Monday, November 30, 2015

Ghost town Dhanushkodi near Rameshwaram

Dhanushkodi, near Rameshwaram was a major sea link to Srilanka and a trading hub in South India in the 1960s. Dhanushkodi was the main town and Rameshwaram was secondary town. It is believed that Lord Rama built his famous bridge- Rama Sethu to Srilanka from Dhanushkodi.

Lot of things changed in December 1964 when a severe cyclone stuck the coastal town, submerging large part of town, drowning a moving passenger train with hundreds of passengers in it. Over 1800 people lost their lives in the accident and the town had to be abandoned. (Full details on Wikipedia)

Today only ruins to tell us the story. Visitors to Rameshwaram also visit Dhanushkodi. We visited Dhanushkodi during early November and here're some pictures of whatever remains of this town.
Above: Remains of the church
Below- behind view of church building
A floating stone- this piece of stone floats on water- reason unknown.
Watertank remains

A small Hanuman temple is largely intact even today.

A goat that had broken leg

Above: part of the railway station building
Below- new roads being paved till the end.
A nice road is being paved- should  be ready in a few months. Once ready it should make commute to Dhanushkodi a breeze. A memorial for Dr APJ Abdul Kalam is also likely to come-up somewhere in Rameshwaram/Dhanushkodi

Today a dozen or so makeshift shops operate in Dhanushkodi trying to sell various stuff- sea shells and other ornamental to tourists. I found coconut made monkeys above very cute. Tender coconut cost is Rs 25 only, at par with mainland. So vendors are not overcharging in most cases.
It is a hard experience to be part of a disaster that takes away your village, your loved ones and forcing you to relocate. For those who had their childhood in Dhanushkodi and had to abandon village after the cyclone accident, Dhanushkodi is much more than ruins or tourist attraction. Tourists come and go, but for them it is not that easy. We spent about 40 minutes here and returned with heavy heart. Drive to Dhanushkodi was an experience in itself- read about it here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

14th Century Monument-Karnan tower, Helsingborg, Sweden!

Karnan is a tower in the heart of Helsingborg city. It is from the medieval times (14th century) and tells lots of stories. Karnan tower is part of a larger fortress, but except fortress entrance and this tower rest of the mighty constructions were destroyed by Danish and Swedish kings over wars

As I walked out of Helsingborg ferry terminal, at Radhuset I was trying to figure out where to head next. As I looked around, I saw this fort entrance and that helped decide which way to turn.

I climbed stairs and went up, I was greeted by a tower, known as Karnan (Literally translates to "The Keep" but means "The Core" or "Central point" in Swedish and Danish languages)

The stairs were inviting and I went inside. Inside I had to buy a ticket. I could either pay 50 SKK that is valid only for this attraction or could pay 120SKK which would be valid for 2 days and for 4 attractions in total. With some thinking I decided to go for 120 SKK pass and I am happy I made that decision. I also got a map of the city and audio guide. Audio guide was Swedish only. Lady at the counter also asked if I am really planning to go to Sofiero- she said it is bit far and closes early. I thanked her for the information.

There is a limitation on how many visitors can go on top at any given point of time, because of narrow staircases and security issues I guess. So if rush is more you will have to wait around the ticket counter (known as Guard floor or first floor) for few of the guests to come down.

I went upstairs on the narrow stairs. Not many visitors were there and a few who were around were extremely polite giving preference to others by giving way. It was difficult to convince the other party to proceed while you are willing to give way. I got "Thank You"s in different languages as I moved to a side and requested them to proceed.

I went to top directly. From the top you will get nice view of Helsingborg town.


After spending a few moments on top I went down. There are a couple of floors you can explore a bit. They showcase ancient items used by residents of Karnan and a bit of history of this tower.

Fourth floor of Karnan, which is immediately below the open terrace is an empty hall, was reportedly used for functions.

Third floor has a set of seats- believed to be used by the king when he and his team visited Karnan and some historic information
Second floor, known as Borg floor, has items used by Karnan's staff when it was operational. There are some ancient cloths which visitors are free to try on.

King Eric Menved (1274-1319) was the king who built the original Karnan tower. Original design can be seen in below painting. Helsingborg was part of Denmark back then and it was a vital town because of its proximity to sea trade route.

Chinese checker like game played by residents
Notice the light used to simulate fire.

Information displayed inside Karnan explains how guests were accommodated in medieval age, the concept of toilets, food habits, dress patterns and so on. It was interesting to learn that even in 14th century they had the concept of beds, food preservation through pickling/salting, idea of using pits for toilets and so on.

Overall, it was a very revealing experience visiting Karnan in Helsingborg. Karnan was one of the first key attraction I visited during my Europe visit this year, just that I took some time to compile this post.

Also in HelsingborgEuropeade 2015 * Tropikariet and Madagascar LemursDunkers Culture House *  Sofiero Castle, Garden * 

Kaunas, Lithuania-Cheapest place in Europe for Balloon Ride

I am not aware of any other place in Earth where you can have a balloon ride for 99 Euros. It is possible only in Kaunas, Lithuania.

In my post "Why Lithuania is an ideal weekend destination in Europe" one of the reasons were cheap balloon ride. This post has few more photos and information on the same,

After spending some time around Kaunas Castle, I walked towards a park nearby and spotted the balloon being readied for take off. Within next few minutes, it was in the air.

Just check with these guys if you want to book a slot! It costs only 99 Euros here. In Switzerland, it costs double (of course landscape below will be totally different). In India cost is about 8500 per person.
 Spotted the balloons next evening also. Spot the balloon at the centre of Bride tower

Unfortunately I couldn't try a ride. I have already experienced it earlier this year near Pune.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dhanushkodi: The great offroad ride adventure

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A visit to Dhanushkodi was pending since long time. It materialized recently. From my previous readings I knew that we can't go to Dhanushkodi in our own vehicles, so asked at my lodge in Rameshwaram about arrangements to go to Dhanushkodi. Hotel staff checked with a van driver and quoted Rs 2250. We were only 5 people, but he had quoted for an entire van (15 pax). Realizing that it is not economical, we drove in our rented Figo to Dhanushkodi entrance and from there boarded the van that would take us to Dhanushkodi.

From Dhanushkodi parking lot, charges are Rs 150 per person with Mahindra vans and jeeps waiting in line to ferry tourists to Dhanushkodi over a non existing road. The great ride to Dhanushkodi over sea and half wheel deep sand is an experience in itself as the driver skillfully negotiates aged and modified vehicle over the challenging terrain.
I asked the driver about the van- he confirmed that front two wheels are altered to make the van a four wheel drive. So it is able to traverse the sandy terrain to Dhanushkodi.

I made a 90 second video of the ride over ocean to Dhanushkodi- take a look below.

 Some more pictures of the off road journey to Dhanushkodi 
 Most vans are very aged and may breath its last any moment.

Automobile companies that want to demonstrate 4x4 capabilities of their vehicles should test them here, instead of some mild tracks.
Dhanushkodi on map
Overall, the journey takes about 15 minutes one way, we get 30 minutes at Dhanushkodi to explore the ruins and 15 mins return ride. I will write about Dhanushkodi in a separate post. I could see that nice roads are being laid connecting Dhanushkodi to mainland. The road was not open to public yet. If it opens then we can reach Dhanushkodi in our own car, without having to offroad like these vans. But then a few dozen van and jeep drivers who are earning money ferrying tourists to Dhanushkodi will have to find an alternate job. We will also miss the fun the ride offers.