, all popular places within Ooty were immediately crossed because we didn’t want no more trolling. I came across this place marked as 43 Hairpin Bends on Google maps. I felt like that road was calling me We had to go there.

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43 Hairpin Bends Road

I always wanted to drive on a road with lots of hairpin bends but I never had the time or car to take up the trip to Gata Loops. Yeah, sad story Anyway, the deal was done and we were going.

On the way we crossed Lovedale. A few kilometers after Lovedale, we were greeted with mind blowing valley views. The best we have seen so far.

Speechless

When you are in any other part of the country and you read Major District Road on Google maps, you imagine a 1.25-1.5 lane wide road with potholes and sky high speed breakers and other death traps. That’s not the case in TN. MDRs are better than some state highways in other states.

A section of TN-MDR-1077

And finally the 43 Hairpin Bends road. I am personally calling it poor man’s Gata Loops.

Welcome aboard! No convex mirrors here.

We went all the way down till Geddai and covered 38 of the 43 bends. Now that we didn’t have no business in Geddai, we turned around to drive back to Ooty. We traveled through ~110 hairpin bends in total. There was another set of 7 bends and a set of 34 of which we only covered 10 I guess. I was all smiling. We almost never had motion sickness but wife was feeling a little dizzy and she didn’t speak at all on the return journey.

Word of caution: If you are in Ooty for a short stay and you don’t like to kill time, avoid this. It’s just a drive at the end of the day. Definitely not recommended if you passengers prone to motion sickness.

Beautiful temple on the way
Chamraj Tea Centre

We stopped at Chamaraj Team Center while returning. Nice little place. They offer Ice Tea and Black Tea. No milk tea available though.

Our company for tea. One of them didn’t really like it.

May 25, 2016

It was a little tricky to come up with places to visit when you are not going to visit what everyone else is visiting. So, we had lunch, road around a little. A super intelligent cop advised us to not go to Botanical gardens. May god bless him and all his forthcoming generations.

We tried The Sidewalk Cafe (inside Hotel Nahar) for lunch. Horrible place. Waiter looked like totally high. Slow service & bad food. BTW other two restaurants within Hotel Nahar has really good food but they get very crowded.

After the messed up lunch, we decided to drive down to Chamraj Tea Center again. I really loved that road but it’s a super 21 KMs away from Ooty. Few pics from the day.

View of Ooty City

A school compound in Ooty. Zoom in and notice the number of buses parked there. Now imagine all those buses on Ooty roads twice a day. Now imagine that this is just one of the schools in Ooty. Feel better.

Clouds were totally trying to own the valleys
Sun

May 26, 2016

We decided to drive down to Ketti Valley as we read that it has amazing valley views right off the Coonoor road. That wasn’t the case really. We had better views from the Chamraj factory road. While returning we stopped to checkout this place called The Culinarium. It’s run the company that manufactures needles. They have a continental cafe and a shop where they sell DIY kits for embroidery, knitting and stuff like that. Wife immediately liked it and purchased some stuff to make some other stuff as well.

The cafe gets really crowded though. Nothing much other than that. We took a few pictures on our way back to Ooty.

Beautiful farms
Nice way to create visual confusion
Who advertises like that!

May 27, 2016

Since we liked the culinarium much and didn’t get to spend much time there earlier, we decided to have lunch there. BAD IDEA SAAR! Pathetically slow service. All that glitters is not gold. They have like 15+ staff to wait 4+3 tables and over the counter sales. All of them are running around constantly and nobody is getting what they ordered. Not sure what they are running for. It took us 1.5 hours for us to actually have the lunch. As soon as we finished the lunch, wife hit the DIY craft store again where she purchased some more stuff to make some more other stuff. I have no idea what she purchased. While she shopped, I killed time teasing other shoppers’ kids.

After finishing the shopping business, we drove down to Coonoor and take a round of the city. It felt like we were inspecting the roads. Nice roads BTW. Oh and we accidentally came across the Kapoor’s house they showed in the movie Kapoor and Sons.

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Kapoor’s House

Stuff bought from Craft Store
Other stuff in progress
Other stuff

After getting home, we both got real upset stomachs. Bad food at the Culinarium I guess. And perfect timing too. I need to drive like only 850 KMs over the weekend to get back home. We had light dinner. I even had to take half day off from office as I was coming down with fever as well. The first aid kid that we always carry saved the day (or night). I was all sound when I woke up next morning. And that’s all for Ooty.

To be Continued…..

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 9 : Kalpetta Wayanad

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 9 : Kalpetta Wayanad

Kalpetta, Wayanad / May 16 – May 20
After a fun weekend full of some really nice drives and staying closer to nature, it was time to move closer to towns in search of the mighty 3G. We decided to stay in Kalpetta as we weren’t sure of connectivity elsewhere.

