Travelogue: Highway to Hyderabad

Nirupama Rajan

At around 5:45 am on 26th January, my friend and I set out from Bannerghatta Road with a goal that seemed slightly impossible at the time- to reach Hyderabad by the end of the day on our Honda Activas. In fact, I think secretly, neither of us really expected to get all the way there.

Life at SimplyGuest - Travelogue: Bangalore to Hyderabad

It all started a couple of days before when we realised that all our friends were traveling out of the city for the upcoming weekend. With nothing to do, we thought we’d take our scooters out for an early morning ride on one of the days. Until then, all our long rides had been shorter than a hundred kilometres, simply because we were riding scooters and not motorcycles. So, our plan initially was to just do one more of these – leave early morning, ride for a few hours, explore some town or village on the way and get back to Bangalore latest by lunch.

Our friend overheard us and began telling us stories of how he used to ride his TVS Jupiter to Chennai. The again, he was far more experienced than either of us so we weren’t surprised. We’re not sure how it happened – either we were inspired by his stories, or maybe spontaneity slowly crept into the conversation – but somehow we ended up deciding on an overnight trip. We figured we’d take the Mumbai highway, ride for as long as it was comfortable, halt for the night wherever we were and return the next day. Even then, we definitely weren’t considering anything like 600 kilometres!

That was around when we heard reports of the disturbances happening in North Karnataka over water issues, and we figured the Mumbai highway may not be our safest bet. So we decided to take an equally great road- the one to Hyderabad. We were on the phone that evening figuring out our action plan when I said, “Imagine if we actually made it to Hyderabad.” Both of us laughed it off then, but about five minutes later, we realised that’s exactly what we wanted to do.
We didn’t tell a lot of people about our goal because one, we didn’t know ourselves if it was possible, and two, we knew most people would just laugh at the very idea like we did initially, and we definitely didn’t want anybody dampening our spirits. Nevertheless, amidst nods of encouragement and expressions of concern – from friends who were either very ignorant or very experienced – we set out on our journey.

We had prepped ourselves and our vehicles as much as we could in one day (read my previous post for more information on the subject); I was riding an Activa 125 and my friend was riding an older version of the Activa (109 cc). Our first target was to reach Chikkaballapur, a town on the outskirts just after Devanahalli.

About ten minutes into the ride, we were struck by the realisation that it was much, much colder than we’d anticipated. Still, the very idea that we were able to be out on Bangalore roads at such high speeds thanks to the empty roads made the experience worth it. After picking up a helmet from a friend’s place (yes, that’s how last minute it was), we took a beautiful little inside road from there that would connect us to the Hyderabad highway at Devanahalli. After that, we figured it would just be one straight road to Hyderabad.

We hadn’t been on the highway for more than ten minutes when we took a diversion by mistake and got lost inside Chikballapur. For quite a while, it didn’t even strike us that it was a little strange to have so much local traffic on a highway. (I blame this on the cold-induced numbness of our minds). Anyway, long story short, we somehow mapped our way back to the highway, looked long and hard for a U-turn and were finally back on track.

By the time we finished breakfast at what seemed to be a highly popular joint near Bagepalli, it was around 10 am. We were honestly quite taken aback by how quickly time had flown by and started discussing the idea of stopping our journey at Kurnool by the end of the day – which would have been about 200 kilometres before Hyderabad.

The morning half of the ride was absolutely amazing. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, it grew considerably hot and our layers kept coming off; still, the fact that we were out in the middle of nowhere, with rocky hills surrounding us and an endless road stretching ahead as far as our eyes could see kept us in high spirits throughout. Well that, and all the Gatorade and Snickers we had on us.
By the time we crossed Penukonda and reached Anantapur, it was around lunch time. However, we figured we’d hold off on the longer breaks for when we really needed them and settled for a quick scoop of Belgian chocolate ice cream at a highway Thanco’s instead. Besides, a truck driver also on his way to Hyderabad had duly informed us at our previous rest stop that it would take us at least till 7 pm to get there; even though we had discussed stopping at Kurnool, I guess both of us really wanted to make it all the way to Hyderabad even if it meant riding late. Besides, by then, we’d spoken too much about Hyderabadi Biryani and Khubani ka Meetha to even consider not being able to gorge on these later.

From Anantapur it was on to Gooty and then Kurnool. This stretch was quite taxing because of the afternoon heat coupled with the fact that it was all barren land with not a tree in sight. My eyes were begging for something green and soothing to look at. In fact, even when we stopped to rest, we were both quite silent, preserving our energy for the ride. By the time we got to Kurnool, it was around 4 pm. We went off the highway and into the town because we both wanted a longer break and good lunch.

