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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

A weekend in Mysore

By Nirupama Rajan

Whether you call it Mysore or Mysuru, the city is next only to Namma Bengaluru in terms of its popularity in Karnataka. The stories of Tipu Sultan in our history books as we grew up, the extensive coverage of the place every Dussehra and the far-reaching fame of the Mysore Zoo are only a few of the many things that have ensured that practically every Indian would know something or the other about this clean, green and rather quiet city. But while you may have basked in the grandeur of the Mysore Palace or driven up the Chamundi Hill as part of some long-forgotten school excursion or family pilgrimage, Mysore is certainly much more than what meets the eye. So here are a few things apart from the giraffes and tigers at the zoo that you should check out if you make it to Mysore on a weekend.

If you can, ride or drive down yourself to enjoy the scenic route from Bangalore to Mysore- although I must say that the views from the huge windows of the Shatabdi Express do offer tough competition!

Drop by the lakes

As far as cities go, Mysore is one that is abundant in natural settings. The city is surrounded by forests, hills, and lakes that attract several species of birds, animals and critters. Two very popular lakes are the Kukkarahalli Lake and the Karanji Lake. Kukkarahalli is a very popular jogging spot and Mysoreans claim that almost every resident in the city would have, at some point, visited this scenic ‘kere’ for a peaceful walk by the water. The sunset views at Kukkarahalli are also something you shouldn’t miss. Karanji Lake, on the other hand, was once more popular for the non-human species that it would attract; it is definitely still an ecologically rich spot that is home to several species of birds and endangered butterflies. Information boards in the area will tell you more about these, but let’s hope that restoration brings this lake back to its former glory.

Pedal boating is also an option in Karanji if that is something that interests you.

Hike up unexplored paths on Betta

The Chamundi Hill, fondly referred to as “betta” by the locals, may be famous the country over for its temple and gigantic Nandi statue visited by hundreds of pilgrims every day, but away from the sacred bells and the tourist buses, there are some serene, largely unexplored paths for the hiker in you to explore. One in particular, lying just off the Nanjangud route, leads to an abandoned watch tower; if you are able to muster the courage to ignore the creaky steps, the suspicious holes left behind by the planks of wood that have fallen from the platform and go all the way to the top, you would find yourself witness to a spectacular visual treat- a bird’s eye view of almost the entire city, the surrounding hills, lakes and even the tracks – thin as strands of hair from up here – left behind by other cyclists and hikers. So take some time out and make sure you explore the roads not taken on betta!

Chamundi Hill temple

Go on a two-wheeled adventure

Cycling is a Mysore favourite. The Mysore Cycling Club, in association with Cyclopedia – a store for all your cycling needs – conducts cycling expeditions almost every weekend along routes in and around Mysore. The forest route on betta is a regular, although you could choose to cycle up the normal betta route as well. However, they conduct more intensive 50-100 km long expeditions to locations outside Mysore too. You can always rent a bicycle suited to these trips from the Cyclopedia store.

While on the subject, ‘Trin Trin’ is now a popular system in Mysore that allows tourists and locals alike to pick up cycles from one of their many stations in the city and drop them off at any other station by means of a smart card, for a pretty small fee. So even if you’re just going around the popular tourist spots, you can do that on two wheels!

Grab a bite the Mysore way

No list of popular restaurants in Mysore can be complete without mentioning Mylari- the original one. Mylari is a seemingly nondescript little restaurant that offers some of the best dosas to have ever existed on the face of this planet. Space inside is tiny and crammed with small tables that are almost always full; a board duly informs you that this is the only Mylari there is and that they have no branches anywhere else in Karnataka- so don’t be fooled by others trying to mooch off of Mylari’s fame.

For all the vegetarians, vegans and health-enthusiasts out there, Dhaatu is a must try for both their local favourites as well as their more innovative creations, offering several millet-based and gluten-free options. Café Maya is also very popular among tourists – especially those from across borders – in particular for their pizzas. Also, drop by Pataka in the evening for some tastebud-tingling chaat and rabri, and for dinner afterward, head to Barge, Mysore’s first microbrewery currently offering four great home brewed beers guaranteed to give you that end-of-trip happy buzz!

