Marvelous Munnar!

[ suggested reading before reading this post: Keralafornia]

The five of us woke up early on the morning of 13th August, quickly got ready, and walked down to the KSRTC (Kerala, not Karnataka) bus stand and took the 6:30 “non stop” bus to Munnar. Well, non-stop doesn’t really mean non-stop, but it did reach Munnar in the promised four hours. We had our first “Kerala” style brunch of Egg Curry, Chicken Curry and Kerala Parota and checked in at the office of our Camp providers. As it was off-season, they needed some time before we could set off for our camp.

We took advantage of the spare time and visited the Eravikulam National Park. It prides itself as the home of the endangered Nilgiri Tahrs, the mountain goat, and being the cleanest of all national parks in India. A National Park bus takes you inside the park to a check point from which one can go on a walk ahead on metal road. Walking out of the road is not allowed! I thought the entire charm of being in a National Park was lost, when I spotted about a score of Nilgiri Tahrs roaming on the fields next to the road! They didn’t seem to mind human presence at all, as they ignored a noisy group of people, trying to pose with each other for a photograph rather than photograph the beautiful animals. Anyway, I got away from this group and clicked some photograph. Also chatted with an old guard in sign language, and found out more about the park.

On coming back from the national park, we started for our camp site in a car. It took us past the Mettupatty dam and Kundala dam, both of which are common tourist places. But the spectacle was provided by first a glimpse of a lone elephant in a dense jungle, and later, two adults and a baby elephant lunching right next to the road! We had a lovely time photographing these magnificent animals till a bunch of ‘educated’ people came and started conversing with the elephants in English and Gujrati! The baby immediately hid behind the mother and the elephants started moving away.

Anyway, we stopped the car near a tea garden and started our trek to the camp. As a trek it was not so difficult with the first part being through rolling tea gardens, and only a small section having steep climb. However, our main concern was leeches. There were thousands of them! We had to stop every now and then to clear our shoes from them; and each time we would stop, there would be more climbing on our shoes. And these blood suckers had a special affinity for my Woodlands shoes! We somehow managed to reach the camp site at dusk. Soon a bon fire was started, and all of us gathered round the fire to keep away the chill from the strong wind. Below us, we could see the lights from a town in Tamilnadu, above us we could see probably all the stars of the Milky Way! But soon the wind became unbearable, and we gathered inside for the comforts of the glass house. After a healthy dinner of mostly boiled stuff, we zipped up our tents and our sleeping bags.

The next morning, we woke up greeting the emerging sun, and got out for our morning tea. After tea, we went for a trek to the top of the hill. This was a short trek of 30 mins, but every step was leech infested. Fortunately, the top of the hill didn’t have any leech, but had a very nice view! We scampered back home (nee camp) avoiding the leeches, but still had a couple of them inside my shoe! After a heavy breakfast, we trekked back to the main road. On our way back, we stopped at the Kundala dam lake for some boating. We came back to Munnar city, had lunch (some fish delicacies included), and checked in at a guest house on top of a small hillock overlooking the city centre. We relaxed through the evening, and had a dinner of traditional Kerala style food of Kadala curry and Parota.

We woke up late on the last day of our trip, which also happened to be our Independence Day. Another heavy Kerala style breakfast of idiappams and parotas with curries, and we were all set to return to Kochi. The bus we took was a private “limited stop” bus, which meant it stopped everywhere, and took much longer than required to reach Kochi. We still managed to reach Ernakulam town station, only to find that the train is from Ernakulam South station, not the town station. Fortunately, we managed to reach the station on time and board the train. We reached Bangalore very early in the morning ending a great trip with great sights; old and new friends; tasty food; and loads of memories to remember for a long time.


When I first came to Bangalore to stay, about two years ago, I had several travel “goals”. One of the top goal was still un-achieved – backwaters of Kerala. As a self respecting traveler, I had to do this before I left South India. The planning started during the Chikmaglur trip. 11th and 12th August 2007 were Saturday and Sunday. 15th August, Wednesday was a holiday. So, leaves on 13th and 14th would mean 5 consecutive days off and a near ideal holiday time window. To top it, 11th August, 2007 was the day when the most famous snake boat race of the year happens. So, a houseboat was booked in advance; train tickets were quickly booked, and itineraries finalized.

The ten of us left Bangalore on 10th August night by the Kanyakumari Express. This train, popularly known as the Island Express reached Ernakulam Town (aka Kochi or Cochin) the next morning at around 10. As per our deal with the houseboat owners, a car came to pick us up from the train station to take us to the houseboat at Alleppey (aka Allapuzha). An hour and a half later, we reached our houseboat. As it was the raceday, we didn’t waste any time and was immediately on our way to view the races. Lunch happened while we were cruising through the channels to reach our view point.