After scouring the streets for a while, we came across a big hotel with an attached ‘A/C Restaurant’ and figured that would be our best bet. After going to all the trouble of parking inside and everything, we were told that the restaurant had just closed because lunch time was over. Neither of us had the energy or the inclination to go out and look for another restaurant. So, we assumed the best ‘tired and pitiful’ expressions we could, and told the staff all about our “long and exhausting” trip, and how we’d practically eat anything they’d give us. I guess it worked because ten minutes later, we were sitting on couches in an air conditioned room – empty except for us – eating the best curd rice and mango pickle that money could buy. Sure, it was a lot of money, but hey, it was an exceptional circumstance.

The question that was hanging in the air was whether we were going to stop there (I mean, we were literally in a hotel- all we had to do was book a room) or go on to Hyderabad. It was risky, because we had a good 200 kilometres to go and the sun had already begun to set, but perhaps it was the curd rice that put us in such a good mood, or maybe it was the fact that we’d already come such a long distance. Either way, there was really no going back now. And thank god for that decision because right after Kurnool, we crossed the Tungabhadra river into Telangana (we stopped on the bridge for a quick victory picture), and from there on until it finally got dark, it was one of the most beautiful stretches of land that I’ve ever laid eyes on. We rode with the sun setting behind us, casting an orange glow on green hills and luscious paddy fields interspersed with scrub forest every now and then. It was so refreshing, we entirely forgot about our fatigue- it was like the start of a new ride!

Nirupama en route to Hyderabad
Nirupama en route to Hyderabad

However, all things must come to an end and this did too, when the sun finally went down under and nightfall was upon us. It was almost 7 pm by the time it got dark, and we still had 80-90 kilometres left. Having left the last big town behind us, we had no choice but to push forward until we got to our destination. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time – we weren’t able to see the poorly lit trucks in front of us until we were just behind them, and at one point our visors were severely attacked by a horde of insects attracted by our headlights, nearly cutting off our vision entirely. Still, we rode slowly and carefully and the first city lights came into view at around 8:20 pm.

We didn’t really have time to celebrate then, because as jubilant as we were, all we really wanted to do was get to a bed and get some rest. This wasn’t to happen for a couple of hours though, because we were going to stay at a relative’s place that happened to be on the other side of town, and by the time we adjusted to the city traffic, lost our way a few times, and made it there after more than sixteen hours on the road, it was 10:30 pm. Without thinking much about what we’d just accomplished, I cleaned up, ate and went to bed. It was only on the next morning, when I woke up to the light of a different city streaming in through the window, that it really hit me. To be honest, I still don’t have words to describe the feeling.

We made the most of our one day in Hyderabad- which essentially meant that we ate everything we could get our hands on, even though our original plan was to eat light so we could ride back comfortably the next day. But when again were we going to get the chance to stand outside an ‘Irani Café’ and sip hot chai from a saucer while simultaneously wolfing down freshly baked Osmania biscuits? And with similar thoughts in our heads, we ate tawa bondas, Karachi biscuits, biryani (although I was constantly reminded that my veg biryani was not actually biryani) and of course, the Khubani ka Meetha that we rode all the way to Hyderabad for! We finally ended our day with a slow drive by the Hussain Sagar lake and by the time we got home, I was already fast asleep in the car.

The next morning, we were up by 5 am and out on the road by 5:30; we wanted to make it back to Bangalore before it got dark. Once again, fuelled by the cold creeping into our bones, we rode at top speed, stopping at petrol stations to soak in the warmth and shiver a little! The journey back was quite similar in that it was the same mix of barren land and stunning views, sweltering heat and freezing cold, and as always, absolute exhilaration. We also had the best ghee idlis ever in a food plaza somewhere between Hyderabad and Kurnool. We met a large group of motorcyclists on Avengers around afternoon, and were later trailed by two random guys on a bike for a short distance, although we soon left them far behind (this was probably the only slightly scary incident of the whole trip).

Riding back is always easier and that was evident by the fact that we made it to Bangalore city limits in about 12 hours. By 5pm, we were already battling the evening traffic near Devanahalli, which is where my riding partner and I parted ways after spending three of the most exciting days of our lives together. Even as my legs turned to jelly out of sheer exhaustion and I practically hit every bump at top speed because I was still adjusting to the slow city traffic, all I could think about was where my next long ride was going to be to! Admittedly, as much fun as this was, I’m hoping that the next time is going to be on a motorcycle, simply because they’re better suited to long-distance riding. But whatever the case, one thing is for sure- this was only the very first of the many, many long-distance rides that I plan to take through the rest of my life. Once you feel that riding high, you’re going to keep going back to it!

