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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying Lantern Ritual at Chiang Mai Thailand

The flying lamps were a tourist attraction in Chiang Mai's Khum Khantoke Restaurant [Reviewed earlier here]. Also known as flying lanterns or sky lanterns, fire lanterns or Chinese lamps, these lamps are made of a waxy paper enclosure, open only in bottom and mounted on a steel wire. A source of fire, such as camphor is housed on a thin steel wire which is connected to the circular frame.

As the wax or camphor burns, the gases make the lantern like a mini balloon and it begins floating in the air. It is released in a ceremonious way. It is believed to take your sins and difficulties away.

100s of such lamps are let up into the sky each evening. Once up in air, we saw it going higher and higher as long as we could see. Eventually the wax paper cover would melt/burn off and self deteriorate while the steel frame is bound to fall down somewhere. Probably locals don't mind collecting and disposing these steel wire rings that fall from the sky. Hope they don't harm animals or people.

In case of heavy winds these lamps can be dangerous- wind can tilt the lamp, making wax paper catch fire much earlier and wind taking the lamp to somewhere else, to set something else (like crops or trees) ablaze is a theoretical possibility. But doesn't look like these have caused any harm, looking at the rate they are being enthusiastically used.

Apparently there're some bio degradable variants of these lanterns- made of Bamboo and other materials which are eco friendly.

There're many places in Thailand where this ritual is followed or tourists are allowed to light a lamp and send it skywards. I saw this display at a temple few days later, which seem to suggest that smaller ones cost 50 baht, medium ones 80 and big lanterns cost 100 baht.

If you're buying in 100s, these lamps are available 4 units a dollar...


Wikipedia article on sky lamps

Skywatch: Sunset at Mullayyanagiri-Chikmagalur

This was my 3rd visit to Mullayyanagiri, Karnataka's highest peak. First one was in an Aria, way back in 2010 when we reached just after sunset. Next visit was in the morning. On the 3rd visit, which wasn't really planned, we got good views of the sunset.



Above left: Moon view

This completes my 3 back to back Sunset views- Dandeli, Gokarna and Mullayyanagiri. More Skywatch images at Skyley

Similar: Mullayanagiri with Aria * Seethalayyanagiri * Mullayyana giri revisited * Sunset at Dandeli *

The perpetual tap-River Kwai festival

Got to see this in River Kwai bridge festival, Thailand. At first look, one feels like the tap is hanging without any support in the air and supplying water forever, without being connected to any source of water.
But if you notice carefully, the trick will be clear. The tap is fixed on top of a vertical glass/plastic transparent pipe and water is pumped from inside. Water goes up and exits through the exteriors of the pipe, giving impression that it is originating from the mouth of the tap.

Nice creativity I must say.

Related: River Kwai sunrise * Bridge across River Kwai * River Kwai sound and light show * Firing from real bolt rifle *

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Places to visit and things to do Dandeli, Karnataka

If you're planning to visit Dandeli, here are a list of activities you can indulge in.

Try white water rafting.
Kali river is one of the best places in India to try rafting. Rafting will be suspended during peak monsoon months (July-October). Best time to try rafting here would be November to Feb. There were two-three operators earlier, but currently only one organizer conduct rafting here. In coordination with dam authorities, organizers get some water released few moments before the rafting starts. This ensures some extra water and extra fun.

Rafting can be booked via travel agents like Dandeli.com or via your resort. Advance booking is recommended for weekends. Current cost is Rs 1400 per person. About 9 people are allowed per raft and there’re about 10-12 rafts when we visited. Expect water levels to dip a bit if you happen to be on last few rafts. [Related: we were made to wait for an hour in the forest by JLR)

Other water sports: Kayaking, boat rides. There’re more activities like rappelling, but these need to be planned in advance in consultation with organizers. A group might be needed or activity could be seasonal or subject to organizers’ availability.

