Lepakshi

Here is where the famous symbol of a Nandi is really situated. The giant monolith of Nandi. Lepakshi is also famous for its miraculous hanging pillar.
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It is a heritage site thankfully being preserved and maintained by Archeological Survey of India. Its a nice one day drive for Bangaloreans. A mere 125 kms. For those who use public transport, you may find this post more useful.
From Bangalore it requires you to take any (KSRTC or Private service) bus that is headed towards Hindupur or Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, other route is to head towards Chikkaballapura(it may be easier to return from this route). You can board these buses without any prior booking from either Majestic bus station or Hebbal (opp Esteem mall) costs 80/- per head. It takes about 2-3 hours to reach Hindupur, take a drop and then look for a bus or local transport till Lepakshi. A bus or auto ride shouldn’t cost more than 20/- as per local rates, but since we looked to be from Bangalore, we paid almost 100/- for the ride. After about 1 hour the bus drops you right in front of temple, in the Lepakshi village.

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People tend to spend atleast 2 hours in this temple campus, as this campus holds quite intriguing pieces of art, and is a very relaxing place. Advise you to hire a guide who explain you many nuances of the campus, as most of them are very humble and you don’t need to haggle at all. Only thing disappointing was the haphazard town that has grown around and between this temple campus and the huge Nandi monolith – they are supposed to be a combined experience, the village around completely hampers this. It is sad, there was no one monitoring whenever this urbanisation took place.

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At the temple the stories and meanings behind all carvings and paintings will amaze you. All paintings being on the ceiling, have managed to still be visible, but this place needs some serious frescos done – well most heritage sites in India are subjected to ignorance. The famous hanging pillar is found here. The temple structure is supported by 80 pillars, however with certain dynamics of the architecture, the single hanging pillar holds the weight of rest 79 pillars. In the past whenever an architect or even British officers tried to bring support to the hanging pillar, there were cracks and crevices created into rest of the structure, deeming it to crumble soon. So it has remained hanging ever since. Every temple has a surrounding campus, with the main temple at the centre. A huge monolith of Nandi was placed to face the main temple at about 500 mts, however a disconnect has been created between the structures by the town – as I mentioned earlier.
Lepakshi 1

You can return by taking a bus either towards Hindupur or Chikkaballapura, or a local auto to the NH 7 highway junction (the locals will easily guide you), where you will find buses going towards Bangalore every 15 mins. In 2-3 hours you will be back in Bangalore.

Best time to visit this region is in the winters Nov- Jan.

Rann of Kachchh

IMG_0171Frankly, Rann of Kachchh somehow did not fascinate me before in my life, I perceived and assumed it will be an arid place with hot winds, without putting much thought into why do people even get so excited to visit it. Very ignorant of me, or so I chose to be for unknown reasons. It all started with a bunch of people in my group planning a trip to this place in the Republic day long weekend. It was then that while putting up the event for them on our group website and page, I came across beautiful images and ofcourse some information about the weather there. So it was going to be chilly, and colourful…to my surprise (ya I know how ignorant I am!!). The photographer in me literally wanted to run to the Rann..to capture all it had to offer.
Our group however this time did not follow a single common plan, We were 8 people traveling to Gujarat, but we got divided into 4 groups due to different choice of number of days, things to do, accommodation and also budget. I have tried to trace all of our itineraries into a single map, and the days spent vary from 6 – 3. Some added 2 more days to the long weekend, while some just opted to spend only the weekend.
Guj trip Map

Group 1 itinerary: (Red dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, hire taxi -> Adalaj -> Modhera -> Rani ka Vav in Patan -> Haveli in Sidhpur -> Halt for the night at Toran Resort
22nd – Dholavira ruins & Little Rann
23rd Check into Dhordo Tent City -> inclusive packages for Bhuj sightseeing, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th hire taxi to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2-3 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 35,000-40,000

Group 2 itinerary: (Brown dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, public transport -> Ahmedabad city -> Adalaj -> night train to Bhuj
22nd Check in to hotel Oasis in Bhuj -> local bus to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> back to Bhuj in bus -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th back to Bhuj -> Kutch Museum, Ramkund -> shopping in Bhuj -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000-30,000

Group 3 itinerary: (Green dot)
23rd land in Bhuj -> pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Check out Tent City -> Bhujodi village for craft shopping -> Kalo Dungar -> taxi to Nakhatrana (J.P. Resort) for night stay
25th taxi to Lakhpat Fort -> Narayan Sarovar -> Koteshwar Temple -> Nakhatrana -> Bhuj -> Vijay Vilas Palace in Mandvi -> Bhuj -> evening flight back to Bangalore
Cost of 1 night at Tent City – INR 6,500
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 30,000

Group 4 itinerary: (Blue dot) this one is mine, so I can give more detailed costs
22nd land in Bhuj in evening -> Check in to hotel Raj Mahal in Bhuj -> dinner -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd walk to Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal -> Sharad Baug -> check out of hotel -> hire taxi to Hodka village -> Bhujodi Village for shopping -> check in at resort Mehfeel-e-Rann -> Kalo Dungar -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th taxi to Kutch Fossil Park -> Lakhpat Fort -> Sunset at Rann, Moonrise at Rann -> evening at Rann Utsav shopping campus
25th taxi back to Bhuj -> check in to Divya Jyot Hotel -> Ramkund step well(missed Kutch Museum due to steep timings) -> taxi to Mandvi, Vijay Vilas Palace -> Ship building yard -> Mandvi Beach
26th check out from Bhuj -> morning fly back to Bangalore
Per head Cost of 2 nights at Hodka – INR 4,000 | Cost of stay in Bhuj – INR 1,200
Per head Flight BLR – BHUJ – INR 12,000 – 18,000
Per head Taxi fare for 3 days – INR 3,900
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 35,000