Route Recap :

Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here 


May 16, 2016
It was an election day so we anticipated that most public places will be closed to promote voting and drove straight to our home-stay. On the way, we noticed that many voters were carrying saplings. Later we raised this with our home-stay owner and he told that Wayanad district collector has come up with this out of the world brilliant idea of giving away free saplings to all voters who are voting for first time or above the age of 75. Why god don’t send more people like him/her to this planet??

Our stay for the week. We almost owned this place for the duration as we were alone most of the time.

May 17, 2016
We decided to go to the famous Edakkal Caves. Drove straight to the location right after lunch. Turns out we were late to the party. They had changed the timings to prevent any accidents due to bad daylight in the evening.

New schedule for Edakkal Caves

After this flop plan, we decided to drive to Wayanad Museum. It’s not a regular sized museum. More like row-house but they have some interesting artefacts on display. Since it doesn’t take much of your time, you might as well visit it (9:00 AM – 5:30 PM).

Range of containers for storage and catching fish
Poor lady. That guy was probably a noob and the arrow backfired chopping lady’s head off.
Multipurpose container. Can be used as a weapon in emergency.

Next, we visited the Karapuzha Dam. It turned out to be really nice place for an evening walk if weather permits. Not much crowd, cool breeze and vast panoramic views for your eyes.

Karapuzha Dam. The walking track is still a work in progress.

May 18, 2016
We finally gathered courage to go for the Chembra Peak trek to see the famous Heart Lake. You can take your vehicle all the way to the point where you start your trek. There will be Jeep drivers on the way who’ll warn you about real bad road ahead. They will try to trick you into hiring the Jeep to avoid any damages to your car. They are partially right. If you are the proud owner of a car with low ground clearance, love your car like real bad and are 4-5 people, you might as well consider the Jeep option. Your car underside will register scratches and noise will not be pleasant.

Remember that our ride for this trip was Honda City 2009 model which is world famous all over India for it’s bad ground clearance. For the onward journey, we were 2+1 (including guide) and I managed to pass the road with only teeny tiny scraping noises. But on return journey, we were 2+2 (guide + we gave lift to another forest personal whose only other option was to walk a KM all alone). Boy, I never scraped my car like that Those forest people were kind of worried about all the noise but me and wife were all smiles. This was the new limit we had pushed our vehicle to. We just love it when machines take abuse and still serve their humanly owners. Also, note that the car has registered 1,10,000 KMs on the odo. We get worried only when we go over a speed breaker and there is no scraping noise.

For reference, people with Swift, Ecosport, i20 had taken their cars to the last point.

A section of road to Chembra Peak. It gets worse once you pass the forest check post where you obtain a ticket for trekking and also pick your guide up.

Trekking fee is 790/- per group (750/- trek + 40/- Camera). You can go for a regular visit which is cheaper but I guess you are allowed only till a certain point (not too sure though). With 790/-, you get a dedicated guide who will be with till you return and get back into your car. The trek length is ~3KM and it gets real tough and steep at times. Not a problem for young adults but I’ll not recommend this for elders no matter what. It took us 1.5 hours to go up as wife wasn’t able to keep up (we are in late 20s). Getting down was easier but still took ~45 minutes.

Keep in mind the famous quote before you decide to go on this trek.

Quote:
“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs

Now, lets see what the real deal is.

On way to the trek start point
FYI
Educating is the first step
At half-way point. They call it first peak. Note that you are not allowed to go all the way to the top.
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View of Chembra Peak from highest trekkable point.
Downward view from the same point
The Guide
The Heart Lake
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First Peak view from the second peak

It was evident that we weren’t going to get back in time to start my work. So, I took a leave from office. BTW did I mention that we had excellent Idea 4G at the top with download speeds of 10 Mbps? You just wish you got that kinda speed at your home in your megacity

May 19, 2016
May 19 was election results day and there were a zillion crazy people on the roads. Regular laws were not applicable. We decided to stay at home. We went out only for lunch and dinner. We almost got stuck in a few hours long traffic jam while trying to take the regular route for lunch. Managed to take a U turn in time.

May 20, 2016
After losing two days to election and another to changed schedule, we started early for Kuruwadweep. It’s an island within a river and is accessible by a boat. Not much to do on the island as such. People usually take a bath in a stream where water looks really dirty. Avoid on weekends as there will be many times more people than this island can really handle. It gets crowded even on weekdays.

The Bamboo Boat. Carries ~50 people I guess
The Sailor at Kuruva Island, Kalpetta

The sailor. They steer the boat using ropes and they park it like a boss with superb accuracy. I can’t even park my car properly with power steering, reverse camera and what not.