Make some healthy choices

Something that gets overshadowed by the fame of the palace and the zoo is the city’s affinity for yoga and healthy lifestyle choices. However, while Mysore can offer you the best of yogic training, its very popularity has led to mass commercialization of yoga in the city and a significant decline in its spiritual value in several cases. So sure, go spend at least a few weeks in Mysore to immerse yourself in spirituality and healthy living, but make sure you seek out authentic guides and not somebody who is just doing it for the money.

Mrinali, Aayana Yoga
Photo Credits: Mrinali, Aayana Yoga

Also, drop by the stores at Dhaatu and Café Maya to choose from their wide range of organic and sustainable products so you can bring about some environmentally responsible changes in your life.

Step into the house of a legend

Another rather less-known fact is that Mysore is lucky enough to call itself the home of legendary Indian writer R K Narayan, the creator of our beloved Malgudi. He is said to have lived in his Mysore house for over four decades, and it has now been converted into a two-storey museum showcasing several photographs, portraits and personal memorabilia that will take you back in time and leave you feeling nostalgic as you remember and miss the well-loved author responsible for some of our most memorable childhood moments spent in the pages of his books.

weekend in mysore rk narayan museum

So there you have it! Mysore is just a stone’s throw away from here and there is no dearth of transport to get you there. So take a break from Namma Bengaluru this weekend and go uncover the secrets of Mysore- you never know what you might find!

Please leave a comment if you have any queries or mail us at contact@simplyguest.com

Solo Trip to Hampi

By Nirupama Rajan

One of the dreams of almost every young Bangalorean is to travel solo to at least a few of the places that Karnataka is famous for attracting tourists to. While choosing one option from this seemingly unending list of places is no small feat, if you have managed to narrow it down to Hampi, here are a few pointers that I hope will make your trip an even better one.

Solo Trip to Hampi

Whether you are a history buff looking for answers in the intricate stone carvings of this rocky wonderland, a writer hoping to find your voice in the stories that have unfolded here or merely someone looking to experience solo travel and see what all the fuss is about, everyone who visits Hampi is sure to find something very valuable to take back with them. While it is humanly impossible to detail all the places to visit and things to do while you’re there in one article, here’s my pick of the lot. Remember always when traveling, that it is never about how many boxes you check off of your ‘list of attractions’, but about what you take back from the ones you do experience, even if they are just one or two.

Getting there

The easiest option by far is to take a bus from Bangalore to Hospet. Both KSRTC and private companies offer plenty of these in sleeper, seater, AC and non-AC versions that cover the approximately 350 kms in 7-8 hours. Alternatively, you could take one of the several trains running from Bangalore to Hospet Junction. Hospet to Hampi is a distance of less than 15 kilometres and there are several government buses, private operators and autos that will help you cover this last bit of your journey there. You could also make a road trip of it and drive there in about 8 hours from Bangalore.

Accomodation

If comfort is a priority, I’d recommend staying in Hospet and making the trip from there to Hampi every day. I, for instance, stayed at Hotel Malligi in Hospet and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They have great rooms, several culinary options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians and a great spa to top it off. If you are looking for something a little more rustic or if you’re on a tight budget, Hampi itself offers several quirky albeit simplistic hotels near the main temple and on Hampi island (known as Viruppapura Gaddi locally, it is accessible by a quick boat ride across the Tungabhadra river). A favourite among many travellers is the Mango Tree hotel near the main Virupaksha Temple.

Travel while there

In getting to Hampi and traveling while there, I used almost every conceivable form of transport- government buses, private buses, taxis, private autos, share autos, scooters, mopeds, motor boats, coracles, bicycles and even one of those golf cart-like battery cars! Autos will always be around and I can’t stress this enough. Hospet to Hampi can cost you between 200-300 rupees by auto depending on the time of the day, and travelling from one spot to another inside Hampi will cost you roughly the same. For about 700-800 rupees, autos will drive you to several prime locations one after the other. You could also rent bicycles for as little as 150 rupees a day- this I figured is most efficient as it is inexpensive and also lets you navigate the many narrow mud roads. While on Hampi island, you can rent scooters and mopeds for about 200-300 rupees a day to cover the large distances from one spot to another; keep in mind though that you won’t be allowed to take these across the river. The river can easily be crossed using the ferry service or on coracles- an experience you definitely shouldn’t miss while there.