FOOD:

idli

Cocktail idli

Bhuj is famous for Dabeli, but finding a good Dabeli in Bhuj was not in my fate this time. Having a non-foodie companion does not help either. Our Taxi driver was also the most clueless guy and had basically no idea about a good Dabeli. We tried some in Mandvi at ‘Joshi dabeli’ thela which was again a wrong place. Group 2 apparently liked the Dabeli at Mandvi beach. I had a good enough one at Rann Utsav food stalls.
Farsani Duniya is a must visit in Bhuj, ask anyone for directions. Try to buy most of farsan items, all are equally good.
Green Rock gujarati thali is overrated, costs as much as it would in Bangalore, minus the good location or seating whatsoever.
Restaurant at Hotel Oasis is amazing with its south indian specialities, trust me when I say that as you won’t find those food items anywhere in South India itself. Cocktail idli-a truly amusing combination of spices I could not figure out, Chettinad masala idli to name some.
Meals served at Hodka/Mehfeel-e-Rann were awesome, Bajra Roti with Ghee and jaggery…yummy. Sabji was mostly undercooked, hence untouched by me.
Vegetarian food only, at best you might spot eggs through your trip.

STAY OPTIONS:

rann stay
As all of us took up quite different stay options depending on availability and affordability of the accommodation, here are some insights about them:
Rann Utsav Dhordo Tent City Accommodation – Costs about INR 13,000 per night for a twin sharing tent, one bed extra costs a bit more.
http://www.rannutsav.net/accommodation/
In all it is not a bad deal, unlike the reviews you will read on trip advisor. The cost includes scrumptious and freshly prepared meals, coordinated trips to most of important places of attraction, pickup and drop facility from Airports/Stations, with many other amenities within Tent campus.
Hodka Village, Mehfeel-e-Rann – This place offers an authentic mud hut stay, decorated Kachchhi style, neat and clean, well-maintained and extremely cordial service with absolutely no flaws. Costs about INR 2,000 per night including all 3 meals in a day. They accommodate your taxi driver without any questions (I think they have tie-ups), food for driver will also be provided without any extra costs. Tea is really nicely done, if you are a fan of perfectly prepared Chai. The hut facility in all is very scenic and comfortable.
hodka
Nakhatrana, JP Resort – According to Group 3, this was an excellent location to be in, as most attractions are merely at 1 hour distance from here. Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar or Bhuj or Mandvi. They basically were able to cover all these 3 locations while their 1 night stay (2 half days).
Bhuj, Raj Mahal Hotel – A not so good looking or neat place, but as we got it for a good discount, costed INR 800 for a twin sharing room for 1 night. Worked. Walkable from Bhuj Bus station. All tourist atttractions mentioned in this post are at walkable 10 min radius from this Hotel. Reaching here from Airport or Railway Station may cost between INR 100-120.
Bhuj, Hotel Oasis – This is located slightly away from the central area of Bhuj, but you can manage to walk into most of town from here. Costed between INR 800-1,000 for 1 night. They have a good restaurant I already mentioned.
Bhuj, Hotel Divya Jyot – This facility is horrible for the price, worse than a hostel, rooms are almost without much privacy, you can hear the reception area all the time, with screaming guests. Its location is very near to the Airport though just 2 kms, auto will cost about INR 60. Costed INR 1,400 for a night (supposedly discounted)

ATTRACTIONS:

rann sun moon
Rann of Kachchh – Undoubtedly the most special thing of this trip. First tip is to carefully find a taxi guy who is really knowledgeable about which spot to take you to. Mostly you will find them along with Tent City packages, or if you are lucky to find one in Bhuj. Our taxi guy was clueless and repeatedly took us to all the most touristy spots only, heavily crowded, even at the Rann. Little Rann of Kachchh is way better to be at so I heard, try go there instead. The Moonrise is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll come across, plan for a full-moon night.
chi lamps
Luckily on our first visit to the Rann a night before full moon, we had a wonderful surprise – a group of people lighting and sailing off Chinese lamps into the sky. I tried very hard to capture on my cameras..but in vain (I just don’t know how to get my cam settings for the night!). What a beautiful sight was it, I wish it went on..they were apparently having a photoshoot going on there.
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A night before full moon, the moon is almost full and rises early for you to be able to capture its image, so it was a good time anyway.

kalodungar sun moon
Kalo Dungar – Don’t  know why it is named as a ‘Black mountain’, it hardly appears so, but being the highest point in Rann, is definitely a breathtaking sight from here. Evening is a good time to visit this place, as you see the misty vast expanse of Rann of Kutch Lake that blends into the horizon. You can only wish that such a sight is of the Arabian sea from here..its not, its the lake enclosing Dholavira site. Life like installations of animals found in the area are displayed at Kalo Dungar.
kalo dungar

Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal – Located in the same campus, Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal are opposites that are evidence of contrasting cultures which colonialism brought into India. Aina Mahal is built inside a small portion of the dilapidated state of a Queen’s Residence, which follows traditional architecture and is ofcourse left alone to perish with time. On the other hand, Prag Mahal the completely out of place and the only European style building in the old city of Bhuj, is completely renovated and far better maintained than its Indian neighbour. They keep a bold sign board stating that the Queen’s Residence suffered due to 2001 earthquakes, but is that an excuse or a memorial for the earthquake itself? we’ll never get the logic.
Prag Aina 1

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Few paintings of Mastani, the famous dancer-lover from Peshwa Bajirao’s court are displayed here. Wiki says she was exiled or prisoned somewhere at this site until she died.

