Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alamparai fort and backwaters off ECR

Alamparai fort is one of the lesser known places of tourist interest on the east coast road (ECR) that connects Chennai and Puducheri (Pondy). Not much has been done by tourism department to promote this place and in a sense that is good. Too much of commercialization spoils beauty of the place.
View from top of Alamparai fort near PondyAlamparai fort is a severely ruined fort with only few fragments of the wall intact. Along with a beautiful backwater and adjoining sea, this scenic and serene place is ideal for spending few refreshing hours.

Where is it? How to go to Alamparai fort?
It’s off ECR (East Coast Road), some 40 kms from Mahabalipuram while driving towards Pondichery. No major signboards available on the roadside. After driving for about 40 kms, drive slowly. You’ll spot a village/town- called Kadapakkam, wherein you’ll see a small signboard- white letters on a blue/green background, which indicates that you’ve to take left turn to go to Alambarai fort. Take that road-drive for 2kms, road splits into two- take the right one, you’ll reach the fort in about a km. Share autos are available from this town to this fort.
Board displaying History of alamparai fort
Refer the photograph for a brief history. It was built in 17th century by the Mughals and has subsequently changed hands several times, British were the last known owners/rulers here. The fort was damaged due to several wars and also due to recent tsunami that his the east coast.

What to do?
Backwaters is very scenic- I find it better than Pondy backwaters-Good and safe for a swim. Local fisherman offer to take you for a ride on the boat-charges will be in the range of Rs. 200-500 for 30 mins-depends on number of people, how good you can bargain and other factors. It’s illegal, No life jackets offered and not much help around if something goes wrong. So use your discretion before opting for the boat ride.Boy on a boat- Alamparai backwaters

Other than boat ride and swim, fort area is nice for exploration, photography or for just relaxation. Not much of shady areas available to protect one from sun in the noon, but evenings will be nice. Very isolated area, so move out before its dark.

Except one small makeshift shop that sells few items not much refreshments were available. Carry your own food, but please do not litter the place.

Be sure to add this place to your itinerary if you’re planning a Mahabs or Pondy trip.

October 2009 Update: Visited this place again and water levels were much higher-Some of the land you saw in first photo was not visible.

Other offbeat destinations: Maravanthe * Nagara fort * Yercaud * Kuruva Island, Wayanad * Durgam Cheruvu, Madhapur, Hyderabad * Gingee fort *

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ooty trip Day3: Nilgiris Heritage Train

Day 3 of our Ooty trip. Read about Day 1 and Day 2 if you haven't.

Highlights: Journey in Heritage train, Conversation with police, Botanical Garden, Dodda betta, Shooting Madu.

Day 3 began with leisure. Everyone catching up with pending sleep and getting ready leisurely. We had 2-2 cups of Masala tea and did some shopping at Mayur teas- home made chocolates, tea powders, Oils and creams etc. All five of us put together made a purchase exceeding Rs 3000.

Few minutes past 8 AM we left, thanking the owners for their hospitality. First objective was to try the heritage train which shuttles between Mettupalyam and Udagamandalam, via Coonoor. The end to end journey one way takes more than 4 hours and we had two challenges: One-the car. If we had a driver along. We could have asked him to drive the car to destination while we travel in train. But having opted for self drive, we couldn’t do car and train journey together. Either I had forgo the experience of travelling in heritage train or come back after train journey to collect the car. Second challenge was time- 4 hours in train, another few hours to get the car would mean we'll have to skip lots of other places.

Hence we didn’t have time to enjoy end to end journey from Mettupalyam to Ootakamund, so opted for a part journey, from Coonoor to Ooty. Train was to start at 10.45 from Coonoor- so we split into 2 teams-one would go to Ooty, park the car and come back, while other team would get tickets, pack breakfast and keep the other team informed on timing and other happenings.

Myself and Devi drove to Ooty-found some place and parked the car. There wasn’t much traffic and 17 kms could be covered in 30 mins flat. It was 9.10 when we parked the car. Had 90 mins to get back to Coonoor railway station. I wasn’t sure how much time a bus would take, so checked a cabbie how much he would take to drop us at Coonoor. I had thought Rs 200-300 would be reasonable, but cabbie started at Rs 600 and came down till 450, which I knew was too much. We left it and walked little further where we got into an express bus heading towards Coimbattur. I’m glad we decided not to opt for cab, because for 8+8 16 bucks (2 tickets) we could reach back Coonoor by 10 am. (in case return journey took time, plan B was to board the heritage train at a later station, say Wellington)

Train was late by 15 mins. It had a diesel engine and not steam one, as I had expected it to be. First class tickets were overpriced at Rs 75 while normal tickets were just Rs 3. Nothing so special about first class, except that it is at the front of the train and seats are spacious (since only 4 people occupy a row instead of 6 in normal coach). Coonoor-Ooty stretch had very few number of tunnels and bridges, while Mettupalyam-Coonoor sector would have got much more of them.