However, even with all these options, I would personally recommend walking as much as possible. Walking elevates your travel experience to a whole new level and nothing – no, not even cycling – can give you that feeling. Hampi is the kind of place where you can look closely at a random rock lying at the side of the path and chances are, you’ll find a centuries-old carving on it; there’s just so much you miss out on when you’re not walking. Moreover, walking encourages you to veer off the beaten path, once again leading to several wonderful discoveries on the way. With every step you take, Hampi tempts you into taking one more, drawing you further into its intricate web of ancient stories.

Food
Beware of the monkeys
Beware of the monkeys

Now this is a tad problematic. While you’ll find bananas and tender coconuts all over, finding actual, reassuring food in Hampi can be a little challenging. Of course, there are several restaurants both on Hampi island and near the Virupaksha temple, and while locals are highly likely to offer to share their food once you befriend them, if you are a fussy eater, it’s highly advisable to carry fruit or packed food with you. Beware of the monkeys though, they’re everywhere and will do anything for a few morsels!

Major historical sites


Where does this one begin and where does it end? Suffice it to say there are well over a hundred historical landmarks in Hampi and even if you stayed for a month, you wouldn’t be able to spend as much time as you’d want to in each of them. The most prominent one would be the Virupaksha temple, originally built well before the Vijayanagara Empire that brought Hampi its fame. It’s a great idea to start exploring Hampi outwards from this focal point. Around this temple, you’ll find the Jain Hemakuta temples and the Ganesha temples, as well as the Krishna Temple and Krishna Bazaar. A long walk along the river from the Virupaksha temple will take you to the Vitthala temples, which is also the site of the famous stone chariot, hall of musical pillars, king’s balance etc. A little distance away is Kamalapura, and in and around this area, you will stumble upon the Zenana Enclosure, the Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, the Queen’s Bath, the underground Shiva temple and so on. The Hazara Rama Temple is also a short walk from here. There are information boards at almost every site, but carrying a book along won’t hurt. You could also cross the river and visit the temples on Hampi island (note that the distances here are fairly large, so it’s a good idea to rent two-wheelers). All of these only form the tip of the iceberg that is Hampi; there are many sites that you will discover only once you go there and several others still being excavated and explored. Anyone can find something new and valuable in Hampi!

Other things to do

My favourite things to do in Hampi by far were to just keep walking or riding and stumbling upon great views unexpectedly in places that are completely off the tourist path. Mathanga hill near the Virupaksha temple and Anjanadri Hill (supposedly the site of Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom in the Ramayana) on the island provide unbelievable views of the sunrise and sunset and people flock to these points at these times. The museum at Kamalapura is full of artefacts and information boards- this one is a must for history buffs. There are several, chilled out restaurants with a shack-like feel on the Hampi island that you could unwind in towards the evening. Also visit the Daroji Bear Sanctuary and the Tungabhadra dam if you have any time left. Talk to locals, and they’ll probably give you ten more things to do and if you have an extra day, take a cab and visit Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- these sites are several hundred years older than Hampi and offer a whole new perspective of history.

Other things to keep in mind

Fending off guides and autos will probably be your biggest challenge, especially if you want to explore all by yourself- remember that it’s perfectly okay to do so, even if the guides insist that you won’t understand anything without their guidance. Talk to locals wherever possible without intruding upon their privacy- they will let you in on so much more information than you would get otherwise. Make sure you have one of those guide books, maps or postcard packs; it makes navigating and asking for information much easier. Wear comfortable shoes to make walking easy. There aren’t many places where you’d have to take them off anyway. Visiting Hampi during the off-season is just as much fun as the December-January period. Consider the rain and the heat though- the heat in Hampi can be really taxing. The sunrise and sunset views may also be elusive during the monsoons. Remember to carry water and food, but beware of monkeys. Most importantly, lose the phone and the headphones- it’s the only way you can truly lose yourself here.

Solo travel is what you make of it. It goes beyond the place you visit or your form of transport; no amount of reading up will prepare you for the actual experience; so sure, read up on all the articles you can find, or read none- the important step is to actually take that leap. Solo travel gives you the freedom to discover things on your own terms- that is the most enriching bit, so gift yourself the courage to do that.

Feel free to email me at contact@simplyguest.com if you have any queries regarding solo travel to Hampi, especially as a woman.

Solo travel to Hampi