Ramkund – A very small step well, almost unimportant. There may be stories about it, required to find someone who can tell you. From this place you can see the Prag Mahal across the Bhuj Lake, where is sits like a stranger in the otherwise traditionally build town of Bhuj.

Sharad Baug Palace – The Palace was damaged in 2001 earthquake, and as you will get used to listening to this excuse for most of heritage sights in this region, you will know how you are slowly being pushed to lose interest in these places. Don’t know why the authorities don’t get this, no tourist – no revenue. The belongings of the Haveli are being showcased in the outhouse of this Haveli, which is the usual aristocratic stuff like china ware, silver ware and dead stuffed wild animals owned by the Maharaja.
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Bhujodi Village – You will read a lot of about this place as one of tourist spots. Turns out our taxi driver did not have much idea and he left us somewhere at the beginning of the village, which had pretty okay sort of stuff to buy, and not such reasonable prices. The real village with all craftsmen is much inside, so please find out and go.
bhujodi

Kutch Fossil Park – This place is much less known, and clearly our taxi guy had never heard about it. Thankfully some road signs helped us reach the location, because when in Kachchh you just cannot rely on the phone network. Airtel stays perennially down. The Fossil collection is amazing, and thankfully a very well informed guide available at your service to explain everything to you.
fossil park

Lakhpat Fort – This place is probably the closest you can get to the Border area, its arid and dry, but offers a beautiful view nonetheless – a vast expanse of sand and sea which turns into nothing with shortcomings of human vision. Definitely a very important place from historical point of view.
lakhpat

Mata na Madh – A typical temple shrine dedicated to a diety/goddess. I was told that its a very holy shrine, where people from Mumbai side walk on foot to reach here during Navratri. I’m not so religious so hardly ever visit such places, because they are so damn commercialised, and lose their real structure or old architecture to cater to large volumes of devotees. Our Taxi driver was hell-bent on taking us there, and he did. Disappointment and nothing else. overcrowded and nothing too beautiful to marvel at. Only devotees know what it means, not me.

Vijay Vilas Palace – A beautiful palace, having featured in many films by now, is being badly maintained by the Govt. and why not, they barely charge a INR 5,000 per hour for holding family functions. That’s it? no wonder they can’t gather funds to maintain this place. When we went there, a tamboo-tent was being set up for some marriage function. Shame. Would have loved to walk to the little hilly side of estate around this property facing the sea, it would have given a nice view of the place. But my companion wasn’t keen as usual in doing anything out of tourist-list. We enjoyed the wind on Palace’s top floor for a while, thank god for that.
vijay vilas

Mandvi Beach – A relatively less crowded beach, you can sight this beach from top of Vijay Vilas Palace. You can see the windmills installed on this beach, which are out of use and in ignored condition. You can try the Dabeli here, please do not litter on the beach.

Mandvi Ship building Yard – If you happen to pass this place, you can view huge ships being built on the side of a very dirty stream of a river, clogged with human waste and neglect.

Dholavira Archeological site – Only one of our groups had been here, and as told it is definitely an important site from historical perspective, being the only place as old as Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Try to do it.

I have to admit, this trip was a fail for me as I did not plan it well enough to fulfil my photography endeavours at all. I learnt to follow one thumb rule this time – always try look for a photographer’s company, who will understand the importance of stopping in middle of nowhere just to click a perfect shot. Unfortunately this time even though the planned group comprised of so many photographers, I happened to choose a different itinerary than them. My bad. It was partially due to lack of time, and money as well. As always, even though I hate it, I end up following a tourist trail like crazy..because people often want to “Cover” all places they heard or read about. Its hilarious how I never end up traveling like I want to 🙂 just to please everyone around me.
Full moon light shining on the white ground was definitely a sight I will cherish forever.

1000 km long weekend

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It was long weekend in the offing, and as no surprise – everything and anything within 500 Km radius of Bangalore will not remain available. And we just hate booking off place well in advance – a week or 2 before the date arrives..works fine for us. We started by browsing the map for leads to places that could be seen in a window of a day or 2 if not for the complete 4 days of long weekend. There was no chance of settling for a homestay somewhere in typical picturesque options like Chikmagalur/ Shimoga/ Sakleshpur, first because Bangaloreans won’t leave out anything unbooked! second because we usually aren’t the relaxing kind and would ultimately not use most amenities at the stupid homestays.. we just won’t stay in the homestay.
wkend map
Hassan seemed like a very good option, as it seemed to be a centre from all places of visit like the heritage sites of Halebidu-Belur-Belavadi circuit, or the coffee plantation trails of Sakleshpur and the historical Manjrabad Fort, and bang next to the spooky(and so photogenic) ruins of Shettihalli Church. To add, accommodations are always available at Hassan, simply because most of tourist-type Bangalore doesn’t consider Hassan (just yet)
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We headed early morning from Bangalore on the NH48 to Hassan. We decided to check out Shravanbelagola on our way, which was a slight off from the highway we were taking. At Shravanbelagola, you need to trek the rocky hill with bare foot, no shoes, since it is a religious landmark. No wonder not many people do it. The scorching heat made the rock floor unbearable, wouldn’t dare to try. The hill isn’t small one either. We gazed at it from far and left the zone. Having breakfast and butt-breaks along some A2B’s & Adigas & CCDs we reached Hassan at about 2:30 pm. We checked in, and relaxed planning for our next jaunts. Free Wi-Fi does work sometimes.

