Saturday 26 January 2013

Beach Combing along Arabian Sea


Motivating Romin for a road trip didn't take much time. Our bike was with a friend who lives in Kalasa. On 15th Jan we reached Kalasa by an overnight bus from Bangalore (8hrs, Rs 410) and stayed at Yatri Nivas (dbl Rs 450) with squat toilets and no frills rooms, a good base to visit Kudremukha and Horanadu. If not on a pilgrimage and to be closer to wilderness, you can stay at Gutyadka village at Mahesh's home (Tel:9482324584, Rs.500 per person). 60 families stay in this village without electricity and access to roads, at the boundaries of Kudremukha National Park. There is an off-beat trekking route to Kudremukha Peak from here. After meeting all the friends we'd made while working in Upasana, we started to Mangalore on 16th.

The foggy morning is the best time to experience the Western Ghats. Three hour (120km) Kalasa - Mangalore drive is enjoyable with good tarmac and scenic views. Braving the heat of Mangalore, we headed to Kasaragod bypassing the city. But a three hour halt to install a new set of shock absorbers and luggage carrier was inevitable.

Close to sunset, our first stop was at Bekal Beach 10km before Kanjangad. There is a right deviation from NH17 to Bekal at Kasargod. Bekal Beach Residency, Beach Rd, Pallikara (Rs.500-1600, 9447700313, 0467-2275558, is just ahead of the beach park. This new property is run by Dubai returned Shafi, rooms are fitted with fancy plumbing and the mattress is extremely soft. Ten minutes walk, near the fly-over there is a restaurant. The next morning, after walking along the beach we were the first visitors at Bekal Fort. Built by Shivappa Naik and later captured by Tippu Sultan, this fort became very popular after the Mani Ratnam movie "Bombay". To enjoy the cleaner and less crowded beach, enter from the right side of the fort. 


The dilapidated Parassinikadavu Snake Farm will generate sympathy for the poor reptiles. Muthappan Temple at the banks of Valarapattanam river can be visited by non Hindus. Both snake farm and temple are on the same road, a diversion 10 km before Taliparamba, Kannur. Kerala Folklore Academy at Puthiyatheru, off 2km from NH17, next to Chirakkal Pond and temple, housed in a Traditional Kerala House gives you an insight into Theyyam - a traditional Kerala folklore dance, popular in north Kerala.

To drive into Muzhuppilangad beach, famed longest drive-in-beach in Asia, turn right at Edakkad Jn, 20km from Kannur. 2km of shoreline is strong enough to drive through. Palmshore (dbl Rs 1000, Tel 0497 2831137, 9846416016) is one of the mushrooming beachside accommodations. The friendly staff can arrange a fishing boat to visit Dharmadam Island amidst the rocky surroundings.

On a road parallel to NH17, Kerala Dinesh Beedi factory near Thottada government school is a tiny two storey building with a dozen employees. Mostly women, the beedi workers cut the leaf brought from Orissa in a particular shape and roll tobacco using a metal finger nail. The entire manufacturing process including packing is 100% manual work and no modernisation happened since the days of inception. The employees were friendly and expressed their gratitude for visiting them by offering two beedis to us. Dinesh Food Products and Curry Powder are examples of diversification of this successful Co-operative Society. Lokanath Weavers Co-operative is near Dharma Samajam School at Mele Chovva, more than five decades old, produce excellent quality made-to-order products for branded shops in the metro cities. Most of the employees work here for more than 30 years and many hand looms are idle due to shortage of labour, as no one from young generation is interested in this highly skilled labour.

St.Angelos' Fort and Arackal Museum are near the government district hospital, walkable distance from the New Bus Stand. Built by Portugese St.Angelos' Fort aka Kannur Fort is located strategically on the sea shore, was the nerve centre of pre independence administration. Because of the two day petrol pump strike in Kannur district, we took a bus to Mahe (Puducherry) to get petrol. Though Rajeesh was not there, staying with his parents near Muzhuppilangad beach was like staying with our own friends. Contact Rajeesh (T 9900123428) if you need a taxi or a car on hire.