There are various races that happened, including small boats, rowing boats, women’s team special etc, but the biggest attraction of the day was the snake boat race. More than the race itself, the frenzy surrounding the event (read drunken frenzy) was quite an experience. Even the boat crews were all drunk, and it quite nearly marred our first day there. Soon, there was nothing else to do, so we started a singing session. Soon, a boat crew, Sabu joined us in singing and entertained us with his singing and mimicry. A light dinner and a heavy layer of odomos, and we all slept like logs.

The next day, we started for Kumarakom. This was a slow ride, made slower by the fact that we took turns to steer the boat, so a lot of zig zag patterns were created on the hyacinth infested waters. However that gave us enough time to get ready, have breakfast, and then a lot of ideal-Sunday-lazing around. We reached the coconut tree lined, small water channels of Kumarakom at around noon. We waited patiently for a bus to Kochi, but didn’t see one in one hour. Finally we hired a taxi (Qualis) that took us to Kochi. After a late lunch, we split in two groups of five each. One group left for the station to catch the train to Bangalore, since they had to rejoin office on Monday.

The other group (including me) checked in two rooms at YMCA and then took off to do a bit of sight seeing in Kochi. We ended up at the famous Chinese nets and saw the sun set from there.

On our way back to YMCA, we lounged at a happening place called “Loungevity”. Satisfied with our two days in coastal Kerala, we slept, in anticipation of the next three days, which would take us to the hills of Kerala.

Pedestrian Problem

I saw a nice scene today which prompts me to write this. I saw a Traffic Sergeant hold the hand of an old lady and help her cross the road. Nice gesture, I thought. Immediately afterwards though, I began thinking about what the situation would be if the Sergeant was not there. How would the lady otherwise cross the road? Going by the sense of courtesy seen on roads, and adding peak office hour traffic pressure, I am sure no car would have attempted to stop.

This is no ordinary road, by the way. This is the Indiranagar – Koramangala Ring Road, almost like a stretch of highway, probably about 3-4 kms in length, with only one “cut” for cars to take “u-turn”. As you can imagine, cars move at a very fast pace on this road. Next to the road there is a Tech Park, which has hundreds of companies, with thousands of people. Everything is there, but one thing: a pedestrian cross or a foot bridge. Many of us actually cross this road everyday, some with bicycles on their shoulders. This is no mean feat though. Crossing this road takes skills: you need to be a patient opportunist with athletic abilities and total disregard for the concept of safety to do this.

At the end of this road on one side is the Indiranagar flyover, which was completed only last year. It is a complex set of bridges, connecting important roads like the Airport road, ring road and Indiranagar 100 ft road, carrying hundreds of cars every minute. However, again, uno problemo: it doesn’t have any sidewalk. So, people who wants to walk from ring road to say 100 ft road, don’t have any other choice but to walk on the road or the divider.

I enjoy long walks. Sometimes, I walk back home from office. But I literally put my life at risk every time I cross the ring road / flyover. This is a problem which is not specific to this area of Bangalore, or Bangalore itself. Recently when I was in Gurgaon, I faced the same problem. You should see people crossing roads at Kolkata, the city where I grew up: no one seems to care about their life. One bicycle enthusiast friend in Bangalore was also mentioning the lack of banking on roads for her to cycle on: respect for her own life forces her to get off the bike and walk at times. I am sure the same problems are there in every city in India. Old structures, old roads – I understand. But even with new roads, bridges, I really don’t understand. Is that short sightedness of our urban planners or is it short sightedness of our urban planners?

Anyway, will find out more about what can be done later. Got to go packing: going to Kerala tonight. There is no such pedestrian problem in the backwaters, I guess.

Baby bubble

China recently dumped its hard hitting (and in-bad-taste) birth control slogans for more matured slogans. Some banned ones were really bad, like “Less kids, more pigs”, or “One more baby means one more tomb”. Instead, now there will be more subtle messages like “Mother Earth is too tired to sustain more children”. Makes sense! After all, China is the world’s largest country by population and they do need to reduce their population - so there is an effort towards that for the last 28 years, and now they are making minor changes to their approach.

That brings one question to my mind: What exactly are we doing to control India’s population? I don’t see any effort by our government or any other agency towards this. Is it because we don’t perceive this as a problem? After all, we are very proud to proclaim we are the world’s “largest” democracy! It makes me only half proud! I mean, I am glad we have a functioning democracy, quite unlike most of our neighboring countries. But how can a huge population be a thing to be proud of, especially when most of the population is struggling to make a decent living?