The slippery stones. You can sit on them and kill time or take a dip in the water. You think you have choices but you really don’t.

It’s not as bad as I have described it but we are not happy when we encounter exploitation of nature. We’d rather not go there and contribute the the overall load.

For next part, stay tuned.

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 8 : Palakkad Wayanad

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 8 : Palakkad Wayanad

Munnar – Palakkad – Wayanad / May 14 – May 15
Yet another weekend and we need to drive long distance. Target is Palakkad, Kerala where we halt for the night before moving on to Wayanad.

Route Recap :

Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here


May 14, 2016

Started around noon from Munnar. Totally forget the mega mess that Aravikulam National Park entrance is. Got stuck in major traffic and wasted roughly 45 minutes there To restore peace of mind, we went to the same river side . Such a nice place and everybody wants to stand in queue at Aravikulam National Park instead. Sad.

The bridge
The Obstacle
Peace

After spending about half an hour by the river, we get going. Nothing significant for the rest of the route except that it was getting crazy hot as we moved closer to the plains. Also, the election campaigns were at it’s peak as it was probably the last day of campaign. But we were totally stunned to see one of the best disciplined traffic in India so far. Here is a video for your reference. It was almost a kilometer long jam and no one moved out of line except 2-3 autos.

May 15, 2016
Palakkad is a beautiful little town with pitch black roads with brightest white markings almost everywhere. It’ll be such a nice place to live only if it wasn’t that humid hell. Sun felt harsh even at 8:00 AM. Since we had ample time at hand, we decided to visit the Palakkad Fort. We were totally surprised when we reached there. It’s a small fort that houses a temple and a state prison now. There is a trench all around for protection. That was a first for us.

Palakkad Fort
Satellite view of the fort
Jail inside fort

After a quick visit to the fort, we started for Wayanad. Roads were smooth all along  and were under development wherever they weren’t smooth. Not many food though. We stopped at this place called Priya Supermarket and Food Court (not on the map yet). Decent place.

Priya Supermarket & Food Court

Sections of Areacode – Thamaressary Road

Thamaressary – Kaithapoyli Section of NH-212

And the best of them all. The Lakkidi climb. Love those hairpin bends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cItQ…FNyCSUwVwI-Yal
View from Lakkidi View Point
Love of my life
Moving on to Wayanad

Our home-stay manager recommended that we visit Pookode lake on the way. We did go there but Sundays are not the days to visit tourist places. I keep forgetting that all the time. Somehow managed to get out of the mess and went straight to the guest house. Took some rest and visited a little waterfall. Peaceful place. One of the best sleeps I had in recent times.

The Jack Fruit Tree – Home-stay
View from balcony. Chembra peak there at the center.
Our home-stay from the other side
The little waterfall behind our homestay
Jumbo home cooked food for dinner.

For next part, click here

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 7 : Munnar

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 7 : Munnar

Munnar / May 9 – May 13

May 9, 2016

My wife had never been to Munnar before, so it was obvious choice. We drove to Munnar from Vagamon via Idukki Dam route. Beautiful scenery all along the way. We tried really hard to locate the point from where you can get to the Dam but all in vain. Google Maps didn’t help and we didn’t care to ask for directions. So, we drove straight to Munnar. Not many food options on the way. So, eat when you see an ok place and don’t wait for that perfect restaurant.

Route Recap :

Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here.


Munnar

This time we stayed a little outside of the town near the bus stand. No traffic noise here thankfully and away from the crowd as well.

Monday was consumed in transit and it was already time to work.

May 10, 2016

Last week, I didn’t do much exploring in Munnar. It was more about long drives. Since, it’s more fun to just drive in these hills, we decided to do that. We drove all the way to Top Station with only a couple stops in between.

We didn’t visit Top Station as I learned earlier that it should be visited only when clouds are on to make climbing those stairs worth it. Instead we drove further to the Pambadum Shola National Park. Shola forest is like a rain-forest but much smaller in area. It’s dense and wetter than surrounding areas. We drove on this circuit passing through villages Vattavada and Koviloor. Few video recordings from earlier solo drive but the route was same.

The Circuit
The Circuit

Heavy logging between Top Station and the National Park check post. I think it’s a part of the regular process. Once the trees are mature, they need to be cut down to make way for new trees. No logging inside the national park though.

On this route, there are little villages and scattered houses all over the place. Almost no traffic. The entire route has amazing valley views.

Somewhere inside Pampuda Shola National Park
Carrot Cleaning Machine in Vattavada
Vattavada Village View
A machine that gathers no mud is not my favorite
A machine that gathers no mud is not my favorite

It started raining sometime when we were returning from Koviloor. Rains feels even better while in the dense forest. You can hear it all around you. By the time we reached Top Station, clouds have owned the valley completely. Visibility was reduced to hardly a few meters.