We rode through Vadakara (famous for 1500 year old Lokanarkavu Temple) and Payyoli, P.T.Usha's home town. We reached Kappad Beach at noon, where Vasco da Gama first landed in 1498, 16km before Kozhikode city. Hotel Sasthapuri, MM Ali Rd, Calicut. (dbl Rs 515, Tel 0495 2723281-5) offers basic accommodation with hot showers, is close to the railway station. Beware of repellent immune mosquitoes as the market is very close by. Chewing on the gummy and yummy Kozhikoden Halwa, we strolled to Kozhikode beach and CSI Church. There was a Kalaripayattu competition at well kept Mananchira square - a breather in the bustling city exemplary of protecting a historic maidan in a modern way.

Next morning we started at 7am to Guruvayoor. Aanakottil (Elephant Shelter) at Guruvayoor was interesting- herds of elephants are given bath and fed. The famous elephants are lined up on Makaram 10th, January 23rd in 2013. Snehatheeram beach at Nattika boasts a park and two resorts, but the beach is not clean and the resorts are over priced. So we rode on to Cherai, reaching there by 3pm.

Do you want a tan without burning your pocket while reclining on a secluded sunbed? Cherai is the answer to Goa, more bikini friendly than any other beach in North Kerala. Best value accommodation- Panioty's Villa run by president award winning school teacher Ms. Iris offers rooms crashed by sea waves (dbl Rs 1200, T 9495764148, 9526811334) including a sumptuous breakfast. The terrace with sun beds is the best place to get naked and baked and watch the sun go down. Look carefully, you might spot a dolphin or two. Relish the all-you-can-eat breakfast with your grand mother like host, engrossed in conversations about teaching, world history and many more topics. There are a few places that you stumble upon serendipitously when you travel, the place where your stay becomes the reason to return - Panioty's Villa is one of those. There are motorcycle, bicycle rentals along the beach road; restaurants are seafood oriented, tad expensive. Avoid weekends and holidays.

Cherai to Cherthala took two hours via Goshree bridge and Ernakulam city. The sky scrapers at Marine drive block the view and the breeze. 

This was a long awaited road trip and I was thrilled to do it. I thank the 21 year old but yet young Yamaha RX100 which carried us both with luggage all the 635km - a very nice and hassle free road trip.

Saturday 5 January 2013

NorthEast to SouthWest


As the winter sets in, Darjeeling got colder. Kolkata recorded lowest temperature in 28yrs on Dec 27, 2012. Getting back home was a distant dream without train tickets. The idea of taking a tatkal ticket from Darjeeling train station was a little crazy! In the freezing cold, we waited from 6am on a fine morning watching Kanchenjunga changing from orange to white colour  Luck was not with us, though we got a tatkal ticket from Howrah to Chennai. Megha's tears almost rolled down when we missed our Toy Train to Kurseong, issuing the ticket and payment took more than 30min. 

Reaching Siliguri was easy, but a NBSTC bus to Kolkata (Rs.710, 13hrs) was a nightmare, thanks to precarious driving and pothole filled North Bengal roads. Stayed at basic and cheap Youth Hostel franchisee Hotel Sunshine, 167/1, Lenin Sarani (Tel: 9830504248 / 983132459, dbl Rs 350) it is located at Temple Street, a street parallel to Lenin Sarani. Don't stay here unless you have YH membership and you want to be close to the markets. Munching the street food - pudina juice, kachoris, rasagolas, mango lassi, chai and a bit of street shopping- we spent our day on the streets of Kolkata. The guys who repair CFL lamps at Chandini street was a curious scene. 

What a better way to welcome 2013? Howrah Mail started rolling at sharp 12 on Dec 31st, watching the fire works across the Howrah bridge we entered 2013. The train reached at the wee hours at Chennai Central on Jan 2nd, 2013. Without wasting a minute, we took the morning shuttle ( Bus No 15B, boarding from the opposite side of the station) to sprawling Chennai Moffusil Bus Terminus, Koyambedu. Chennai to Salem (Rs 245, 7hrs) was slow but pleasant. Salem to Coimbatore 'BYPASS RIDER' was a bit faster (Rs 87, 3hrs). Hefty tolls on these 4 lane roads, but we don't feel the pinch as we travel by government buses. 

Good old Kerala SRTC and bad roads! Coimbatore to Thrissur (Rs 70, 4hrs) and Thrissur to Cherthala (Rs 85, 3hrs). After close to 24hrs from Chennai, we reached home after a tiring bus-hoping journey. 

Taking a break from our long vacation...before we start our South India expedition from Jan 14th.