Journey was good. Nice scenery outside and an energetic crowd inside-yelling, shouting, clicking snaps. The trip lasted for an hour and ended at Ooty station by noon. Raveesh bought some books and photos here and we came out. Now I had to go and get the car-I’d not noted the name of the area where I’d parked it-all I knew was that it is somewhere close to Coonoor road. Took an auto and managed to locate the car. While driving back to railway station to pick up others, police directed us through a slightly longer and jam packed route. As I was inching ahead, suddenly saw the Scorpio which I’d rented last year for Wayanad trip. [read more]

Next stop was at Botanical Garden-which was overcrowded on a Sundar afternoon. Finding parking space was tough-took 15 mins of time. One of the most expensive places to park at a fee of Rs 45 for a car. A vast garden, which I’d seen decades ago in a family trip, was revisited. Shortage of time and rains made us exit this place soon and we were soon heading towards Dodda Betta, stopping for a light drive in refreshment on the way. Dodda betta area was flooded with vehicles and we’d to park few kms away and walk. View was nice and weather was pleasant. We helped ourselves with fresh carrots, raw mangoes, baked ground nuts and more. A telescope view point showed us a distant village in Coonoor.

We left Dodda betta, reached Ooty and started driving towards Mysore, not forgetting to fuel up (saves 2 rs per litre). There were no khakhi+white clad traffic police in Ooty-regular all khaki clad police were regulating traffic and were very helpful in guiding us in the right direction. However one police man on the outskirts of the city was an exception.

We’d reached the junction where we had two options- go straight to take the regular highway to Mysore via Gudalur or take right and travel through Kalhatti ghat (through which we’d come). We wanted to try the Gudalur route and just to be sure we thought of cross checking with the police again. What happened next deserves a mention.

One of us (to the police): Sir this road goes to Mysore?
Police: Pull over
We: Why sir?
Police: Driver, come here.
I get out and go there, one more person accompanies me.
Police: Where do you want to go?
We: Mysore
Police: Tell me in which gear you’ll drive.
Me: There’re 5+1 gears in the car-I’ll drive in the most appropriate gear.
Police: No. Tell me which gear you’ll drive
Me: how can I specify any single gear? It depends on the driving condition
Police: Listen, don’t argue-you should drive in first or second gear only.
Me: ok sir. We can go?
Police: Give something.
We: what? Why?
Police: (hesitantly) registration
We: What registration? How much?
Police: Give something-say 50 Rs

At this point we went back to the car to tell others that this police officer is demanding Rs 50 bribe and were contemplating what next to do. By this time this officer got busy with other cars and lost interest in answering our questions (like what registration fee he is referring to). We got into the car and drove off.

We’d thought that was end of our trip, but we came across few more interesting places- Shooting madu-an open hill with a very nice view and green cover-where lots of movies were reportedly shot. Horse ride here costs Rs 100 for a quick ride till the peak and back. Jeeps are also available to take you for a round. I made an attempt to take photo of carrots stacked nicely for sale and the lady manning that stack of carrot literally attempted to snatch my camera- I didn’t understand what she said, but basically she was upset that I was taking photo of her carrots without paying her anything. I managed to walk away as she continued her dialogues-little did she know that I’ve enough zoom to capture her carrots from a distance. We stopped for few minutes at another view point and a reservoir. Pykara Boat house was also on the way, but it was exactly 6PM, closing time that is, when we spotted the signboard showing how to go to the boat house.
Road was good and by dinner time we’d reached Gundlupet. Hotels would have closed by the time we make it to Mysore, so we went to an Udupi hotel for dinner. Reached Mysore few hours later and spent 20 minutes circling the outer ring road, struggling to find an exit to Bangalore. If we’d entered the city we could have made it faster (we could have even seen Mysore palace illuminated).

Reached Bangalore few hours past midnight, ending a memorable trip. Fiesta didn't give any trouble during the trip and gave an economy of about 16+ kmpl (diesel)

Places missed/Could have been covered: Droog Fort, Pykara Boat House, Visit to tea factory, Pasteur Institute.