Next morning after our complimentary breakfast we headed straight towards Sakleshpur, in about an hour we were there. A mere 45-50 kms. We reached Manjrabad Fort. Its a nice place, but full of plastic filth dumped there by the tourists. There is not even a single dustbin installed in that entire area of the fort, I’m sure there can be a job created for a care-taker & some management, IF locals are willing to do it sincerely.
manjrabad
We spent a good hour meandering its octagonal outline and clicking pics, and by 12 we were out driving by coffee estates on outskirts of Sakleshpur. On the way we spotted almost all the homestays we had checked out online while considering staying plan a week ago. They didn’t seem half as good a idea compared with what we were doing currently (and paying currently). While having lunch at a recommended joint in Sakleshpur, we decided to head for Belur-Halebidu-Belavadi in the next half. Watching sunset at Shettihalli was high on list but there was too much time on hand till then. So we moved on post lunch to Belur, and we were done by all 3 by 4 pm. We decided to head back to Hassan and sip some chai before we can move to Shettihalli, which was about 20 kms down from Hassan. It was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Hassan and sun was already on its way down once we finished tea. Considering Shettihalli Church being at a secluded zone and almost unknown to crowds, we decided it will be better to do it early in the morning.

At Hassan you can dine away your hearts full at Ramaa Hotel’s Swaad restaurant. The food was amazing and has some very good Icecream Sundae options. The place is quite a hit will locals it seems and also people from near by villages. It was packed on all days.

Next morning we started to see the ruins of Shettihalli Church. The sight is no doubt breathtaking, and thankfully still not thronged with people. May be because there isn’t much to do there, and the vendors have decided to spare this place as a potential customer base. It remains quiet and secluded for a equally quiet picnic spot, with birds enjoying the waters of the Gorur-Hemavathi Reservoir, also a few boatman.
shettihalli

Our stay at Hassan was getting over and we headed next towards the district of Coorg – to Madikeri. I don’t have much to talk about Madikeri, as it was quite ugly as expected. A hill-station but ofcourse ruined by now with the advent of tourist culture and ‘Traffic’ created by tourist vehicles. We generally just walked around, missing out every tourist-spot mentioned in the book. Weather was too warm for October with slight mist forming on our bike seats and helmets – thats about it.
windmill scene
The route while driving to Madikeri & back was more scenic than the place itself. Homestays ofcourse make more sense if you want to experience a hill-station. Unfortunately, all the famous restaurants that serve Coorg curries and appams were for some reason not working. ‘Taste of Coorg’ had a very bad stink inside its serving area …for which I will probably never enter it again in this life. ‘Raintree’ was only serving Chinese that day. These are the top Tripadvisor recommendations! I was able to find the coorg chicken curry at Hill View hotel, which was lipsmacking! Once I’ve had my fill of coorgi food, I was ready to go back to the hustle-bustle of Bangalore. The bike meter displayed about a 936 Kms covered on this trip.

Hassan – Hotel Mayura International – Rs.1600/- per night (includes Breakfast, Free Wi-Fi, TV, neat and clean rooms, Parking)
Swaad Restaurant at Hotel Ramaa – Meal for 2 (Rs.250-400/-)
Hotel Mythri, Sakleshpur – Meal for 2 (Rs.250/-)
Madikeri – Hotel Hill View – Rs.1500/- per night (Wi-Fi, TV, parking)
Raintree Restaurant – Meal for 2 (Rs.300/-)

Heritage site hopping weekend

Our Weekend plan was to hop starting from Badami – Mahakoota – Patadakkal – Aihole – upto Bijapur. We did this on a July weekend, 2015.

Bijapur way

We started our planning about 2 weeks before it. Our itinerary was based on some research and discussions amongst us over emails. We were 7+1 kiddo.

We took a train from Bangalore, Golgumbaz express 16536, to Badami. It goes up to Bijapur, but we wanted to head up by starting at the bottom (see map). All of us boarded from different stations and finally set out of Bangalore by 6:30 p.m. The train ran on time, and we reached Badami at 8 am.
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At Badami Station, as we walked outside, it is easy to hire a 6 seater taxi to the only Govt.accommodation, Hotel Mayura, at a cost of Rs.100. We spoke to the same guy to take us around Badami, Mahakoota, Aihole & Pattadakal for the whole day. I think we fixed him for some 2000 bucks for the day.
At the hotel, they are quite humble and check-in or check-out timings are not very strict and they often cut you some slack. They let us check in early. We freshened up, had a nice breakfast at the hotel canteen itself, and headed out.
We decided that we will check out Badami caves at the end of the day, so we first headed for Mahakoota, as it seemed to be nearest from there.
mahakoota 1Thankfully, this beautiful site was not flanked with crazy noisy tourists. We spent way too much time there thinking where will we get this serenity again. We realised at about 12 pm that we had to move faster to cover rest of the places.
Next we headed for Pattadakal. We skipped lunch, because we knew if we stopped some more, we’d have to drop something for next day, but that was out of question. Next day was dedicated to Bijapur. None of us was sure what we had planned for Bijapur, and you will notice later that we regretted it badly the next day.
Back to Pattadakal:
pattadakalWe hired a guide to tell us about the UNESCO protected site, stories I really cannot recollect, but they were not special enough either, which is surprising. We spent about 2 hours there, before heading for Aihole.

Aihole, sadly, is a much more pretty site, and tattered as much – not cared for. But why and how does UNESCO decide to ignore such an intriguing site? Aihole, if you go inside the museum, is an entire town full of ruins and remains, but only a 20% of that part has been made into a tourist campus. Heartbreaking to see the state of rest of precious ruins on your ride through the village. Don’t know how it is still hidden from all history buffs and archeological enthusiasts.
aihole 1

I almost unwillingly left from Aihole, as I had not been able to explore it fully. But we had to head for Badami, and did not want to stall everyone’s plans either. We rode off to Badami caves..our final heritage site for the day.

