Monday, October 19, 2015

Hampi - 2015


  • Getting to Hospet from Chennai was pain because of lack of good train connections.  But the inbound is somewhat fine, take the Amaravathi express at 255pm to Guntakal, arrive at 515pm, and take the 6pm Chennai mail.
  • Not any direct bus from Guntakal to Hospet, you have to go to Ballari and take another bus to Hospet (buses leave every 15 minutes).  You can reach the Guntakal bus stand by share taxi from the train station (near the booking office).
  • There’s limited directional signs in Hampi and it is better to get the map & the attraction information from the internet.
  • Even though it was cloudy, it is so humid and horrible.  I could guess how bad it would in the summer months.  Except in a very few places, you have to walk on the open space without any shade, so carry an umbrella or wear a cap/hat.
  • There’re not any good hangout places or eating places on the Hampi side so staying on the Hampi island side has some advantages.  The disadvantage was that you have to get back to the island by 6pm and you can’t start very early to start your tour.  Main thing is that you don’t get beer on the Hampi side but you feel out of place if you don’t beer on the Hampi island side.
  • It is a good idea to book the places in advance on long weekends.  I had to ask each and every guest house on the Hampi island side for a room, spent more than hour and overpaid for the room.
  • You can catch the bus to Hampi from the train station or from the bus station.  The ride is about 30-45 minutes.
  • It is a good idea to rent the bicycle to go around Hampi.  You won’t be able to rent motor cycles in Hampi or won’t be able to bring the motorcycle from the Hampi island.

Don't Miss

  • Climb up the Matunga hill to see the panoramic view, you will be able to see miles and miles of boulder on one side and greenery on the other side of the river.
  • In the Hampi island, in the evenings people hangout in the hill playing music and dancing.  To get there, go on the straight road after you get off of the boat and after 10 minutes walk, you will see a bunch of people sitting on the boulders.  There’s no way you would miss them.  It was fun watching the sunset with the nice music.

My Journey

Because of the last minute planning, I could get the train ticket only up to Guntakal and had to take two different buses to Hospet and it took me about 4 hours even though the bus journey was about 2.5 hours.  

Instead of destroying the whole structures, the Sultans damaged the god statues so that the temples can't be used for worship.  So all of the granite stone structures still intact but all of the wooden
structures burnt down by the Sultans.  This is the place where the god Rama met Hanuman and the monkeys from this monkey kingdom helped Rama to kick Ravana's butt.

Finding a Place to Stay

After walking around the Virupakshi temple for some time and booking the bicycle tour for the next day, decided to go to the Hampi island to find a place to stay.  There’s not a single place available to stay but there’s hut in a paddy field was available for Rs. 1000, I decided not to stay there because could not convince myself pay that kind of money to stay in a hut with the basic facilities.  When I decided to go back to Hampi to look for a home stay, I got lucky with a guest house because someone cancelled their room in a guest house in the Hampi island.  I know that I was getting over charged (Rs. 1000 for Rs. 700 place) but it had a nice room and good restaurant to hang out so took it.  Tried to hike to the Sun Set point at the end of the road but I didn’t see anyone there in that remote place, so decide to get back to the hotel to chill.

Bicycle Tour

Left early in the morning to explore Hampi before the bicycle tour
and walked around the Hampi bazar & the surrounding areas.  The bicycle tour supposed to start at 930am but by the time we got our bicycles and a group of people who were going along in the same tour figured out how to ride the bike, it was about 1030am.  The guide was good, we took our own time going around the places and the guide arranged for picnic lunch for the people whoever interested in the group (almost all of us).  My expectation of Hampi was that it’d be more like Kajerajoo but it’s mostly ruins.  Since I am more interested in the history and I really enjoyed even though there’s not many sculputres.    The tour ended around 4pm (it’s supposed to be from 930 to 2pm…so goes the Indian Stretchable Time), and after that I climbed the Matunga hill.  After reaching about 80% of the hike, got scared to climb the part of the hill where you walk along the edge.  There were few other guys from Hydrabad were also sitting and finally we decided to go up, but it was not that bad…the views from there amazing and it is very well worth the hike.  

This is supposed to be like the one on the left 
The crowd to get in the boat (no queue as usual) to go to Hampi island at 530pm was huge and somehow managed to get in the boat to reach the Hampi island before 6pm  Went straight to the hangout place mentioned by a couple of German guys in the bike tour, and it was fun.  People playing music and dancing ’til it was dark, stumbled down in the dark to reach the road with all others.