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On scooters and long-distance riding

By Nirupama Rajan

On scooters and long-distance riding

The idea of getting out of the city on a weekend for a long ride or drive is a very appealing one for most people. The grey stretches of highway that don’t seem to end even as the sun crawls along from one side of the sky to the other over your head, with only your vehicle for company – that is how I’d like to spend all my holidays. But while cars and motorcycles are usually the favoured modes of transport for such journeys, it’s not too often that you hear of people attempting to do the same thing on scooters.

Last month, my friend and I (both women) took this up as a challenge and attempted to ride the 600 kilometres from Bangalore to Hyderabad in one day on our Honda Activas. Not only were we successful in getting there, we also rode back all the way after a break of just one day in Hyderabad. And yes, our Activas were perfectly fine, and so were we!

I will be writing a follow-up post on the experiences of this particular trip, but before that, here are a few tips and ideas if you want to attempt something similar on your scooter. Keep in mind that these are just based on my experience as an amateur long-distance rider, and you should definitely talk to someone more experienced if that would make you more comfortable before you attempt to take your scooter out on the big roads.

Prepping your vehicle

This one is pretty basic. Make sure your breaks aren’t loose, and that your tyres aren’t balding or anything. If you use regular air in your tyres, get them emptied and filled with nitrogen. Punctures on highways usually are a result of tyre overheating, and nitrogen is a good way to reduce the chances of this happening. Speaking of punctures, while we faced no such issues on our trip, it is always safer to get a basic puncture kit and learn how to use it. If you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no spare wheel or mechanics nearby, it will take a while for you to get any help- and you won’t even be able to reach your destination. Ideally get your scooter serviced a few days before the trip. That way, you will be able to figure out any post-service issues well before you get out onto the road. Make sure all your lights are working well, because you might need them to communicate with your riding partner. Buy some reflective tape if you think you might have to cover some distance in the dark. Finally, make sure you’re carrying at least 1 litre of extra petrol on you; there are often long stretches without any fuel stations and you don’t want to run out in these areas.

Prepping yourself

As far as riding apparel is concerned, I’d recommend wearing layers that aren’t too heavy. That way, you can keep warm in the early hours, remove a couple of layers when the day gets warmer, and put them back on in the evening. Make sure you’re wearing full sleeves and full length pants to prevent sunburns (also, do not compromise on the sunscreen). Wearing a neck warmer (I just wrapped a cotton scarf around my neck) definitely makes dealing with the morning cold easier. Comfortable shoes are obviously advisable. Wear a balaclava, bandanna or something similar under your helmet because you’re going to be wearing it all day and your hair will definitely bear the brunt of that otherwise.

If you think your helmet visor isn’t enough, carry a pair of sunglasses to help with the glare from the sun when it’s in front of you. Hand gloves are a must, in my opinion. Get light ones that won’t get uncomfortably warm, but will still keep the skin on your palms and fingers intact.

Also, scooter seats aren’t exactly engineered for long distance riding. To steer clear of seat burns, I simply placed a cotton cloth folded several times over between me and the seat. You could use towels, dupattas or anything like that.

To be able to really enjoy your ride, you need to be comfortable throughout. And for that, it’s important to know yourself and your body. Everybody has different needs and you should be prepared for these. For example, I know I have weak wrists, and coupled with the lack of cruise control on Activas, I could have had a very tough time riding without wrist support. For someone else, it could be weak knees. So assess yourself and cater to your individual needs. Even if you don’t know what you require, you can always explain your condition to the people at a sports store (I favour Decathlon) and they can help you out.

It can get quite difficult to judge speeds accurately on the highway
Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

With regard to food and water, take high-calorie items that don’t occupy too much space and won’t spoil. Energy drinks, nutrition bars, biscuits and chocolate are good options. Chocolate especially- my bars of Snickers kept me going every time I felt even a little tired. Make sure you have at least 2 litres of water with you, and keep refilling these whenever possible. Equip yourself with sanitizer and tissue (wet or dry) as well- you never know when these will be useful when you’re travelling. Most importantly, carry a well-stocked first aid kit as well as your personal medication, if any. However, store all items under the seat, in front, or figure out a way to secure it to the back of your seat- even if a backpack seems light initially, it can strain your shoulders later on.

Other things to keep in mind on the road:

Scooter engines tend to get overheated with continuous use at high speeds; so it’s recommended that you don’t exceed a speed of 65 km/hr., as much as possible, however tempting it might be to break that rule (on the highway, even if you’re speeding, it can feel like you’re crawling at a snail’s pace) More importantly, stop for about 10 minutes after every 80 minutes or so of riding, at least. Try to take these breaks at fuel stations so that your vehicle can recover in the shade and so can you. Rest your eyes well while there.

Apart from almost always having functional washrooms, an added bonus is that you can get a lot of information about the route ahead, the nearest restaurants or towns and such from the employees at the petrol stations.