At this point, we wanted to go to Top Station but were totally out of time as I have to return to the hotel and start working.

When we reached Madupetty dam, huge amount of water was being released from one of the spillways. It was a little overwhelming even from a distance.

This day turned out to more adventurous then we originally planned and with just driving component.

May 11, 2016

Since we didn’t stop anywhere on the way to Top Station yesterday, we planned to take the same route again with stops at scenic spots on the way. This was the fourth time I was driving from Munnar to Top Station and trust me, excitement was still the same as the first time. Pics ahead.

Rose Garden on Munnar-Top Station road. Place is worth a visit if it’s not too hot.
Rose Garden, Munnar
Rose Garden Munnar
Rose Garden Munnar
Tea Gardens look even better with these symmetrically placed trees.

Next we stopped by the Botanical Garden (near Elephant Park). It’s an indoor version of Rose Garden but smaller.

Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden
Boating in Madupetty Dam Catchment Area
Echo Point Munnar
Completely flushed out Kundala Dam
Side view of Kundala Dam

During my previous visits, I had identified a spot between Kundala Dam and Top Station (Near Ellapatti Village) where not many people stopped but offered amazing views. On my four visits to top station, I/we stopped here every time for a tea and/or maggie.

Ellapatti Village View
Super views from inside the tea shop

May 12, 2016
It was mutually (?) agreed that we won’t go to Top Station again. At least not during this trip So, we decided to drive to the other side of Munnar (Kochi Highway, Chithirapuram etc).

Ladies in action
On way to Chithirapuram
On way to Chithirapuram

We also visited Cinnamon Garden on Munnar-Kochi Highway. It’s a small garden where they have many fruit/spice/vegetable trees in house and they take you on a tour of the same with a guide. They charged 200/- for two person. We didn’t find it too exciting but if you are into botany and all, you might as well go there.

Fig tree where fruits grow directly on trunk.

May 13, 2016
Since it was our last day in Munnar, we went for the mandatory Lakkam Waterfall Snan. Munnar visit is not complete without taking a snan here irrespective of the season or weather. They have limited lockers there for keeping your stuff and you can buy cheap bathing clothes if you forgot to bring some along.

Lakkam Waterfall Shop

 

For next part, click here.

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 6 : Munnar- Kochi- Vagamon

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 6 : Munnar- Kochi- Vagamon

Munnar / May 2 – May 6

On Monday morning, I started for Munnar. It’s 40 KMs drive from Marayoor. I was already getting hungry for the overdose of the famous tea gardens. I did get a glimpse of them yesterday while on my way to KDHP factory for a tour but that wasn’t enough. Stopped at the Lakkam Waterfall on my way. Lesser number of because of Monday but still significant. So, didn’t go for a bath but just clicked some pictures and moved on to Munnar. As I wasn’t too sure about the 3G coverage in Munnar so booked a real cheap hotel in city center but just for today. Turns out Munnar has mind blowing 3G coverage all around the city and at the outskirts as well if you don’t go too far.

Lakkam Waterfalls

Route Recap
Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part click here


Munnar

After reaching the hotel, had lunch at a Rajasthani restaurant. If you see the number of Rajasthani/Gujarati/Marwadi restaurants in the town, you can’t really tell it’s Kerela. Marwadis have owned this town completely As the hotel was reserved only for today, I started driving towards Kochi looking for a cheap hotel (remember I am lonely soul on the run) away from town but still with 3G coverage. 10 KMs out and couldn’t really find anything with good reviews. Either good hotel or no 3G. Then moved towards Chithirapuram, same scene plus potholed road spoiled it all. And to add to all these worries, the absence of food options. After driving for 2-3 hours, came back to the hotel and extended the stay till Friday. Room or hotel was not an issue but traffic noise was really bad. The only thing working in my favor was that I was not getting burnt in the Hyderabad heat. I guess that was the major reason for this trip anyways.

Pics will tell the rest of the story.

Crazy queue at Aravikulam National Park. Turns out people wait in this queue for 2-3 hours. If you are not a crowd lover, please stay away from this place like forever.

Tea Gardens on way to Top Station
Though eucalyptus, green cover matters.
View from Top Station
Way back from Top Station. Not recommended for elderly. Definitely not on a hot or a rainy day.

It was not a very happening week as such. Drove on the Top Station route twice. Rained every time. Couldn’t ask for more. As it was the last week of travel, I was getting worried about getting back to Hyderabad. My wife was scheduled to arrive in Hyderabad on Sunday. So, plan was to return to Hyderabad by the time she arrives. But the thoughts of Hyderabad heat were giving me nightmares. Called up wife and asked her to come to Kochi instead where I’ll pick here up and we won’t return to Hyderabad till summer ends. Well, she was getting fried in Ahmedabad weather and was very happy to hear this offer. I rerouted her flight to Kochi and now she was scheduled to arrive in Kochi at noon on Saturday. Perfect plan.