Badami caves are a less-expected surprise. I couldn’t help them compare with Petra in Jordan, but thats unfair as I haven’t been there. Badami is no less a marvel though, with what technology were these guys able to cut off the rocks and go deep in them?
badami caveIt was almost close to closing time at 6 pm, so we hurried up to check out the caves. The slight trek upwards is the one with a gated security, otherwise you can go walk at the foot of the same hill and go see some more caves at the bottom, there are some other interesting ceramic statues on that path as well.
badami 2But as the sun the was going down, we figured the site across the lake at Badami was an interesting spot to be, with many more heritage buildings visible on the hill that side.
badami 3We sprinted down the hill and asked our auto guy to transport us to other side of river through teeny tiny lanes of Badami town. In next 5 minutes were there, and the gate to climb up the hill to the monuments was thankfully still open. We hurried up, trying to touch every mandalam we could lays our eyes on. One of them has a specially narrow secluded way twisted between huge rocks, we somehow managed to climb through it. It was worth the view from top!
badami 4But the most breathtaking view is undoubtedly to walk till the end of the ghat.. at the rims of the lake, you see the beautiful temple with a great backdrop of a rocky hill.
badami 1We then headed for the resort to get dinner and a goodnight’s sleep, for early wake up next morning.

Next day, a sunday, we rushed to the railway station to catch the same train we had got off the last day. The Golgumbaz express to Bijapur. the train stopped unplanned for long breaks at a station called “Basavanbagevadi Jn”. We killed time by posing DDLJ and clicking several pics 😛
We arrived at Bijapur at about 9 am.
We had done absolutely no research about Bijapur, precisely because google does not have much helpful information, also many photos online are tagged and named wrongly.

We decided to begin with Golgumbaz, as it was just near by to a hotel one of our attendees was staying at, she was supposed to join us in Bijapur. Also, we were duped big time by the Tonga-walas. They are such crooks across Bijapur, completely took advantage of our large group that was helplessly not together all the time, so they used miscommunication to their advantage and literally fleeced us of money for no reason. Later in the evening the same tonga-walas came around super drunk using all the money they made us pay in the morning. Useless assholes! try stay away from these crooks.
Golgumbaz was awesome. Entry fees of about Rs.5, the experience is close to rare. The Golgumbaz is a magnificient monument, looks almost larger than life, unless you think about Taj Mahal and the likes. However, very few such marvels of architecture exist in India.

This building is just at the entrance, the giant tomb is hidden behind it

This building is just at the entrance, the giant tomb is hidden behind it

We hired a guide to tell us about the place, he asked us to pay as we find it fit after the tour given by him. Our Guide was really a colorful guy, animated and a singer – as we found out later.
The Golgumbaz, was a building that held meetings for the King. The architecture was such that utilised principles of sound travel and propagation, in an era when electricity and having a Mic was out of question. The dome allows you to speak in few designated corners of the building, and the sound is beautifully distributed and delivered in form of a loudspeaker kind of voice experience to the entire hall. The King was probably sitting in the centre at his grand seat at the ground floor, where a string phone or speaker would allow him to speak at normal volume, the strings would transfer the sound to the designated corners at the top floor of the dome and propagate the sound all over the hall.

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We only understood the theory when our dear guide, asked us to wait at one side at the top floor. He almost disappeared in the large circular floor, suddenly we could hear his voice as if he was talking right next to us! and then we spotted him far far away across from the hall, speaking into a corner. That is bloody amazing! I mean centuries ago..these people were much more advanced than us. They really used science and maths in amazing ways. He sang a string of famous songs for us, and with us all the crowd within the dome enjoyed the Vividh-Bharati live.. 🙂
We hope we rewarded him generously. By the way, climb up the dome is a 7 floor climb through a really tiny staircase. If you are Fat.. god help you. I’m a size less 😛
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By lunch we were out of there. Rest day we planned to check out other heritage sites, that we had heard about. Mobile data was not working in Bijapur, we were clueless, my companions were rather least interested in finding about more locations as well. We were all acting too lazy. We visited the following places:
Jod Gumbaz – a twin dome, but its basement is flanked with homeless people beside the durgah
Jami Masjid – could be missed, if you have seen Jama Masjid in other bigger cities like Ahmedabad & Delhi ofcourse.
Ibrahim Rouza – this place is worth visiting, it was thankfully less crowded and it was raining a lot, so we had enough time to click many pics. Google tags pic of this place with a wrong name. Research a little more.
Baarah Kaman – 12 unfinished arches. This place also can be missed, though it has great history and story behind it, nothing much to see
Malika-e-Maidan – Looked like most tourists chose to miss this place, however would suggest to visit it, it has nice view of the city and serene little garden. With a small cannon, that has a water body for the firing guy to run and hide his ears to escape the sound of cannon fire. The caretaker of this place is a ex-military man, who insists on telling the history behind this place – which is very informative. Apparently this place was a gift by the King to one of his queens.
Asar Mahal – is a garden and unfinished kind of building, an auto guy duped us by saying it was Sangeeth Mahal.
We were recommended Sangeeth Mahal by the Hotel guy, who insisted it was 8 kms away outside town. However, girls were almost disinterested to even argue or find out about it from anyone, so we allowed a Auto guy to fool us by driving into a near by lane to a mundane kind of heritage building. Yes, I’m not very proud of us.
[I will update pics of all these places soon]

Commute in Bijapur:
There are close to no options to commute in Bijapur, and locals are more misguiding than helpful. Auto guys like Bangalore ones don’t know the localities much. It will be better to take maps with you, coz google just does not work in Bijapur yet. You must ask atleast 10 people to confirm something, because the town is full ignorant idiots who have no clue where they live and what is around them. In case you are traveling with a bunch of idiots, you are in deep shit then 😛

Wien – Vienna

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Train to Vienna can be easily taken from Salzburg station, it takes roughly 3 hours of time and ticket costs 24 Euros. September is a non-touristy season, so you can directly hop on to the train, and buy tickets after you’ve found yourself a seat.