Even if you don’t want to plan out the nitty-gritties and want to just “go with the flow”, I would still recommend that you note down the names of the major towns en route and their distances, especially if it’s your first time. This can come in handy to figure out your food breaks, as well as to handle unforeseen emergencies.

Be careful when you overtake vehicles or when vehicles are overtaking you. It can get quite difficult to judge speeds accurately on the highway- and this is especially true for cars, but also for speeding trucks. Trucks in particular can be quite troublesome at night because several of them don’t use quality reflective tape and you don’t realise their presence until they’re right in front of you. While on the subject, avoid riding in the dark as much as possible. If there’s no other way, be alert (keep in mind that if you’ve been riding all day, this can be quite a challenge), reduce your speed and ride straight. Align yourself by watching out for the markings on the sides of the road.

Being aware of the sounds and smells coming from your vehicle can help you figure out if something goes wrong. Ride with your visor down as much as possible, and if it gets covered with insects around the late evening, you’ll only make it worse by trying to wipe it with your hands. Stop somewhere, and clean it with tissue and water. Be watchful for people trailing you – unfortunately, this is quite commonplace if you’re a woman rider in India (speaking from my experience as well as others’). There are emergency phone booths at very regular intervals on the highway, and it would also be sensible to make note of the emergency numbers listed on the boards en route. Once you reach your destination, it can be quite difficult to suddenly adjust to the traffic and the lower travel speeds, so be alert and ride with extra care.

If this is your first time, get somebody else to come with you (for safety and for company). Ride on separate vehicles though, preferably. Keep hydrated and calm, and follow lane discipline along with all the other traffic rules out there.

Honestly, motorcycles are definitely more comfortable for such long journeys, but if you can’t get hold of one, having only a scooter shouldn’t stop you – your vehicle is capable of more than you think! At the end of the day, it’s perfectly alright if you don’t make it your destination. Your safety is your highest priority; you can always stop at the nearest town if you’re tired or if it gets too dark, and start your journey again the next day.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on this subject; if I can’t answer them, I’ll direct you to someone with more expertise. Be safe, and happy riding!

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House Party this Weekend ?

House Party

Living in Bangalore means engaging in house parties. Whether voluntarily or out of sheer peer pressure, every Bangalorean is bound to host a house party at some point during their time in the city. I have organized parties at home about 3-4 times in the last two years here.

Every party you host will feature one or more of several characters including but not limited to Quiet-Corner-Buff, Music-Buff, Drunkard, Story-Man, Designated-Driver, Gaming-Guy, Maker (of drinks or smokes) and so on. Each of them has a unique role to play in making the party a hit. The Maker, for instance, sets the mood. The Story-Man keeps the night interesting as it progresses. The Music-Buff will take care of the ambiance, and the Designated-Driver ensures that everyone has a safe and pleasant time even after the party.

But while this may be all fun and frolic, hosting house parties brings with it plenty of challenges, especially if you are a bachelor like me, and there are several things you must take care of before you let all your ‘kaminey’ friends into your house. As a host and as a resident in a shared space, you need to show your friends a good time and keep the house safe simultaneously. While this may mean more work for you for a few days before the party, remember that it’s all for a good cause!

So here are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to host a house party:

  • Keep good speakers and an even better playlist on hand to set the right party ambiance.
  • Place a mattress, carpet or cushions in empty spaces around your house, so your guests have plenty of places to sit and chill.
  • Make sure you have enough food and drink to last the night.
  • Keep a shoe-rack outside your door to encourage people not to bring their footwear inside.
  • Keep lined dustbins in every room to minimize trash on the floor.
  • Ensure that you have doormats in every room as well.
  • As there are food and drink everywhere, it makes sense to leave plenty of napkins and newspaper around to minimize damage control after the party.
  • If any area is out-of-bounds to guests, make sure to lock it beforehand as you can’t prevent people from moving around once the party kicks off.
  • Most guests typically bring along people that you may not know, so keep all your valuables safely tucked away before the party.

As the night progresses, your guests will slowly settle into their roles and carve their space for themselves. As long as you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and stocked your house with enough food and drink for everyone present, sit back, relax, and let the party take its course- you never know just how exciting your night could turn out! Remember, however, that most often, the host ends up having to drive everyone back home safe and sound- so be prepared for that. But otherwise, this is your party too, so go ahead and have a great time!

What do you think is your house party character? Are you a Story-Man or more of a Gaming-Guy?

Let us know in the comments!

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Going Green in a World of Grey

If you really get down to it, almost every one of us has the innate desire to do something for our environment and for our health- often, the two go hand in hand. Living in a city, however, comes with its fair share of environmentally unsustainable practices – from buying packaged food at supermarkets to driving on congested roads – and doing your bit for the planet might seem like a rather unattainable idea. Fortunately for those of us in Bangalore, there are some hardworking citizens out there who have created innovative and fun-filled platforms for us to go and engage in discussions and activities that promise to make our urban lifestyles more responsible. Here is a list of some regular environmentally-oriented events that happen in Bangalore.