Kochi-Vagamon-Thekkady / May 7 – May 8

May 7, 2016

On Saturday morning, started for Kochi around 9:30 AM. The Munnar – Kochi highway is two lane road throughout. NHAI is a doing a really good job in reducing the blind spots and widening the roads near Munnar. On some of the sharper turns, the roads are almost 2.75-3 lanes. The till Kochi is in good condition and is green all the way. Reached Kochi airport around 1PM. I was driving all slow and taking breaks because I had time to kill and didn’t want to spend that at the airport. Pics and videos for the rest.

Periyaar Bridge. Somehow I find these types of bridge beautiful. Modern bridges are functional without any aesthetic appeal.

Kochi Airport

Kochi Airport now officially tops my favorite list. It feels like a resort. BTW if you spend 15 minutes in the sun here, you’ll know why this airport is run completely on solar energy.

Remember it’s a weekend, so internet is of no real use and we need to run away from the crowd. Hence, we go Vagamon. We took the regular Muvathupuzza-Thodupuzza-Kanjar-Vagamon route. We were just falling in love in Kerela. Smooth roads, tastefully designed mansions and bungalows all along the way (especially around Thodupuzza). Only drawback of the entire route is that it’s crazy humid. All is well as long as your stay in your car. The last leg of this route (Kanjar-Vagamon) is a narrow village road and quite steep but all green and scenic. It’s even better around sunset. Pics ahead.

Kochi Airport
Real deep and steep valley on the side of the road from Kochi to Vagamon
Too much green, Vagamon
Sun gods trying to bless us, Vagamon
Free rainbows all over the place
Soooooo need a 4×4, felt like climbing this.
Gotta swim on that. Vagamon, Kerala, India.
Sun never feels this good back home in Hyderabad
Our stay, if we had a lot of money
Our room with our current financial status
Our house, if we had a lot of money and then some extra
Lovely sunset at Vagamon

May 8, 2016
Beautiful Sunday morning. A little warmer than Munnar but there is no crowd here.

We spotted this lovely bird family at the guest house. Hungry kids in the morning are difficult to handle.

We were totally clueless about what to visit and do. So, we hit the road in main Vagamon town direction to visit some places. We got lost in the greenery and next thing we know is we ended up on some random route to Thekkady.

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We ended up taking this route. Which is not even a major road. But we didn’t mind it and continued further to Thekkady.

A sample of the road we took

Oh BTW, Thekkady is a horrible place to visit on weekends and that too in peak season. If you live in Bangalore and want to experience Thekkady, please visit Silkboard Junction at peak traffic time. A million cars and buses packed up at the entrance to the lake and a zillion speed breakers on just 2-3KM road. Oh and steep entrance fee of 140/- for car and just two passengers. On seeing the cars, we immediately took a U turn and ran away from that place like crazy.

We had lunch at Grand Thekkady in the town and started for Vagamon via NH-220 (new NH-183/Kottayam highway). Beautiful road. Smooth, green and being widened. Same approach here like road outside Munnar. Blind spots being removed/reduced. This turned out to be a much better road than the village roads we took earlier. Tea gardens all the way. Pics ahead.

Beautiful Tea Gardens on Vagamon-Thekkady Route
Beautiful Church on Vagamon-Thekkady Route
Looks like a US Army cemetery but it’s just a tea garden work in progress

We reached Vagamon around evening. Pleasant weather. We wanted to go to the suicide point (just for a visit) but there was some scuffle in progress. So, we proceeded further to Tea Lake Boating point which we missed earlier in the day as it was hot back then. It’s sort of a virtual lake among the tea gardens but really nice place if weather is favorable. Paddle boats, kayaking etc. No motor boats though. It’s not large enough to ride a motor boat. We went for the paddle boat (200/- for two if I remember correctly). It was fun.

Vagamon Lake

By the time we were done with boating, there were dark clouds building up. A heavy rain was evident.

Brace yourself

It was at that time, this amazing idea struck my wife. We must go for Kayaking. I rushed to the ticket counter to get the tickets while wife rushed with camera and stuff to store them in the car so that nothing gets spoiled in the rain. I asked for the tickets and the person there pointed towards the clouds and shouted maḻa, maḻa, maḻa. maḻa means rain in Malayalam. He was surprised that I still wanted the tickets.

By the time I returned with tickets, it already started drizzling. People aborted the rest of their boating plans and immediately rushed to their vehicles. We wore the life jackets quickly and in no time we were back in the lake, this time on a Kayak with no roof. The next 20 minutes we spent kayaking will be cherished for life. It rained like crazy and we had all the lake to ourselves. Too bad that we couldn’t capture any of those moments but as they say, the best moments are to be lived and not to be captured (I am not sure who said that though).