Marriage Counselor

Settled in a nice paddy field view seat in the restaurant, to be joined by a nice couple from Bangalore.  Not sure how it started, but when we started to discuss about the marriage and living together, they started talking about their dilemma.  In their case, they were living together for two years and the girl is afraid to get married and don’t want children but the guy wants to get married to have children.  So we all started to talk about different people I know of and what they did, what I did and
what they are thinking of, the discussions went on ’til 1am.  The more beer we started to have, the discussion was getting very personal and the restaurant guy had to kick us out at 1am, we split after exchanging our contact details.  I was very careful not to open my mouth too much (because I know about my self :-) ) but was just listening.  There’re no conflicts and different point of views exchanged.  Nice couple and hope they make the right decision and have a happy life.

Walking To Vittala Temple
During my stay in Hampi, I was eating my breakfast on the roadside places because none of the places were open for breakfast at 8am.  The last day, walked to the Vittala temple that’s about 2km from the bus stand but everyone keep saying that it’s only 1km from the bus stand so plan for a long walk without any shade but it is well worth it.  Got a guide in the temple and he’s not that good but tried to overcharge me and after
checking with someone, I went back collected the money above the official guide charge.  Met a couple from Hydrabad and with them we were trying to get the coracle to get back but there’re no coracle waiting so had to walk back.  The other option is to take auto from the Vittala temple for Rs 200 to get back to the town.  On the way, met a guy who quit engineering, that his parents forced to study, and got into photography to have some interesting discussion.

Left Hampi around 1pm after having lunch to reach the railway station around 145pm.   I was afraid that the train may not be on-time, but I was lucky that the train was only 15 minute late and I was able to catch my connecting train without any issues.  

Overall, it was a great trip and enjoyed meeting interesting people, and the overall Hampi experience is different from what I expected.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Short Trip to Kancheepuram


  • All of the temples close between 1pm to 4pm.  The Sankara Mutt  
  • The trip to Kancheepuram is a day trip from Chennai.

Things that made me Mad

  • The temples are not in huge size but they are one of the oldest temples in South India with a lot of great sculptures, one of the greatest work is stone chain, about six feet long, that is
    made with one single stone.  The hallways are made with great precision and awesome workmanship.   
  • The thing that made me was the sign indicating that the non-hindus are not allowed to go beyond certain part of the temple.  In Hinduism there is no ceremony done to make one Hindu (no baptism or no Islam conversion process), so how one can say someone is Hindu !  The people at the temple were asking the white guys from going into the temple.  Wondering why these idiots go about building in the
    temples in the foreign countries and didn't have the balls to stop the non-Hindus from going into the temple.  The way the guys behave in the temple is very irritating.
  • There is a golden lizard in the Vaigundaperumal temple and touching or seeing the lizard will remove the bad luck (dhosham) and bring prosperity.
  • The murals in the Vaigundaperumal temple were not maintained well and people written their name over the murals that're more than 500 years old.  There was a long line to get into the main sanneedhi, the queue was formed in
    the hot sun instead making use of the shaded area in that area. 
  • Even though we started from Chennai very early in the morning around 515am to reach the Kamatchi temple before 7am, we were able to cover only three temples before 1pm.  Kancheepuram is not a interesting town and there's nothing interesting other than the temples.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kolkatta - Durga Puja - 2014


  • Getting to the city from the airport is easy.  You can either wait in the airport itself for the Volvo bus or you can walk out of the airport to the town just 10min away (depending how many luggage that you have) to catch a bus to the town.  The Volvo buses takes you to important parts of the town but less frequent.
  • Finding restaurants on the main street was difficult except in the Park Station area.  Most of the eating places are roadside eating places.
    Crowd at night
  • Good time to visit the pandals and enjoy the decorations is during the day time, when there’s relatively less crowd.  Going to pandals at night time was to experience the festive atmosphere.  The crowd at night was totally unbelievable.  
  • The police does an excellent organization during the festive time and there’s no need to worry about going around at night (but use common sense).  I never felt threatened (or threatened any one) when I was walking around 1am in the alleys from pandal to pandal.
  • The metro in Kolkata is really good.  During the puja time they operate from 2pm and the services continue ’til 4am.
  • The queue to get the ticket to get into the metro is long, so if you are planning to make multiple trips, getting the tickets for the future trips when you are at the counter will be good idea.
  • The buses in Kolkata are not in good shape but very helpful to move around and very inexpensive.
  • The most decent auto and taxi drivers compared to my dealings with the guys in Chennai or Mumbai.  The auto rickshaws are shared one and it doesn’t cost much and the auto drivers ask the fixed price which is very reasonable.  The taxi guys were
    using the meter to charge the customers most of the time and only a few guys asked little more than the price showed on the meter.  This is completely different my interaction or fear of dealing with the guys in Chennai.  Despite me being from Chennai, I get ripped off by the auto guys.
  • Railway canteens are good and nice.
  • When you try to get the local train tickets in Kolkata, it may be confusing a bit because there’re two unreserved counters.  For local trains, go to the counter near platform#5 or go to the counter with the list of station names & ticket prices.
  • If you are planning to take the boat ride from Daksheswar temple to Belumath, remember that it’s a open boat and gets really hot so remember to wear sunscreen and cover your head.
  • You can wear foot wear inside the Belumath facilities but not inside the buildings/temple, so don’t bother leaving the foot wear outside and walk in the hot ground.
  • Millenium park is a nice place to view of the Howarh bridge
    View from Millenium Park
    but if you visiting alone there you may feel awkward.
  • The traffic cops in Kolkata are very friendly and helpful.  Ask them for direction or any help in case you need any guidance.