Vienna felt way better than Salzburg to be in, it was raining still here too, but atleast the apartment we checked into was pleasant. It had a kitchenette, and was reasonably priced, also very spacious. We stayed at Liechtenstein Apartments situated on Nicklegasse 2 street. It is near to underground stations U2 & U4 at the Schottenring Station, on Hermeinegasse Exit gate.
There is a Vienna card available for purchase but as per my research it does not have many benefits. It allows you free transportation on public systems, and merely some 10% discount at the museums and art galleries. My main plan was to go to the famous Art galleries & museums of Vienna, where I did notice a difference of 1 Euro in the prices for the Vienna Card holders. I anyways somehow had taken the decision to buy a public transportation pass for 48 hours instead. It costed me 13 Euros. It is imperative you buy such a pass, because if you try buy for each ride that you take on underground or on road transport, it costs about 2-3 Euros each time. I bought my pass from a Kiosk right outside U2/U4 station exit that was next to my apartment hotel. You can use your travel multi-currency cards to make payments here. Keep your ticket safe.
If you take a underground train, you will need to punch the ticket at one of the machines installed before you enter the actual platforms, they are not easy to spot, but you can ask around. Whenever you punch the ticket, thats when your 24/48/72 hour period will start.
You will be provided with good maps at the Railway station information counters itself, they are crowded with text and complicated, but keep your patience and the map will guide you properly. I have probably never ever travelled alone in a metro-city like this, but even I was able to figure the maps and routes out very quickly referring the map. Or don’t hesitate to ask a local, people there are very helpful and they will definitely guide you correctly. Two words “Bitte helpfen” may sound more local, mostly all will understand english as well. ‘Entschuldigung’ is often a word used by people there which means ‘Apology’/sorry/excuse me.

List of places on my list for visit were:
Leopold Museum, Albertina Museum, Karlzplatz, Belvedere Palace & Schloss Schonbrunn.
I was basically in Vienna to see all the originals of my favourite artists I’ve admired for long. I didn’t really care much for rest of the things. As told, Vienna pub crawls are bloody good, and I would be game to do it if I had some interesting company with me. I’m not much of a open person to go engage with strangers, so company matters more.
vienna 1

I took the U2 to Museums Quartier station, where I had to visit Leopold Museum. Here some originals of Gustav Klimt & Egon Schiele are displayed, along with many other less known masterpieces, which are worth your time nonetheless. The entrance fees is 13 Euros.
After this I roamed around a bit around the area to check out the streets and just get a feel of the city. Got myself some coffee and muffin, then headed for the Albertina Museum.
Entrance here is 12 Euros, and this museum was much more fun than Leopold. Simply because my other favourite Edvard Munch original’s were displayed here, they were a delight!
By the time I wound up with filling up my eyes with what I could only etch in my memory, it was 5 pm. I decided to cover Karlzplatz as well on the same evening, as it was just the next station after Museums Quartier. But walking till there seemed more simpler to me, as I was in no mood to go underground in such good weather. Karlzplatz was slightly disappointing, as the church was literally ruined by scaffoldings and aluminium structure interfering with the entire view. I paid 8 Euros to enter there but it was a complete waste. The Lift set up to go and get a panoramic view of Vienna is a epic-fail. The view is not possible as they have put up a closely meshed wire-cover on top. Anyway, I should’ve researched more before going there.
From Karlzplatz I took a direct U4 to Schottenring, U2 can also be taken.

Next day I went to Belvedere, I was already dreaming about Gustav Klimt’s more famous originals, and I was finally going to see them. I paid 20 Euros for the entire gallery. I followed the route map, had to change trains, and decided to walk a little upto the Belvedere palace campus. No photos were allowed in this one 😦

Later I had a large lazy lunch at Vapiano in the Museums Quartier area. It was a nice open kitchen, where you can watch how your food is cooked. Incidentally that day a rally of 50 years of all modes of transportation was taking place, saw some trams as old as 1950. Was too tired to click pictures 😛
Another friend of mine who was visiting Vienna at the same time, took the cycling tour of Vienna, and I came to know of many more things-to-do that I was going to miss. Nevermind, I have always been a lazy traveller 🙂

There are a lot of famous Vienna monuments and building visible other side of bridge on Schottenring station, that I noticed daily, but was not very interested in seeing architecture. Area around my apartment was often mostly closed, very few cafes and restaurants visible, even markets or shops are not available, across the bridge the city gets more vibrant you can simply cross and get almost everything you need. If you are a walker, and believe in doing things at leisure, you can literally walk upto Museums Quartier and you will find amazing views of the city that the underground trains will deprive you of.

If you are flying out of Vienna, you can take the trains or buses to Airport train station. The train takes you to the airport for a ticket of 14 Euros. If you buy this ticket as a package with a regular commute for 24/48/72 hours, it will cost 11 Euros. I bought it separately on the same Kiosk near my Apartment. The train was a good choice because a taxi would’ve costed me almost 50 Euros from this far.