We got drenched like crazy, drove back to our home-stay and that’s all for the Vagamon.

To be Continued ….

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 10 : Masinagudi

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 10 : Masinagudi

Masinagudi / May 21 – May 22
Another weekend and we are off to the wild side. We decided to stay at Masinagudi. It was highly recommended by a friend.

Route Recap
Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor – Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For previous part, click here


May 21, 2016
Woke up at regular noon time, had lunch and started for Masinagudi. Superb NH-212 till Sultan Bathery. Then we took the state highway to Gudalur. The road is good all through. Roads in both Kerela and Tamil Nadu are of superior quality compared to their neighbors. But roads in Kerela are functional while in Tamil Nadu they come with certain aesthetic appeal. That extra stress on white markings even on the not-so-important roads makes them much more enjoyable.

From Gudalur, we took NH-181 (old NH-67) till Thepakku where we turned on to a really narrow road (more like 1.25 Lanes wide) to Masinagudi. Drive slow on this road and do know that two sedans can’t cross each other on this road without one going slightly off the road.

Beautiful NH-181 runs through Mudhumalai National Park. Speed breakers are annoying but they are a necessity given the number of animals they have here.

Ultra narrow road to Masinagudi

Reached our guesthouse at around 4:00 PM. Took a little nap, played a little badminton but wind was too harsh. So, just killed time with a little walk. And some lady suddenly shouted, Māṉ, Māṉ, Māṉ!! Māṉ a Tamil word means Deer. Turns out there was herd of spotted deer right outside our guesthouse. That was slightly unexpected. It refreshed memories of our trip of Bishnoi village near Jodhpur. Spent a lot of time clicking and filming that group. They were a little shy but not much.

Tree House. This was totally owned by the Langurs in the evening. No, we didn’t stay in that.
Howdy stranger!

We had too much time on hand. So took a video as well.

May 22, 2016

Masinagudi is a village, small town at best if you stretch it a little. There is absolutely nothing to do here other than to just relax at your guesthouse or go for an evening safari. That’s it. Restaurants are hard to find and the ones that are there score real low on hygiene. The only hygienic place we could find was a CCD ~5KMs towards Ooty. Also, Masinagudi is hot while the sun shines. We spent all our afternoon at CCD and ate a lot of stuff there. Plan was to kill time till 4:30 PM before we go on the safari.

At 4:30 PM, we started for Masinagudi and went towards Singara Dam. We knew there are no places to visit there but we just wanted to drive around. Singara Dam is closed for public and you have obtain permission from Chennai to visit it. It’s a nice drive nonetheless and there are grass fields on the way you can stop for a family picnic. Only issue is that you can possibly become a Sloth Bear’s lunch while you are having your own lunch Yeah, this is what we got on our way back to Masinagudi!

Next, we headed to the regular safari route which is a road with perfect tarmac all the way. You don’t need to hire a Jeep for this. There are many Jeep drivers around Masinagudi who will trick you into hiring their services. Only advantage is that compared to a sedan, you’ll have open views and you’ll sit much higher which will again result in enhanced views.

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Masinagudi Safari Route : Masinagudi – Moyar Check Dam

This is one of the few safaris where we actually saw wild-life. We haven’t been to many but most of rip offs. We spotted a herd of elephants, peacocks and deer. Didn’t get good pictures of the elephants as I didn’t want to get out of the car at no cost. Angry elephants get real crazy angry.

Moyar Check Dam. A long earthen ramp for the perfect evening walk.
Beauty at its best

 

When we returned to the guesthouse, it turned out that we (along with another family) were the only people who were staying the night. There were like 10 cars last night. Most people come to Masinagudi around Saturday noon, take the safari, stay the night and go back or to Ooty.

Even though there is not much to do here, I’ll still go back for the small town feel. And this is a place which you can definitely visit on a weekend.

To be Continued here

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Exploring Western Ghats : Part 5 : Marayoor

Exploring Western Ghats : Part 5 : Marayoor

 


Kodaikanal – Amaravathi – Marayoor / Apr 30 – May 1

May 1, 2016

Marayoor is ~40 kms away from Munnar, one of the most popular tourist place in Kerala. This place is not as famous as Munnar, nevertheless has beautiful destinations to be explored  having national parks, waterfalls, forests & villages.

Route Recap
Hyderabad – Chennai – Kodaikanal – Marayoor – Munnar – Kochi – Vagamon – Thekkady – Munnar – Palakkad – Kalpetta (Wayanad) – Masinagudi – Ooty – Ananthpur (AP) – Hyderabad.