Bird watching:
Dandeli is famous for its birds-primarily the hornbill. Don’t expect them to come and pose in front of you but if you have some time and patience, you’re sure to spot one. Some resorts like Old Magazine house has a dedicated facility for bird watchers. Provisions are made to feed the birds with food and water and photographers can watch from a distance, separated by a net, so that birds don’t get disturbed. You’re very likely to find groups of bird watchers with their super bazooka lens here. Kattige depot near Dandeli town is also good place to watch birds. You’ll also see Indian Rollers and Malabar giant squirrels aplenty.
 
Syntheri rocks:
It is a scenic place where a river flows below a gigantic rock. Dangerous place to swin but good place to relax for a while. Read more about Syntheri rocks here (coming up)

Sunsets: There’re few very good places to watch sunsets. I clicked few from a rock inside private property of Kadu Mane estate, while S R bhagavat viewpoint and another one near Old Magazine house are very popular for this

Forest Safari: Dandeli forest is famous for black panther sighting. But you should be lucky to spot one. Probablity of sighting animals is much lower, compared to Safaris in say Nagarahole forest near Mysore.

Tribal visits: If meeting tribal communities interest you, get in touch with folks at Dandeli.com. They can organize a few visits. Read a post by Sankara Subramanian on this topic.

Doodhsagar falls: Scenic Doodhsagar falls is less than 100kms from Dandeli. You can leave early morning and come back by evening. However, for best experience go there immediately after monsoon, not after November.

Nature walks & Trekking: Just a simple walk around the trees early in the morning can be highly refreshing, accompanied by chirping sound of birds. Don’t be lazy, go for a nature walk.
But note that each activity can take about half a day, so plan your duration depending on what all you’d like to do.  For a more exhaustive list, check this link. 

Other nearby places to Dandeli

Karwar (100kms), Goa (150kms), Unchalli falls (150kms ), Yana (180 kms)

Reaching Dandeli
Goa is the nearest and practical airport at 150kms. Hubli is another airport (just 75kms) but there aren't too many flights to Hubli except one spicejet late evening flight from Bengaluru.

By Train from Bangalore-Rani Chennamma Express (Alight at Alnavar) or take trains to cities like Hubli, Dharwad, Karwar, Belgaum etc, which are in about 100kms from Dandeli

By Road: Not much direct buses to Dandeli from Blr- take a bus to any of the above cities and take another transport.

Places to stay: Old Magazine House * Kali Adventure Camp * Dandeli Jungle Camp * Kadu Mane * Hornbill resort, Kamats and half dozen other resorts provide stay options suiting various budget needs

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Kashi by Terin Miller: Book Review

Kashi is a holy place for Hindu community. Most of us visit it with some devotional interest, but nothing more. How would a foreign national feels about Kashi and the cultures and rituals there? How would expats spending years in India think and feel about practices and cultures here? To understand, we should read books like the one written by Terin Miller. It is a fiction indeed, but has lots of information close to reality.

The story in 'Kashi' is narrated in first person, from the view point of John Colson, who is a journalist by profession. Kashi is a slow paced book (second half is better paced than the first) and readers need to have interest in culture and history to be able to appreciate the detailing. It is not edge of the seat thriller and it is not a romantic flick or a corporate thriller. Kashi does have a love angle in the form of John being attracted towards Meetha Sharma, an educated, wealthy and attractive young lady who has per passions and interests to pursue. This love aspect gels well with rest of the story, as the author explains their journey to Varanasi, the boat rides, the rituals and so on.

Chet Bardus, Liz, Rajan form other main characters in the story line. There're narrations of dealing with the mob during rituals,  Indian train journeys and experiences, begging network that targets tourists and so on. Most of the story takes place few decades ago, when a cup of tea used to cost 35 paise...(20 times cheaper than today)- so you should understand the context.

While Kashi is one of the places, part of the story takes us to Delhi and Darjeeling as well. Will John get to confess his love? There're some twists and surprises to keep readers mesmerized. Do read the book to find out.