I bid adieu to Vienna, now I was more inspired to visit places like Paris and London to view more Art.

you can read all about experiences in blog posts for Prague, Cesky Krumlov & Salzburg.

The Salty hill – Salzburg

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It kept raining in Salzburg for almost a day and half when we arrived, so couldn’t really go for the Fortress or the Dom Quartier square to hang out. We were staying at the Amedia Express situated nearby the Railway Station.
Salzburg map

To top the misery, Hotels in Salzburg, however expensive, do not provide even a electric kettle or glasses or cups in their rooms, for you to have some tea/coffee..We stayed at Amedia Express & Lehenerhof and both were equally disappointing. Its a weird place, not very tourist friendly. All food outlets close by 6 pm, some may stay open till 7 pm, but all food will probably be over. Interestingly, Bellini a Pizza outlet just across from Amedia has permits to serve food till late into midnight, we managed to get some dinner the first night of Salzburg. Thank god!
At Bellini the owner got very friendly with us immediately as soon as he found out we were Indians, as he was a Pakistani 🙂 He gave us a whole lot of tips and information about Salzburg. Looking at our craving for tea he invited us to have some tea with him at his outlet in the next days when he prepares it for himself. We took that seriously .. haha. There we were, the next evening, inviting ourselves in for a hot cup of tea. He and his friend made us a milky sweet tea, which was good enough for our craving. Thanks to them 🙂

Bellini Pizza

Bellini Pizza

Another nice place for a reasonable breakfast and coffee is BackWerk, situated just on main road you take to reach the Residenzplatz Square.
Once we had dinner at Sofra, a turkish outlet, in case you are craving for spicy food, like curries and bread. Reasonably priced too. I somehow got an upset stomach due to that dinner, but after I had some yoghurt and did fasting the next day, I was fine by evening.

It appears some outlets near Dom Quartier will also remain open till late as that is the tourist area, but couldn’t see that the other day we roamed around that side till late. Its almost empty by 8 pm.
Another tip would be to carry cash with you mostly, as most outlets do not accept card payments.
Salzburg is a rather lazy place it turns out, most places will be closed more often than closed. The Government offices we were told remain open only between 8 am to 12 pm. If its a long weekend coming up you might as well not expect those offices to work a day or 2 in advance either.

We took the ‘Sound of Music Tour’ by Panorama, we bought the tickets at the information counter at the Station, for 40 Euros (its overpriced I would say for no reason). This will be the same place where you can buy the Salzburg card too. Salzburg card is quite a good bet, as it provides you free access to all public transportation within Salzburg, and free entry into all the Museums, Palaces etc. Its not actually free, you buy the Salzburg card for a fee, but then you wouldn’t pay anywhere else. 24 hours card is for 27 Euros, available for 48 hours, 72 hours too.

Sound of Music tour was okay, but it would have been better if it wasn’t raining so much. The tour took us around many locations, shown from far off. Beware, whatever locations the tour claims to cover, will not be actually covered, not even the Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn)! They barely show things to you from within the bus. Somehow I think this tour was invented only and only by lazy Americans. It is quite a waste I guess. You can rather take bus no.25 to any of these locations mentioned in their brochure. The tour also takes an hour break at Mondsee where they encourage you to buy food at one of the many restaurants lined up across from Mondsee church. It would have been better instead of taking their break, they could’ve given us some more time to check out the Hellbrunn Palace from inside.
Apfelstruddle with vanilla sauce at one of restaurants in Mondsee was quite yumm.
SOM tour

Next day we did the Fortress tour, and the Dom Quartier or the Residenz art gallery. Thats the only thing I enjoyed in Salzburg. At the fortress tour the guide told us about how the Prince & Lords earned loads of money to splurge in such expensive art and craft and make huge mansions and fortresses, from their trade of Salt to the eastern countries. We know where that was. Also some of money came from Silver mining I guess.
Anyhow, luckily that was our last day in Salzburg and the sun had decided to show. the Dom Quartier Square was full of people and looked vibrant with colors.
salzburg fair

A good thing about Salzburg card is that once you’ve bought it, you need to write down your name and time of first use of the card yourself with a pen. At the Museums or the funicular tram to top of Fortress requires you to swipe it on the machines, but on local buses, you just need to show it to the bus driver or anyone who asks for it.
The Beer hall is a famous spot in Salzburg, I guess the Vienna one is a bigger one than this, but if you are into Beer, you may like this place. Its noisy, full of people enjoying Beers.
The view from top of Fortress was mind blowing, with all the clouds and jazz all around. I couldn’t care less, cause personally I think I’ve seen much prettier sceneries here around India 😛 Sorry if I sound such a patriot. Salzburg sucks and is a boring place. But thats just my opinion. lol!
salzburg top

you can read all about experiences in blog posts for Prague, Cesky Krumlov & Vienna.

Cesky Krumlov

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We arrived in Cesky Krumlov from Prague by afternoon 3 p.m. We were dropped at Krumlov’s only bus stand, which about 10 min walk away from the town centre Square i.e. the Centrum square.