For my previous post click here.


Marayoor 

After reaching my homestay  I opted to go for a ride to the nearby places with the caretaker of my homestay. Turned out to be a good idea. We went to Annakotai Park.

Annakotai Park 

This park has some ancient burial sites. Well they were unusual because in Hindu culture we have the practice of burning the dead bodies rather than burning them (this part of India is Hindu dominant area, no offense intended to any other religions) but I was surprised to find that these were Hindu burial sites. That’s intriguing !!!! Oh my country has so many mysteries !!!!!!

Ancient Burial Sites, Annakotai Park, Marayoor
Ancient Burial Sites, Annakotai Park, Marayoor
Ancient Burial Sites, Annakotai Park, Marayoor

After visiting these ancient burial sites, we went to nearby Sandalwood Forests. And they are all around. Its one of those precious herbs & medicines India produces & is famous for since ancient times. The purest form of Sandal is extracted from these trees after 150 years. Yes, it takes so long for the Sandal to be actually therapeutic & medicinal. Now you can imagine about the ROI and get an idea why sandalwood products are so damn expensive. Well of course the pure organic ones.

Over the Sandalwood forests, I got to see a beautiful sunset from the hills. What else could have been the perfect closure for the day.

Beautiful views from Annakotai Park
Beautiful views from Annakotai Park

Konthaloor

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. Breakfast done and we (me and the caretaker) started off to explore the nearby high altitude village Konthaloor. This place is really nice for people who love nature (especially flowers and fruits). So many of them and of different kinds. And to my surprise I also found the local jaggery manufacturing unit. If you ever come across such unit on your way do spare some time to visit it & understand the process. Its really interesting & speaks a lot about our culture & manufacturing prowess. Moreover, as you move across different regions in India, the process gets different & is adapted  as per the geography of that place, which makes it even more interesting & intriguing.

If you are an Indian one will know what significance jaggery has in our culture. Its an important ingredient of our kitchens used in our sweets, gravies, confectioneries & what not. Jaggery & its byproducts like sugar has been celebrated as panch amrit in our culture along with milk, honey, ghee and curd. A Panchamrit is an offering (prasad) offered to God & devotees after any prayer or traditional rituals. I will share the pics of the unit that I come across. And if you are interested, the workers will be more than happy to explain you the process.

We got some desi stuff on tap here.
Farm Fresh Sugarcane
Big Vessel at Jaggery Manufacturing Unit
Continuous Slow Heating for Manufacturing Jaggery

Apart from this Jaggery manufacturing unit I also got a chance to see amazing flowers & fruits of the region and trust me, they are ample.

Red Bananas in Konthaloor Region which are rare these days

Lakkam Waterfall & around

After the Konthaloor nature drive, my caretaker took off and asked me to proceed further with a guide. We went to a KDHP tea factory for some demo but it was closed because it was labor day. We headed back to Marayoor. On the way, guide suggested that we stop at Lakkam waterfalls but looking at the number of vehicles parked on the road, I immediately declined and we proceeded further to Marayoor.

Gauging my ‘run-away-from-crowd’ attitude, guide suggested a secret stop on the way where we can go down to the river and have a peaceful time. All in. Turned out to be a good decision. How good it will be justified by the pics below.

Park you car here and walk down to the river. Be careful and don’t kill yourself. Stones may be slippery at times.

Wannabe Artist

Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

In the evening, I opted to go for a forest trek in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (6 KMs down from Marayoor). The trek cost is Rs. 250/- per person. A guide takes you through the forest and on the way you can sweat yourself out, pass by the ancient burial sites, have a look at the ancient mural paintings, beautiful forest views and some wildlife if lucky. The trek lasts 3-3.5 hours and difficulty level is easy-to-moderate. Bring a bottle of water and carry the empty bottle back with you.

Since nobody really cares to go for a forest trek on foot these days, I was the only one. Some pics.

Ancient Burial SIte

Rock Paintings at Madathala
Rock Paintings at Madathala
Rock Paintings at Madathala
Rock Paintings at Madathala

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River View From Top of Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Ok, this is not grass. This is a real grasshopper which looks exactly like surrounding grass. The guide was able to spot this while walking randomly. 6/6 for eyesight there.
Thoovanam Waterfall View From Road.

That’s all for Marayoor and surroundings.

To be Continued ……

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Yana Caves : The Small Wonder of Western Ghats

Yana Caves : The Small Wonder of Western Ghats

Yana  is a village located in forests of Northern Karnataka, India which is known for the unusual Karst (Asteroid) rock formations.

Proximity : 175 km from Goa & 53 km from Gokarna. If you ever happen to visit any of these famous tourist places, Yana Caves is perfect for a day trip with your family.