Observations - Cultural

  • Been to many temples in North India and it is the only place where I say statues of (South Indian god) Lord Muruga and
    Lord Ganesha.  Lord Muruga pretty handsome with mustache that you don’t find in the South Indian temples.
  • Bengalis consider Kali has their daughter and the Durga puja is celebration of their daughter visiting their homes.  This is the reason why it is so special to them.  So join the festive atmosphere and ask questions, people will be more than happy to explain.  Another belief is tha the Lord Rama prayed to Kali before going to war with the bad ass Ravana and killing him.  There is symbolism of Kali as Lion with ten hands and each hand symbolizes different things.
  • Can’t believe that hand pulled rickshaws are still in common practice in Kolkata whereas this hand pulled ones were replaced by cycle rickshaws in 1970s in Tamil Nadu because it is cruel to let someone pull you while pedaling is better.  Kolkata being a communist ruled state where they stand for labor, I couldn’t believe this practice is still in place - sad.
  • The Kali temple at Kalikhat seemed to be Bengali equivalent of Thirupathi in the South India (second richest religious place
    next to Vatican in revenue).  There’s a long line to get into the temple but the priests there were openly asking for money to cut the lines and get in to the temple quickly.  Don’t pay a penny or paise to those guys.
  • You will be able to see heads of the sacrificed goat heads lined up in the temple, so if you get troubled with those, please be aware.
  • What I couldn’t believe was that there’re people smoking in the pandals and these are the people who are the organizers of that particular pandal.
  • In busy restaurants, you are not allowed to work on your lap top because they don't want you to occupy the seat for a long time.  I was asked to put away my laptop in Haldirams.

Observations - Don't Miss

  • Coolest thing other than the pandals was that the thousands of people crossing the road from one side to the other side in a matter of a minute, like waring armies clash.  It is like the road crossing in Shibuya, Japan but 100 times more people.
  • Park station cemetery is one of the places a must visit in Kolkata.  If you really want to scare someone to death, hide in one of the tombs and jump out when someone walks by.  This place is so eerie.  British soldiers from late 18th century are buried here.  Very beautiful place.

My Journey - During Durga Puja

Met a Bengali guy, RK Sarkar, working in Delhi sat next to me in bus from the airport.  Talked about how it is hard to find good jobs in Kolkata and he had to leave to Delhi to work for the last ten hours.  He seems to follow politics in every part of India very well and we were talking about Jeyalalitha so much, I was impressed with his knowledge of what’s going in Tamil Nadu.

Once we get into town, there were a lot of banners and advertisement all over the place, been told that it’s because of the Durga Puja.  Finding the place I was staying was pretty easy and I could manage with my little Hindi and some English.  During my stay in Kolkata, I didn't have any difficulty because of the language.

The home owner, Chatterjee, was a really cool guy to talk to and very friendly.  We were talking about his life and his family background before I headed out to see the pumas, one of the interesting things about his family is that his grand dad was the first meteorology scientist in India.  Chatterjee had worked in more than ten different countries before settling in Kolkatta and Singapore was his favorite foreign country.  He gave me some trip idea on where I should go.

Pandals are amazingly built and I didn’t even realize that they’re made out of cardboard for some time.  Every pandal has a theme and Kali is decorated according to the theme, like RD Burman music themed pandal was constructed like a huge piano and inside the pandal all of the decorations were music themed.  There’re pandals with tribal themes where Kali was decorated in a tribal costumes and made to look like a tribal goddess.  