Earth Friendly Choices

This is an event conducted once every month – usually on the first Saturday – by Aikyam Community for Sustainable Living. It is a space for anyone who wants to know more and do more about reorienting our urban lives in a sustainable manner. Every session sees a few experts from different areas of sustainable action, be it waste segregation, fair trade, tree plantation, lake restoration etc. come in and share their stories with the rest of the audience. This is then followed by an interactive session where everybody present can ask questions, clear doubts or share their own experiences and information.

The objective of the event is implied in its name- it is all about getting citizens to make more responsible choices because ultimately, it is each individual’s choices that have the potential to reshape the future of our planet. Whether you want to further engage in environmental volunteer work, or listen to success stories directly from the mouths of the people who created them, Earth Friendly Choices is the place to be for you.

You can follow the Aikyam community and find out more about their activities here:

Sustainability Drinks Bangalore

With nine editions to their name so far, Sustainability Drinks Bangalore is conducted by Ecofolk on a monthly basis at The Humming Tree in Indiranagar and is another platform for exploring innovative ideas in the field of sustainability. Just like Earth Friendly Choices, it is a space where you can listen to and interact with interesting speakers and learn all about how we can, as a community, create a cleaner and greener future for the city and the planet.

The aim of Ecofolk is to generate more awareness around conscious consumption among people. If you’re interested in more of what they do, you can find them here:

Organic Terrace Gardening Workshops

The idea of growing by yourself the food that you consume is an extremely appealing one; when you grow your own food, you can be sure of what goes into it and you can keep all those harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers away. That said, in a busy and rather congested city like Bangalore, most of us live in matchbox-sized apartments with just one balcony in the name of outdoor space and maybe a terrace if we’re lucky. And so, most of us are living under the assumption that fruits and vegetables can only be grown in a nice big garden or backyard.

The team at My Dream Garden is here to dispel that myth and show you how you can grow a significant portion of the food you eat in your own house. Their workshops happen about once a month, and they also provide you with a terrace gardening starter kit. My Dream Garden can also assist you in setting up your own terrace/balcony garden and can provide you with all the material that you would require, including seeds, potting soil, organic fertilizer and pesticide as well as innovative space-saving planters. So start small, but get those green thumbs working!

Find out more about My Dream Garden here:

Oota from your Thota

If you’re still convinced that you don’t have the space to grow your own food or if you aren’t able to grow everything you want but still want to consume healthy, sustainable and fair priced produce, go to an Oota From Your Thota event. Literally translating to ‘food from your garden’, OFYT is basically the urban environmentalist’s version of shopping festivals like Soul Sante and other flea markets.

OFYT happens once every few months and offers everything that you would want to lead a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, including organic fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, oils as well as seeds and home gardening solutions. Often, there are also composting and gardening workshops for children and adults alike, as well as numerous food stalls selling some delectable sustainable cuisine. It is also a space for organic terrace gardeners from all over Bangalore to come together and exchange their surplus produce.

So be on the lookout for an OFYT announcement, take a Sunday off and come celebrate an organic lifestyle with the rest of the community!

You can find them here:

The Ugly Indian Spot fixes

With more than one event every week, the spot-fixes organised under the banner of The Ugly Indian are one of the most popular events in the city that bring together people of all age groups and from all walks of life for a good cause – to clean up the garbage that is mindlessly scattered all over the city and to make its nooks and corners cleaner and more beautiful with every session.

The main principles that The Ugly Indian operates under are anonymity and the act of actually “doing”. They are all about going out there and just getting the work done without wasting time and effort on technicalities. They also emphasize not looking for personal rewards for your actions. The impact created by The Ugly Indian is visible all over the city- they clean and restore black spots, pavements, underpasses, flyovers and practically any other space that could use restoration. The work done in their name is a clear testament to the responsibility and power that individual citizens have in making their city a better place. So go get your hands dirty, explore your painting skills and help eliminate Bangalore’s garbage problem- one spot-fix at a time.

You can check out some of The Ugly Indian’s wonderful success stories as well as find out about upcoming spot-fixes here:

Whether you want to pick up a shovel and dig up some soil or clear out some garbage, there are actually innumerable ways in which you can contribute to making this planet more habitable for future generations as well as for your own, even with your busy city lifestyle. The important thing is to actually take that first step. So go out there, talk to others who can help you get better at being environmentally responsible and start living a better life today!

If you know of other events in the city that operate along the same lines, let us know in your comments.