How to reach there : If you are opting for a roadtrip with your car or a hired Taxi, take a diversion from NH-66 near Kumta towards SH-69. Its a 30 km drive from here. On SH 69, one can find a Tourism board for Yana village on left side. Take a left from this point and drive till the end of the road and you will reach Yana Caves entrance. From here its a 2 km trek into the forest till you reach the caves.

I am not sure if this place is accessible through any of the public transports like Bus or Train.

Alert : After you reach the entrance, the 2 km trek into the jungle takes almost an hour. The level of difficulty is moderate. First half of the trek is walking through the inclines in the jungle whereas other half requires climbing ~350 stairs. The trek is not recommended if you have company of elderly people. 


Roadtrips are our preferred mode of travelling because they give us access to the hidden & unexplored territories which would have been difficult to reach otherwise. Also, it gives you the chance of discovering some beautiful places on your own. Yana Caves is one such untouched & hidden gem in the Jungles of Western Ghats that we are proud to have explored.

The two rock hillocks, known as  Bhairaveshwara Shikhara & Mohini Shikhara surrounded by thick forests and streams, rise sharply above the surrounding area up to almost 100 meters near Yana village. In the first rock hill, Bhairaveshwara Shikhara, there is 3 meters (9.8 ft) wide opening in the rock face that leads into a cave and hence Yana Caves.

Well, I can not talk enough about the scenic beauty of this place. Right from the time you take the diversion at Kumta on NH-66, the scenic beauty starts intriguing & enthralling you. The road is narrow (two lane) nevertheless idyllic & fun to take a drive on. One drives through thick & lush green forests with surprises of quick showers of rain, interspersed all through the journey till you reach the caves. (That’s the fun of travelling & driving in Monsoon in India)

Once you reach the entrance, there is a dedicated parking area which could easily accommodate a good number of cars, large vehicles & of course two wheeler. Also, one can find a small shop vendor selling biscuits, snacks, fresh lime juice & water bottles. Its good to buy some snacks & bottles if you are not carrying your own as the trek will demand you to stay hydrated.

Car Parking at Yana Caves
Small Shop at Yana Caves Entrance

Also, having snacks & water with you is a good idea as one can always have a nice family picnic while trekking through the jungles. The Tourism dept has made several stopovers with small huts, benches & dustbins along the trek to help you have a fun & eco-friendly picnic.

Trek to Yana Caves
Yana Caves Trek
Yana Caves Trek

And the trek, of course, is nothing but beautiful. It’s so refreshing to have a walk through the jungles with a river passing just next to you with small waterfalls, streams, bridges & wood logs. Only once in a while you get to move along these rather than cars & traffic jams.

Yana Caves Trek
Yana Caves Trek
Yana Caves Trek
Yana Caves Trek

There are at least two spots along the trek along the river with beautiful small waterfalls & wood logs for you to sit, hangout & enjoy. If you have time, do stop by & take a dip into these fresh rainwater natural pools.

Fresh Rain Water Pools at Yana Caves
Fresh Rain Water Pools at Yana Caves

After almost an hour & 2 km trek, you get to see the two gorgeous rock formations just like the ones you come across in those sci-fi or fantasy movies. You feel like you have time traveled to some ancient era. Below the rock formations, sits a temple of Lord Shiva which has historical as well as mythological significance.  It is believed that the fire, that emanated when demon king Bhashmasura placed his hands over his heads enticed by the beauty of Mohini, was so intense that the limestone formations in the Yana area were blackened.

These rock formations are perfect for photography lovers or anybody who likes to be inspired by nature & create something. These rocks are just stupendous. I will let pictures do the talking.

Mohini Shikhara Yana Caves
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Bhaireshwara Shikhara Yana Caves
Bhaireshwara Shikhara
Rock Formations at Yana Caves
Rock Formations at Yana Caves
Rock Formations at Yana Caves
Rock Formations at Yana Caves
Rock Formations at Yana Caves

Mystery intrigues us all. This is one place that will leave you thinking so.

Overall this place should be visited at least once if  you are a hiker or pilgrim or just a travel enthusiast like many of us. It’s ideal for a day trip or family picnic or even a romantic long drive with some one special.

Tips:

  1. Always carry an umbrella or rain jackets if you are visiting this place in Monsoons.
  2. There is a washroom facility at the entrance but not anywhere along the way once you start the trek.
  3.  The trek gets really slippery in the Monsoon. Avoid heels or any fancy shoes that will not take good care of you.
  4. Spare some 2-3 hours after you reach the entrance to completely enjoy the place like taking a dip in the river along the trek, spend some time at temple, a visit to the caves & take lots of photographs.
  5. Have some fresh lime juice at the entrance once you come back from the trek. It’s tasty & invigorating.
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