With Raj Dipnath
Couldn’t find any restaurants to eat so had some vegetable puffs and cake for lunch.  Met a guy, Raj Dipnath, in one of the pandals and he was very kind to explain the believes behind the festival as well as he made me aware of the themes of the pandals and details of each pandal.  Without his explanation I would have missed a lot of details.  Spent rest of the day walking around with him and his friends to different pandals in South Kolkata.  As the night time getting closer, the crowd started to build in every pandal.

Pandal with Green (recyclable) Theme
Before exploring the pandals in the North Kolkata during the night time, I decided to take a break in the room.  Chatterjee offered tea and we had a nice conversation on how he spends his time and about the Bengali movie themed wedding he had for his daughter who married a white guy.  Also, discussed the treatment minorities in different countries, pop culture and movies.  He invited me to his club that he runs in his home during the weekend nights where there’s a karaoke bar.  Just informed my plan for the night and left to find some food and to visit North Kolkata.

Tasted the fish cooked in the mustard oil (hilsa fish), which is a speciality of Kolkata, and it was good but didn’t crave to eat it again.  To get to the metro waited for the taxi or auto but at 7pm the place was filled with people and not able to get any vehicle to go to the metro station.  So decided to take the bus and it was easy.  Very long line in the train station and people were patiently standing in the line to get to the ticket counter and there’s no fights or rushing.  The metro journey was fast and very convenient.  Waiting line in some of the famous pandals were
ridiculous, like 2hr wait to get to the pandal.   One of the coolest things other than the pandals that I saw was the people crossing the major intersection.  The cops were doing a great job keeping people on the side of the road and when allowed the people to cross, literally close to 1000 people from each side of the road trying to get to get to the other side of the road, felt like the war movies where the armies were colliding.  Because of the crowds, I could visit a very few pandals and decided to come back the next day to visit some of the most artistic pandals in North Kolkata.

Visiting Kali

Mobile Cow Temple Near Kalighat
After having some relaxing tea discussions with Chatterjee, I left my backpack with him before heading out to the Kali temple.  Promoted Groupon with him to grow his karaoke bar business.  When I reached the Kali temple, I was surprised with the number of people and goats there, as well as where there’re cows on the small pick up truck for people to pray for.  I was contacted by one of the priests of the temple to get me into the temple quickly (and I have seen people taking their service to get in and out within 30 minutes).   I decided to stay in line and go in the normal way to see the god.  But after standing in the for two hours and when it started to rain, I started to reevaluate my decision but decided to stick with my values (at least for once) not to pay those a$$holes.  

Kalighat Experience

The temple is not a grand one and there are two different queues toget into the temple.  Overall size of the main alter is very small and to get to it you have to go through the small entrance and that’s where the god bring the animal out of everyone.  People were shoving and pushing to get into the entrance and if you have anyone elderly in your party, it is very risky to go through the entrance.  And the priests who take the people in for money start pushing their clients just before the
entrance in the line to cut the waiting.  It takes less than a minute a go in and come out of the main alter and when i entered in one of the priests pulled me out of the line into a small space near the god (they could easily identify who are foreigners I guess).  Unlike other Indian temples, the goddess Kali was not in a pedestal but very close to the ground.  I was able to get the dharsan (view of goddess) for a good two minutes and then the priest started asking for money.  I gave him Rs.100 and when he asked for Rs.500 more I just walked out saying that I didn’t have the money.  I didn’t even want to give the Rs.100 but didn’t want to make scene there.

Headless Goats

The one minute dharsan is the spiritual experience visiting the temple and also in the temple they sacrifice goats for the goddess Kali.  Just outside the main alter, in the open area, I could see about 30 goat heads and a few meters away, a couple of guys were skinning the sacrificed goat body and cutting them into pieces.  The view of Kali is really spiritual and I could still see the image in my mind.

Pandals Again

Took the metro to the North Kolkata to visit a few award winning pandals and they were really grand.  Some pandals were almost half the size of the football field very well made with waterfalls.  Some of the pandals were made look like mountains with waterfalls and inside the pandal there’re decorations of heaven, himalayan caves, etc.  Headed back to Chatterjee’s place around 6pm to pick up the bag to head out to Darjeeling.  