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Of tea, rolling hills and so much more

Rolling hills of Ooty

On hearing the name Ooty, several things are likely to come to your mind- rolling hills, cold weather, hot tea and of course, remnants of a British occupancy. For centuries now, Ooty has been a frequented destination, especially during the summers. Over these years, the town has changed beyond recognition in ways both good and bad. However, it remains a coveted holidaying location for youngsters and families alike. Some of us, though, are lucky enough to call this beautiful place home! So if you are planning to visit this ‘Queen of the Blue Hills’ as it is fondly referred to, here are some of my favorite things to do as a resident, that will hopefully help make your trip a memorable one.

The drive to Ooty from Bangalore itself is a great one. Take the Mysore-Bandipur-Masnagudi route, and you will be blessed with some great views of forests and valleys. You are also very likely to spot several wild animals including deer, wild boar, and elephants as you drive through Bandipur-Masnagudi. As you start nearing Ooty, chances are high you will drive through and over massive clouds, especially if you come in around the evening. Once you are here, you will be tempted to drive or walk around a lot more even if nobody expressly recommends it.

Take the roads on the outskirts- far away from the hue and cry of the town, they also offer stunning views of the surrounding valleys and tea estates. One of my favorite driving routes around the city is the road through Chamaraj Tea Estate. There is also an artistic little tea stall here where you can sample all the tea flavors that Chamaraj produces in its factory a small way down. Beware of the bison population in this area though; they don’t usually do any harm, but be careful nonetheless. Do take a walk to Valley View in Lovedale- you will be able to look into the valley for miles around, and if you’re lucky, you can also catch the famous toy train emerging from an old tunnel.

Speaking of which, if you have a day to spare, take a trip on this train. It goes all the way to Mettupalayam, but you can take it to Coonoor at least if you can’t make it the whole way. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is renowned all over the south for the route it takes- through forests, plantations, beautiful terrace farms as well as some springs and waterfalls. The going will be slow because the route has a lot of twists and turns, but the views will make it worth your while.
True to its tourist-destination name, Ooty has several attractions on offer for visitors- the Rose Garden, the Ooty Lake, Doddabetta (which is the highest mountain peak in Tamil Nadu), heritage schools and properties among others. Two of my favorite places to visit the town, however, is the Government Botanical Garden and the Ooty Main Market.

The Botanical Garden is one of Ooty’s oldest establishments, and it attracts lakhs of people during its annual flower show every summer. If you are okay with such massive crowds, this is something you shouldn’t miss. If you’d rather avoid that though, I’d suggest visiting just after the flower show. A lot of the more exotic specimens will still be on display, and you can enjoy the place in peace sans crowds. To be honest, visiting the place any time of the year would be worth the effort. It is a massive property with several winding routes lined with trees and flowering plants of every kind imaginable. You can spend hours here just walking up and down these paths. There are also several artistic displays within the park, as well as a museum dedicated to the Todas, the local tribe of Ooty.

The Ooty Market, on the other hand, is a whole different world. Every time I visit, I am overawed by the sheer visual appeal of the place. Ooty and its surrounding areas are blessed with fertile soil and the kind of cold climate that best suits vegetable farming. Ooty is particularly famous for root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Farmers from all around bring their produce to the market every day and the colors you will see here make this place a photographer’s dream come true. There are whole alleys dedicated to selling just fruit, or only bananas or even just dozens of varieties of garlic. Speak to the shopkeepers as much as you can- they are purebred locals and can tell you so much more about Ooty and how it’s changed over the years. If you like broccoli, stock up on it while you’re here- you’re unlikely to find it being sold so cheap elsewhere in South India!
If you want to venture a little further outside of town, it’s a good idea to drive down to the Avalanche Lake and Wildlife Sanctuary. While it’s unlikely that you will actually spot much wildlife during the daytime, the safari offered by the park officials takes you through some very lush forest areas and you will be able to stop by the crystal clear Avalanche lake as well as see plenty of the shola forests that formed the original landscape of the Nilgiris before the British more or less eradicated them with their tea and eucalyptus plantations. Luckily for us, however, several organizations are now involved in proper reforestation of these areas using indigenous species.

When it comes to food, Ooty has something for everyone. If you’re looking for something old that Ooty is famous for, look no further than Shinkow’s- it is Ooty’s local Chinese establishment that has been operating for several decades and has even been featured in movies like Kapoor and Sons. The Culinarium and the Frugal Gourmet are some of the more high-end options that are recommended by locals. The Culinarium is the place for you if you’re looking to sip on some beer and indulge in some to-die-for desserts (for craft enthusiasts, there is a Pony store attached to the restaurant that will take care of all your needle-and-thread needs). Nahar is another local favorite, whether you’re looking to eat some good old South Indian breakfast or a sumptuous North Indian thali for lunch. You could also check out Pankaj Bhojanalay- though its prices are much higher than what they used to be decades ago, it is still rated one of Ooty’s best restaurants on TripAdvisor and is excellent for its unlimited Jain thalis.