Map Cesky Krumlov

Map Cesky Krumlov

The Traveller’s hostel is housed in a centuries old Krumlov house, that has a long history and used to belong to a trader at first. It is a nice little place, quite expensive for backpackers but thats the kind of pricing Krumlov has in general (32 Euros per night). Washrooms are not attached to rooms, but you can try your chances to use that nice little private one on 3rd floor, we kept trying our luck both the days we were there ;). It has a nice common Kitchen, which is quite well equipped with appliances and cutlery for use. Rooms are slightly claustrophobic, but one can imagine them as cozy in chilly winters.
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After making some oats in the kitchen to have our late lunch, we headed to book our shared cab for the next day, to salzburg, we suspected seats may run out. Just a walk into next alley outside hostel the taxi office was right there. Luckily there were 2 seats available on next day taxi at 4 p.m. anything earlier than that was already booked. There is no other way to reach Salzburg, atleast not an easier one from Krumlov. We paid 800 Kc/30 euros (according to rates that day) per head.
After that we wandered around Krumlov’s tiny streets and enjoyed the little shops with nifty things. We walked up to the open areas of the Castle, also the huge garden that evening, most of it so surreal – I wanted to just stay there couple of hours. Its open till 7 p.m. daily without any entrance charges.
krumlov garden

Next day we did the free walking tour, and our guide informed us that the amphitheatre inside the gardens is functional upto September 15 every year, we were 10 days late, or else as described by him the show is quite a thing. He also mentioned an ongoing debate among authorities to close it down due to various difference in ideas. So catch it before its gone!

Details of our walking tour are as follows:

krumlov tour

Our tour was conducted by Ondrej, who unlike our Prague tour guy was not a local. It worked better for tourists because Ondrej knew exactly what interests tourists, to know the amusing stories about a place, and probably not its shortcomings.
1. That is a hand painted life size map of small town of Cesky Krumlov on Traveller’s Hostel wall I was staying at. Krumlov is a beautiful little hamlet whose actual shape, as you can see, is defined by the River running around it.
2. The Centrum Square, where our tour commenced, a landmark that acts as a measuring point of how far or guiding point to where you need to go find something. Interesting stories about this place are numerous. Like this square has trees growing in it during the brief summer they have. Like the price of a house near this square in 1991 was as low as $2000, now its obviously gone up as high as $200,000!
3. The name of the square as the signboard says “Nam Svornosti”, is changed once every year. In the month of May, Cesky Krumlov has a peculiar traditional belief, that kissing your girlfriend under the cherry tree that grows on the square, keeps her fresh for rest of year. Thus, they change the sign boards for the month of May to call it something else. As our guide said, in May, you’ll find a lot of couples kissing at the square, and probably some lost tourists who can’t find the damn street given in their maps!
4. Walking away from square, you will spot the castle tower, The Ves, that requires you to buy a ticket worth 150 Kc to walk up and get a panoramic view of Krumlov.
5. A church and a Music school we visited during the tour. The Music school is supposedly haunted, and you will enjoy an animated story told by the guide. You are also welcomed to volunteer and stay over in the building at night 😉
6.Narrow streets of Krumlov, apparently that handle large amount of vehicular and people traffic in the tourist season. We were there at a good time i.e. September, very very less tourists. Delight!
7.As you are guided around the town, there are 2 peculiar things you may not notice on the walls. First is the style of tile painting done, another is the fake windows that are painted to fulfil a wierd compulsion of symmetry for the architects. There are 2 styles of painting the tiles, Moravian or Renaissance facade which gives a 3D feel to the tile & Bohemian or Renaissance painting which is done on wet plaster itself.
8.On entering the Castle campus, this is an open viewpoint to take amazing pictures and gaze over Krumlov, while a cafe here serves you Beer!
9.A long closed bridge built to connect the entrance courtyard, and the garden, for lazy Kings and Princes who did not want to walk all the way on the ground.
10.Entrance to the actual castle has this bridge under which there are wild bears in an enclosure. As told, as prevelant practice Nobles liked to keep wild animals in castle premises to showcase their opulance and ofcourse..nobility. The tradition has been carried on.

We also had some interesting landmarks shown over the tour that I missed to click a picture of, like the house that had 3 different styles of architecture built on it on every added storey. Also a cloth dying company that was being run in earlier centuries and their ingenious solution to fit a certain machine through the door (you may not notice it unless Andre tells you!). There was also a story about a faking Alchemist who owned a very big mansion, it was currently being renovated for a hotel to function in next few months.
We also did the tour inside the Castle, which costs about 240 Kc, it happens 2-3 times a day. You aren’t allowed to take any pictures inside, but as a brief I can say there are lots and lots of paintings and art, on the walls, on canvas and some stuffed bears that died from the enclosures of castle. It is a nice tour, better than Prague Castle 😛
You can catch few glimpses of these on my instagram @suruchika, as I chose to click them on my phone instead.

View of Castle from Traveller's Hostel

View of Castle from Traveller’s Hostel

While in Czech, you’ll know about its most famous foods like Tredlnik and fried cheese. Though I had tried the first one in Prague, I had missed out on fried cheese. Krumlov’s quaint tiny little eateries are an excellent choice to enjoy supper. On my last night in Czech, I finally had the chance to taste Fried cheese, and it was superb. Trust me it isn’t anything like you will imagine it, savoury and filling.
cesky food
On our taxi from Krumlov to Salzburg, the guy who was driving us was quite knowledgeable and kept telling us a lot about Krumlov’s history, Czech politics and things like that. It was nice! on our route, just 5 kms from Krumlov there is a industrial town, which is an opposite of Krumlov, it was ugly. He said, it was built by the communists in the time when Czech had communist leaders, and they never cared about beauty or culture in the first place. The town currently houses all the hippies who are basically good for nothing and do not do anything ever for a living. Also we were shown some summer homes, where local people come down to fish in the river and have a relaxing time. Surreal… everything.

Krumlov was a beautiful experience, and I would recommend this place to everyone atleast once.

you can read all about experience in blog posts for Prague, Salzburg & Vienna.