Kolkatta Train Station

Streets in Bad Shape
Arrived at the train station two hours early for the train and spent time people watching.  There’s a beggar sleeping on the train station hall and a cop was walking around him trying to see what he could do.  The beggar didn’t get bothered by any of these and having a nice nap, and after some time the cop just left him alone.  There’s a long line of bags sitting on the platform for reserving the queue to get into the unreserved compartment in the train.  My fellow passengers were from Nepal, Bangladesh and UK.  Taking off to Jaipalguri on my way to Darjeeling

Return Trip from Darjeeling

The train trip in the 3rd AC with a family from Kolkata and not much interaction with the fellow passengers.  When I asked the family where Mother Therasa’s place is, they were wondering why I wanted to go there.  Guessing that when you have something very valuable very close to you, you won’t find the value of it.  When I got off the train, my main concern was where to have the breakfast because of my previous bad experience in finding places to eat, luckily the train station canteen was there.  The train station canteens have changed a lot in the last few years, this one is completely different (good way) from what I used to when I was growing up.  

Visit to Daksheswar Temple

The trains are not crowded like the ones in Mumbai and the crowds are manageable (I was going in the train at 8am on a weekday).  The Daksheswar temple is about 10 minute walk from the train station and it took about 30 minute to reach the station from the Selodah station in Kolkata.  Daksheswar is very well organized compared to the Kalighat temple and no one was lurking there for money.   The temple was not as old as the Kalighat (Kali) temple but much better environment with a nice breeze.  The queues are well organized and there’s no cutting queues by paying some priest.  The boat ride from the temple dock area to the Belumath took more than 45 minutes and it’s hot in the open boat but the cost of the ride is only Rs. 10. 

Belur Math - Ramakrisha Math 

Belur math is a very nice and peaceful place.  There’re signs to leave your shoes outside, put on a hot day, there is no need to leave the shoes outside because the ground will be too hot to walk around barefoot in the math area, you can leave your shoes outside each of the building before entering in them.   There’s a long line to see the current president and his visiting time is at 11am and I didn’t want to wait there to see him,  but
visited the temples and other facilities.  There’s a ferry service to Howarah from the Belumath but to save time, I took a taxi to millennium park and arrived at the park traveling through the Howrah bridge.  I am glad that I didn’t go with the initial plan of walking on the Howrah bridge because there nothing great and I had seen the views when coming to the Belumath in the boat.

Millennium Park - Embarrassment

St. John's Church
Being alone in the Millennium park was awkward because it seems like a lovers paradise.  At noon and on a weekday there’re a lot of lovers sitting around and enjoying whatever :-) while I was enjoying the view the bridge.  For Rs. 5 entrance ticket, the park is a good place to hangout.  St. Johns church is about 10 minute distance from the park and the church is one of the oldest churches in Kolkata with a lot of
memorial plagues from late 1700s or early 1800s.  The road where the St. Johns church is, there are a lot of old buildings and a nice area to walk around.  I was walking in that area because a few people indicated that the Victoria memorial is close by and I started walking in that area ’til one of the traffic cops told me that it’s far away.  The traffic cop asked me wait next to him and stopped a local bus for me get in to go to the Victoria memorial.  There were a lot of nice parks on the way and there’s no way it is in a walkable distance from either the Millennium park or from the St. Johns church.

Victoria Memorial

The Victoria memorial park is a very nice park and within a couple of minutes I noticed that there’s no toilet that I could find.  It is a very beautiful park but I was there on Monday the day the museum is closed.  After spending a little more than hour walking around the park, I walked to Haldiram’s for lunch.  After a long time, good lunch in a reasonably good restaurant.

Cemetery Idea Rejected

I wanted to visit the Park Station cemetery which one of the oldest ones but there’s a confusion because there’re two cemeteries in that area.  After some discussion, I was told that the cemetery near St. Xaviers college one is the the place of interest.  The cemetery is a very beautiful place and there’re no words to describe it.  There’re not many people in the cemetery and with the moss covered ground with more than 200 year tomb stones
with a huge tree covering them are beyond description.  Met one of the guys from Singapore who was there on a mission to make a documentary about Britishers movement in that part of the world in early 1800s for documenting Singapore's 50th anniversary.  When he mentioned that he was waiting for the perfect lighting, I gave him a idea for candid camera that I surprise and scream at the people walking in the cemetery and he could film the reaction of the people.  He was smart enough not to agree to that because we’d have killed someone if we surprised them there.

Ride to the Airport

Took the Volvo bus from near the Haldirams and it took more than
90 minutes to reach near the airport - it didn’t go to the airport, but I have to walk about 10 minutes to reach the airport.  But during the 90 minutes of the bus ride, I could see most of the old and new Kolkata. 


Durga Puja is the best Indian festival I have enjoyed so far.  If you are in India during the month of Dasara, you should try to visit Kolkatta.  I really had a great time in Kolkatta.  If you have a few days to spare, visit Sikkim, it is more beautiful than Darjeeling.