My favorite restaurant in Ooty however, would have to be The Place to Bee. An initiative of the Keystone Foundation in nearby Kotagiri, this place operates along a “slow food” philosophy. As the term suggests, it stands for everything that fast food doesn’t- healthy, clean food that is locally sourced. And the cherry on top is that the taste of the food will blow your mind! They serve mostly Italian cuisine, and you will not go wrong with any of their pizzas or pasta. I also strongly recommend the cheesecake and the pannacotta from their dessert menu that is served with a seasonal sauce (I am quite partial to the mango in summers). The restaurant also has a bee museum of sorts as the foundation is heavily involved in working with native honey-collectors. It will also be worth your while to visit the well-stocked store under the restaurant that offers you several organic, locally sourced food, cosmetic and cloth products.

Even after so many years of continuous tourism, there is a lot more to discover in Ooty. The place is a different shade of beautiful each season, so except during the rains when landslides make it entirely inaccessible, you can actually visit anytime; just make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and sunscreen regardless of the season (it is actually unbelievably easy to get sunburnt during the daytime here, especially in winters).

Ooty, ultimately, is a melting pot of cultures- Tamilians, people from other parts of India who have been settled here for generations and of course, descendants of the native tribes. There is so much more to this place than what it has become famous for. See for yourself, put in that extra effort to peel back the layers and look at what you might find. Interacting with locals will help you here. Above all, be a responsible traveler- do not litter and respect the privacy and culture of the residents.

Do let us know what you like best about Ooty in the comments below!

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The Cubbon Park Experience

The famous Cubbon Park is one of the most favoured haunts of several citizens of Bangalore- whether they are humans or dogs. A brisk run or a leisurely walk in the park in the early hours of the morning is bound to leave you feeling refreshed and in high spirits for the rest of the day or maybe even longer; those of you who visit the place often will know exactly what I’m talking about here.

Photo by Duffy Brook on Unsplash

If you’ve been in Bangalore for a while now, I’m quite sure you would have made it to Cubbon at least a few times (I refuse to accept the possibility that you haven’t). If you are new to the city, however, and are wondering where to start exploring, pick a weekend and drop by Cubbon Park in the morning- I guarantee you will instantly fall in love with both the park itself and with Bangalore for being home to such a beautiful space.

So first, a quick lesson on the place and its history. Established as long ago as 1870, the park is located in the central administrative area of the city and has several entrances to it (such as from Kasturba Road, Corporation Circle etc.). It was originally intended to be a 100-acre park in the middle of the city but has expanded to become much bigger over the years- a refreshing piece of information in a city that has become infamous for rapidly losing its green cover. Fun fact- it was originally called Meade’s Park before becoming Cubbon Park, and also officially acquired the name of Sri Chamarajendra Park in 1927 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the Wodeyar rule in Mysore.

The park is lush with all kinds of greenery- according to official reports, it houses over 96 plant species. Cubbon Park is also the address of several important governmental and non-governmental offices. Some of these include the High Court, the Museum building, the Central Library and the Press Club. As you walk around the park, you will also stumble upon several statues, some of the colonial ones dating back to the early 20th century.

The park is closed off to vehicles on Sunday mornings so that people can exercise or walk their dogs without the obstacles of traffic and noise- as a runner, this is why I prefer going on Sunday mornings. Moreover, the park is just buzzing with energy on the weekend mornings because of the sheer number of activities happening. Being there to witness it all and to soak in this energy along with the Sunday morning sunlight is a feeling that I’m finding rather difficult to express in words. I would definitely advise you to get out of bed and visit Cubbon on a Sunday morning, especially if it is going to be your first time there.

Cubbon Park
Cubbon Park

Weekends also see the park hosting several events- fitness related and otherwise too. There are at least a few marathons happening at the park every Sunday morning; these could be running, walking or cycling marathons. A quick look around social media is sure to let you in on the upcoming ones. These marathons are often corporate affairs, used as a promotional strategy by businesses, but you also find several activist groups running for social or environmental causes- see if you can find something that you would like to support and join the gang. Other fitness events that I’ve seen happening in the park include zumba, aerobics and so on. More often than not, you can register for these events on the spot as you walk in on them.

Even if you aren’t that much into fitness and exercise, Cubbon Park has several other kinds of activities to offer you; there are often photography walks, portrait painting workshops, city exploration walks as well as classical dance and music performances happening at the park on Sunday mornings- it’s a really good thing the park is big enough to let all these things happen simultaneously without obstructing each other!