Update: Relatives to whom I gave the Oil and tea powder purchased at Mayur tea have given a feedback that the products were very good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Play time-Theatre plays by Evam, Rebelz n more

Some updates first:
Ex classmate BM Giriraj (he is also associate director of a movie-Moggina Manasu) has released a Kannada novel recently, called Kathege Savilla (no death to stories)- grab a copy if you can.

A Hyderabad based magazine, PRISM, has quoted my opinion, with credit, in one of its articles about Begging menace. You may wish to read the article here (My inputs are hidden deep somewhere-either read it fully or do Ctrl+F for my name). In case you wish to buy the print version, Magazine is available for Rs 10 at Walden stores in Begumpet and Banjara Hills

Play Time
Hot sun and other factors have cut down my travel plans in past few months and instead made me divert attention towards theatre, music and other fine arts. In the span of last 6 months I’ve attended about 10 plays/performances. I’m not an expert in this field and do not have time and content to write detailed review, so just giving a mention of various performances I attended and a brief review.

1. Battle of the Sexes, by Rebelz at Alliance Française (21st December 2008)
Two small plays performed back to back on the theme-difference of opinion between men and women. Play was good to watch, though nothing new in the story/content. More about Rebelz Entertainment

2, 3. Inspirations 09 and Summer-n-Groove Dance show by Swingers
Have written in detail about Swingers in a separate post- Read it here.

4. Hamlet the Original Spoof by evam, Vinayaga hall, Nungambakkam
Came to know about this show by a friend just 30 mins prior to start time. Dashed to the venue just in time. The play is performed by only 3 characters, performed well by Karthik Kumar, Karthik Srinivasan and Sunil Vishnu (excluding some audience invited on stage) I’ve not yet seen or read the original hamlet, so the spoof almost went overhead. But the play was slightly different and innovative from others- other than the regular performance, it was re enacted in slow motion mode, fast forward mode, reverse mode etc to entertain the audience. Some audience were invited on stage to do some small actions, the introduction was also different-running all around auditorium, killing time, pulling each other’s leg etc, which may look silly for serious observers. [More]

5, 6. Patala Bhairavi and Mayaa Bazaar (Telugu)-by Surabhi Group, coordinated by Evam, Music Academy, Mylapore
Hyderabad based Surabhi theatre group (aka Sri Venkateshwara NatyaMandali) is reportedly one large united family of some 60+ members whose prime activity is performing theatre. They are known for on stage animations and effects, which we got to see firsthand in these two plays. Surabhi group was founded in 1889 (yes, more than 120 years) and is running since 3 generations. Everyone in the family-small kids to elderly people will have some role/responsibility to undertake during each show.

Play was in telugu, so audience were provided with a synopsis in English, which helped us get a brief overview of the story. The 100 Rs ticket was full paisa vasool, while higher denomination tickets didn’t have much of a value addition. Complementary beauty products from Citibank promo, discount coupons and free perk, parrot reading etc added to fun-which we missed on day 1 but exploited on day 2.

Some of the on stage animations/graphics used in these plays deserves a mention. Difficult to describe or narrate in words and should be enjoyed live. Romantic scenes involving moon and dreaming, scenes in which the rakshasa chops off his own hand and several such tricks were executed very well. Sitting at balcony we could view some accessories used for these tricks-which we wouldn’t have seen has we been on ground floor.

Both Patala Bhairavi (The Goddess of Underground) and Maya bazaar (Illusionary Market??) are available as movies, for those interested. First one, Patala Bhairavi, is about a common man winning heart of princess, while having to face lots of hurdles, including an evil man who attempts to con this man and sacrifice him to Patala Bhairavi for some personal gains. However our hero gets the hint just in time, manages to escape, win hands of princess and so on. Mayaa Bazaar is a relatively weaker story.

Surabhi group frequently performs in Hyderabad and other cities like Bangalore (keep an eye on Ranga Shankara schedule). Watch their next performance if you can.

7. Music Concert at IIT-M Open Air Theatre, on the occasion of Easter
Forgot the name of the singer-Was a nice performance.

8. PC Sorkar Magic Show
Except a few tricks others were conventional and boring. Not really worth, mainly because we would have seen the same stuff several times over-in TV, in other shows etc. Kids might enjoy it though.