 Terin Miller's Kashi was originally known as "From where the rivers come from" and it has won a range of international book awards, including 2010 paris book festival award

Summary
  • Title: Kashi
  • Author: Terin Miller
  • Publishers: Author's Empire
  • Genre: Fiction
  • ISBN 9788192648002
  • Pages: 177
  • MRP:  Rs 175 
 Other book reviews: Uff Yeh Emotions 2 Dinner Date * Aisle be damned *

INS Chapal-Warship Museum, Karwar

INS Chapal is an Indian Navy Ship and was in active service during Indo-Pak war of 1971. INS Chapal is fairly small in size compared to today's mega ships. It is officially classified as a boat- OSA II class sleek missile boat (OSA II is Russian classification of Project 205 U, 32 such boats were built.), whose duty is to cruise at faster speeds and bombard the enemy target with missiles.

After close to 3 decades of serving the nation, INS chapal today rests on the shores of Rabindranath Tagore beach, Karwar. It is one of the 3 ship museums in India and probably the only one in Karnataka.

We stopped by this ship for sometime and took a walk inside. Below are some photos and details of INS Chapal.






Other information: The warship is open to tourists, but at specific timings- between 10AM to 1PM and 4.30PM to 6 PM (timings can vary a bit at the discretion of staff). There's a small entry fee and a video is shown to tourists, highlighting abilities of Indian Navy.

History: During 1971 Indo pak war, INS Chapal, code named K94, played a vital role in obtaining total supremacy across the western frontier.  INS Chapal bombarded Karachi town with its missiles, while blocking any trade or military movement in the sea, causing large scale devastation to Pakistan's commercial town. This aided in India's victory and the crew of INS Chapal were awarded multiple awards, including 2 Param Veer Chakras, 8 Veer chakras and many more.

Watch below video for more detail's of Operation Trident and Python

Reference:
1. Bharat Rakshak website listing India's OSA Class 2 ships
2. Wikipedia on OSA Class

INS Vikramaditya was also docking in Karwar during our visit. But that warship was not open to public.

Some of the photos were clicked by Vasudha

Also see: Inside Submarine Museum (Malmo, Sweden) , Submarine toilet Operating Procedures and Submarine Musem-Vizag

Yana Rocks and Caves, Uttara Kannada-Explored

Yana was on my wishlist for long. There existed a kannada saying “ಸೊಕ್ಕಿದ್ದರೆ ಯಾಣ, ರೊಕ್ಕಿದ್ದರೆ ಗೊಕರ್ಣ” Which translates to “if you have lots of money, go to Gokarna, (a place in coastal Karnataka, between Kumta and Karwar), if you have guts, go to Yana”. This is because a decade ago, Yana was in deep forest, not easily accessible to general public. Reaching Yana involved 15-20kms of trekking in dense forest and climbing tough rocks and boulders. Hence an expedition to Yana would demand lots of time, fitness and stamina.

However things have changed now. There is a drivable road which can take you as close as 3kms (there’s another road from Sirsi which can take you closer to 2kms). The last few kms has bad roads and closed for private vehicles, but bikers do manage to ride through this close to the rocks. A trip to Yana is now not as adventurous as it was earlier. Yana has started to get touristy, with crowds thronging in large numbers and polluting it with plastic and other dumps.

We reached just before dawn and trekked last 3 kms to reach the foot of gigantic rocks of Yana. Accompanied by a small stream and chirping sound of birds and because sun hadn’t raised yet, the journey was quite enjoyable.

We first spotted the southern rock, Mohini Shikhara (90 meters high) and then proceeded to view the bigger one, Bhairaveshwara Shikhara (120 meters high). 


The names Mohini and Bhairaveshwara comes from an ancient belief. There existed a Rakshasa named Basmasura. He pleased lord Shiva with his tapas and was awarded a prize- anyone whose head he touches with his palm would be reduced to ashes (Basma). But things get worse when Basmasura wants to try his new found power on the very person who granted it- on Lord Shiva. Sensing trouble, Lord Shiva runs to Lord Vishnu, explains the situation and seeks help. Lord Vishnu takes form of a beautiful woman, named Mohini and goes in front of Basmasura. Basmasura takes the bite, tries to win Mohini's love and proposes to her. Mohini puts forward a condition that Basmasura should win a dance competition with her, should repeat her steps exactly as she does it. Basmasura agrees and the competition begins. As the dance progresses, Mohini places her hand over her head. Basmasura has forgotten that his hands have a unique power to burn anyone whose head it touches. As he repeats Mohini's steps and places his hand over his head, he burns himself and becomes a fist full of ashes. Thus Vishnu ends an evil force and restores peace. 