Dog Park

At the end of the day however, the one major thing that actually draws me to the place is the dog park. Every Sunday, people from all over the city bring their dogs to Cubbon Park, where they have a designated, closed off space to run free and wild, and play with other dogs and humans. Even if you don’t have a dog, you can still go into this enclosure and play with all the lively, affectionate dogs there. The park is truly a dog lover’s heaven!

Another exciting thing about weekend mornings at Cubbon are all the fresh produce and food. Steamed and grilled corn are favourites among the crowds, as are the fresh mango and grape juice bottles that you will find being sold at several spots inside the park- they’re perfect for after your long and tiring run! There are several stalls including HOPCOMS that sell fresh fruit and vegetable produce and the crowds are usually quite dense around these locations. Several health food companies also set up counters to give you samples of their products—the taste of a ragi (finger millet) malt drink that I had from one of these counters after a run some weeks ago still lingers in the back of my mind! And if you aren’t particularly inclined towards any of these, there are some restaurants near Cubbon Park that are big crowd favourites for South Indian breakfast- my picks are Airlines Hotel and MTR.

People go to Cubbon Park for several reasons, and however different these motives may be, the fact is that there is something for everyone at Cubbon Park. Whether you want in on the energy and vibrancy of the place as you practise for that upcoming marathon, or you want to play with dogs of every size and breed imaginable, or you just want to spend some time alone, walking under trees that are several decades old and breathing the refreshingly clean air, Cubbon Park is sure to fulfil your wishes. Get yourself there and see what you find.

Let us know what you like about Cubbon Park in the comments below.

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Meeting a troupe of romantics

Qawwali performance by Ustad Ateeq Hussain Khan Bandanawazi and his troupe, Bandanawazi Qawwal

On the evening of November 17th, stories of Laila-Majnu, and the words of Kabir and Amir Khusrow came out to play at the auditorium in IIMB campus on Bannerghatta Road through a Qawwali performance by Ustad Ateeq Hussain Khan Bandanawazi and his troupe, Bandanawazi Qawwal.

The troupe, having previously performed at events like the Delhi Commonwealth Games and the International Sufi Festival at Turkey, took the audience through a two-hour long carnival of emotions with their music- frivolous one moment, and sombre the next. Of course, while the music may have been enjoyable in its own right, the conversational tones it took on so often, coupled with the wit and humour of their lyrics made one realise just how much beauty words can create if you just string them in the right order- much like pearls fit for a queen.

The couplets – designed to delight – were mainly in Hindi and Urdu, with a little bit of Persian. As each rhyme neared its end, you would wait for the punch line, because you knew that it was coming and that it was going to be good. The singers also doled out bits of information every now and then about Sufi culture in general, enabling one to appreciate the art all the more. Another interesting fact about this troupe was that while Sufism might be Islamic in its origins, they also sang songs of Krishna, lending a rather secular image to the group.

The singer and his troupe of wise romantics, as I like to call them, seemed to have created their own world and were letting us, the audience, into it for one elusive evening. As he sang, he was in turn a devotee, a preacher, a romantic, a wise guy and a broken heart. And while they may have been sitting on the floor, they sang with their whole bodies; if their words were saying something, their hands, tablas and harmoniums were echoing the very same message.

That passion, perhaps, was what was most prominent that evening. Music may be described in several ways- but if I had to pick, instead of referring to intricacy or finesse, I would call the performance one of raw emotion. And as a member of the audience, their energy, their fun and their state of ecstasy was absolutely contagious; even if you were sitting still to begin with, you were inevitably moving to the patterns, rhythms and repetitions by the end. It was as if a game was being played between the singers and their audience, each one passing the baton to the other with their responses. Every time the music was accentuated by a jubilant exclamation or a carefree laugh, the audience rejoiced alongside and every time their voices soared towards the end of a couplet, you felt your spirits soar with them.

The ensemble was rather minimalistic in terms of instruments, with the harmoniums and tablas being their only accompaniments. However, coupled with the consistent clapping by the performers and audience alike, it was the perfect complement to the chorus of voices, while the weight of the performance was borne in essence, by the words and their content.

The tabla had its moment of glory towards the end of the performance when all other voices and instruments went silent to let its commanding beats echo off the walls of the auditorium. The troupe performed several crowd favourites as well, including lines from Chaap Tilak (of Coke Studio fame) and Mast Qalandar. Even Bollywood found a place for itself that evening in the form of an authentic Qawwali rendition of Khwaja Mere Khwaja.

All the revelations about life and love that emerged that evening made the whole affair feel like a light-hearted conversation about weightier issues over a steaming cup of Suleimani chai. And while their words and expressions may have made the troupe seem like observers of and commentators on life, it felt as if ultimately, all they were trying to say was, don’t take life too seriously; make music of it instead.

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