9. Two 2 Tango, by Rebelz, Alliance Française
Both Rebelz plays I’d seen were two in one- two short plays performed back to back. In Two 2 Tango, first play, Playwriting for Dummies, was about how a script writer tries to control the play by varying dialogues or significance of each characters. Second play, Alice in Blunderland, was about a person who had created a false image in the eyes of his boss about a strong relationship he has with his loved one, while in reality he had none. Now that his boss is visiting his place for dinner, he has to get a girl to act as his fiancée. The play depicts the trouble he faces in the process. Overall rating: Ok to Good.

10. Summer of Love-Western Music concert by Unwind Centre, Museum Theatre, Egmore
Organized primarily to showcase talents of newly enrolled students of unwind centre, the concert included several songs in mass singing. Since they were not professionals, but amateurs who just learnt some singing, Rs 200 ticket fare was a bit high. But like swingers I guess here also parents of kids singing were the ones who composed most of the audience, having to buy tickets at whatever rate quoted by the organizers. Some songs were good, but melody was somewhat missing as 25-30 people on stage couldn’t sing in perfect synchronization. For a few songs they displayed lyrics on screen, which helped making sense of what they were singing, while many other songs didn’t have the same. Audience was also made to sing a few lines

Coming up in near Future

Run for your Wife- By ASAP- Museum Theatre, Egmore, Chennai
To be performed this Saturday and Sunday, 13th and 14th June 2009, 7PM- Watch it if you can. I’ll update this post with a brief review of this play next week.
Run for your wife is A very popular play in England. ASAP productions are performing it in Chennai, with assistance from Bhoomi.

Run for your wife: Post play update: The play was good, though started little late. I felt some dialogues and actions could have been toned down a little. There were no refreshments on sale during the break. Museum theatre is not the best place to perform a play-due to its semi circular design, only those sitting at the centre can get proper view. Also number of seats are much less compared to a regular theatre.

Chicago- A musical by stagefright theatre group
Scheduled to be performed in August, the team is rehearsing hard. Based on an English movie- Chicago-story of a few ladies who murder men for various reasons and land up in jail. To be performed by
Stagefright productions

An Idiot for Dinner by Evams
Performance of this play is going on at Rangashankara, JP Nagar Bengaluru this weekend. Next weekend (20th and 21st June) it will be happening in Chennai, 3:30 and 7:30pm at Sivagami Pettachi Auditorium in Mylapore. [More]

Ticket prices to these shows are 2-3 times (and more) that of a movie ticket. But watching live performance is a different experience compared to viewing pre recorded video. Also some of these theatre groups are into charity and social welfare. Most of them are very successful in getting enough sponsors.

Also wanted to attend performances of Ram and Indira Kadambi, Jayanti Sundar and others-didn't materialize.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

eNidhi India Merger plans unveiled

eNidhi India Board of Directors met secretly at an undisclosed location (probably in an abandoned LTTE Bunker) recently and discussed the option of acquiring two lesser known blogs under eNidhi India banner- the Ad critics blog and Shrinidhi’s photo blog and merging them into the main blog: eNidhi: A professional amateur.

Rationale behind this thought and some key considerations are listed below, though a final decision will be taken during annual general body meeting of eNidhi India, after taking all stakeholders into confidence.

The Proposal:
Merge the ad critics and the photo blog (both received lukewarm response and negligible page views) with the main blog and discontinue posting new entries in the acquired blogs. Make all new posts related to photography or ad reviews in the parent blog itself in order to consolidate reader base.

Rationale behind this move (consolidated from a Hi-Fi pptx that Chief Operations Officer of eNidhi India presented to its board of directors)
  • The photo blog and Ad critics blog aren’t getting expected response from readers and efforts invested in them is yielding negative returns
  • Quantity of new contents at these blogs were very minimal compared to parent blog and with such a low rate of new posts, comments and reader-base, it is not operationally viable to run these blogs
  • The interest from fellow contributors at the ad critics blog appears to be non-existent, which is suspected to be primarily because of poor readership
  • These blogs are causing dilution of visitors who land at profile page
  • Dilution of page rank and visitor count can be avoid by directing all visitors to one blog
  • During this time of recession eNidhi India needs to consolidate its reader base and contents effectively under one blog itself, instead of running several ‘not so successful’ blogs.
  • Existing contents on these blogs will not be disturbed, as republishing them on the main blog can irritate readers who’ve already read them.
Note: eNidhi India Chief Blogging Officer has clarified that all his blogs were real assets and this is not an attempt to replace fictitious assets with real ones.

Stakeholder opinion and investor reaction is being keenly awaited for this move.