At the bottom of Bhairaveshwara rock lies a small temple, of Lord Shiva, with belief that the lingam is self emerged and not placed there manually.






We enjoyed walking round the temple, in between gigantic rocks. Because the path goes around a temple, one is expected to walk without footwear. Be careful of the sharp edges and other things while you place your steps. The massiveness of these rocks consume you while you look around in amusement. These rocks have been lucky to be away from human habitation for long and amidst nature. Temple premise has running tap water to wash your feet.

The serenity of Yana is capable of leaving you mesmerized.  Forget your daily worries and give in yourself to nature. You will relish the moments you spent viewing these huge rocks. Unless some loud group of youngsters or school children happen to visit at same time, Yana offers extreme calmness, broken only by the chirping of birds.
  
  







There is a walkable path around the temple, passing in between the rocks. Lots of honey bee hives are located under the rocks, with green bee eaters flying around and feeding on some of these. Be careful not to disturb them.

There’re two shops near the rocks which sell nice tender coconut (Rs 20 each) and other light food and drinks.

Reaching Yana: 
Yana is 460 kms from Karnataka's capital, Bangalore. Kumta is the nearest town (20kms) to Yana, which is well connected by train and road. (Most of Bangalore-Karwar buses go through Kumta). Nearest airports are Goa and Mangalore.

There's another direct road from Sirsi, if you're coming from Belgaum side.

How much time to spare at Yana: Half day, for a leisurely exploration. Few hours, if you're very short of time.

If you're driving to Goa from Bangalore, you can easily spare few hours to take a quick diversion and explore Yana. Even otherwise, your exploration of Karnataka is incomplete unless you check out Yana rocks and caves.

Best time to visit Yana: Can be visited all through the year. Be prepared for leeches during monsoon months (June-September)

Nearby places you can visit along with Yana: Gokarna, Karwar, Unchalli Falls, Dandeli, Jog Falls

Friday, January 24, 2014

Skywatch: Golden Sunset at Om Beach Gokarna

While returning from Dandeli, we visited Karwar and Gokarna. We were debating where to view the sunset. Karwar or Gokarna. As we assessed that we had just enough time to reach Gokarna in time for subset, we drove off, reached Om beach with about 30 minutes before sunset. This was my first visit to Gokarna (despite it being very close to my home town) and I had to find a vantage point soon, from where to click sunset. There were a few elevated points, but that meant lots of walking and didn’t look viable in the available time. I eventually settled myself on one of the rocks.

Below are some of the sunset photos, clicked at OM Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka
Above: Closeup of waters giving a golden effect.

It was a clear sky...



Above: view of Gokarna's Om beach from the rocks. 
Below: Another rock behind where we would have probably got better view
Meanwhile, fellow traveler and blogger Sandeep Srinivasa (he blogs at www.shande.in)  got a candid photo of a boat infront of sunset. While I was looking for an elevated vantage point, he waited next to this boat by the beach, hoping it will move. It didn’t disappoint him and he got this beautiful photo. 


Also, below is an aerial photo of Gokarna, published by Karnataka tourism. I guess this is taken from a helicopter. Sunset view from this point would have been great. The sunset photos I've taken above were clicked from a rock which lies at the centre of the photo. Now you might have guessed why this place is called Om beach (because it resembles the sanskrit symbol ॐ 
Also see: Sunset at Dandeli * Sunrise at HebbalSunrise at River Kwai bridge * Skywatch: Copenhagen and Malmo * Alamparai Kabini Coorg * Pratibha kaveri * Berlin

Coming up: Sunset at Mullayyanagiri

How to reach Gokarna: Gokarna is 520kms from State capital Bangalore and is known for its temples and beaches. To reach Gokarna you will have to take a deviation from NH17 (Now NH 66) after Kumpta (while coming from Bengaluru side)

Nearby places: Yana * Karwar *