Friday, 24 March 2017

Rameswara & Dhanushkodi

 7-8 weeks on the road, my trip was just speeding up & i wondered  how to schedule the various destinations..below is a rough guideline of my trip.. the weird looking toy is Goblin after-effects...

From Chennai, it's an overnight train to Rameswaram and headed straight for the tea stall for a caffeine dose & info to head into town. There is a bus service that goes to town for around Rs5-10. Since i wasn't too sure if i planned to stay the day or overnight..i look around for a hotel room only to be SHOCKED at the rates & attitude. 1500rs for a cheapest room??!! Crazy! Plus the folk are wary of letting a room to single ladies. Ufff...
In the end i decided to sit down and watched the devotees dip into the sea/Agni theertham to wash off some of their dirty sins. Boy is the water dirty, i made a mistake of dipping into the bay as well..Yuck.
After another cup of coffee, i heaved myself to locate a decent room at a reasonable rate. Found the tiniest room ever for 800rs at Blue Coral Cottage Hotel. The receptionist was helpful guiding me on the local attractions, and i headed towards the temple for a darshan & Dhanushkodi.
 Rameswaram Temple is crowded being one of the 12 joytilinga! I stayed for well over an hour in the before getting drenched over & over again. 21 theerthams/wells- i think i might have skipped a few wells..haha. A note while visiting the main Temple is that the shoe section are in front of the main door while the queue entry is at the side. So leave the shoes & walk barefoot. Loved the atmosphere inside, it has the India's longest corridor.
I managed to visit 80% of the various idols within the inner sanctum. Then it was off to visit Dhanushkodi. There's a bus that ply every 30-45mins from the beach bus stop. It's about 30-60mins ride away. Upon reaching the last stop, took a jeep ride...costs about 150rs per person to & fro the marsh is possible to walk as well if one is interested. Unfortunately my phone died on me after a few clicks upon reaching Dhanushkodi. -_-'' 
Dhanushkodi is an abandoned town post the 1964 cylone that destroyed the town with tides as high as 23ft, post which the Government of India declared it unfit for living. I really wanted to see the Adam Bridge but the sight of the bright blue sea caused short term memory's a gorgeous place for sure. The sea is so clear...i guess this is how the sea looked back several centuries ago.   There is a small Mahadev shrine with a ball of floating coral...could it be similar to be part of Rama Sethu?? Perhaps..seeing the floating coral reminded of the story when Hunuman & gang attempted to built a bridge to Lanka, all the pieces of earth(?) drifted away with the waves but upon being inscribed with the words "Ram" floated together to form a floating bridge.
After a long sip of tender coconut water which by the way costs 30rs (??!) in Dhanushukodi, it was time for some lunch in town. During the journey back, chatted with an elderly man who was overly impressed with my almost non-existant understanding of Kannada. Just the words "salpa salpa" made him happy to hear his native language and sweetly he even paid my bus fare saying i was like his daughter. A lot of people think that traveling alone in India is dangerous especially for ladies but i think it's a matter of luck, whole bag of precautions & common sense. The fact that i was travelling alone made quite a few people surprised, anxious & actually looked out for me even if i was a complete stranger. :)
Unfortunately meeting sweet people on the road does not guarantee tasty food in the streets. Doubtlessly the folks of Rameswaram chooses to focus on nutrients of the soul than for the stomach. For all the snacks/meals i had consumed, i was left wanting more since it was all lacking flavor plus food cost the most in Rameswaram. I would say, if might be almost to survive on PJ sandwich. With the rest of the day left...i took the opportunity to catch on sleep & roamed along the beach..
There is a boat ride available for those fancying those types of time pass.. it's a 30mins ride.. i didnt see any dolphins or fishes but who knows, someone else might get lucky...
I feel Rameswaram is all about a pilgrimage stop with few other attractions yet. 
If you do happen to be stuck, maybe dragged along with family members do check out Holy Island Water Sports Center for some water bodies sports. Or bring a fishing line..i observed a fisherman reel in 1 fish about every 10 mins or so, using a simple line, hook & bait. Good luck with the BBQ.
 Left next morning to head towards Velankanni...i recommend taking the train out of Rameswaram towards the mainland instead of bus as the train will slow down during the Pamban bridge crossing.. 

As i left Rameswaram i noted this might be my one & only trip here.....

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Chennai~ more than just Hot & Humid

To be honest while planning my travel itinerary Chennai was one place where i had the least desire to idle about as my past experiences where not so great as all i remember was sweating the shit out in the sun. Plus it didnt seem to have much to savor or roam about within the city.

A fantastic month spend in Aqua meant that i had no burning desire to soak about in the beaches (not that i could even if i wanted) and was just planning to do some volunteer work in a nursery farm in the outskirts of the city and head off North. Unfortunately the day i landed in Chennai was when i received the message that my host had to cancel my stay due to cyclone aftereffects with water/electricity still haphazard. Taking advantage of the free WIFI in the train station i booked a dorm bed with Red Lollipop, apprehensive of how the deal would turn out. Since i was basically backpacking i dragged myself & my bags into the local buses and attempted to find my way around town. I dont think the fellow passengers were too thrilled with me since i had a 50L backpack, a huge shopping bag plus a side slingback, however i was impressed with their patience and manners. No one jostled, everyone passed on cash to-fro to the bus conductor located way back in the bus & no snide remarks. It was pleasantly orderly! Impressed!

Took me about an hour to reach my destination- Red Lollipop Hostel in Ramakrishna Rd. It is easy to miss it so use the citibank ATM as a landmark for GPS.
Upon entry it seems lively but small. Dont worry thats just the reception the living quarters are comfortable and safe. All dorm members are issued a entry card access, most dorms are 8 bed (A/C) with ladies & gents on separate floors, kitchen is open with breakfast included. All these for 500-650rs per night only. Reasonable, i managed to get a good last minute deal at 500rs. 
Living room had Tv (hello! long time no see..heheh been months since i watched Tv) which hardly anyone watched, some games on side as well as 2 small table with nearby power plugs access.
The smoking zone was colourful.
Needless to say my favorite part of the dormitory was the open Kitchen. They had all the necessary appliances. All i need to do was do a little bit of grocery shopping and start cooking..
While i truly enjoyed the food in Aqua, i did miss my own style of meals & hence voila!
 Poha rice, ladies finger saute, piro aloo, half cooked papads, simple salad & curd soup.
 Aloo chura, bitter gourd fry, beetroot salad. While i was cooking, i typically use ghee since it's almost the only oil that comes in small portable plastic bottles and unknown to me the aroma had pervaded through the entire dorm bring the staff to come & open all the windows...LOL...
And of course i finally had maggi!! Maggi with tomatoes& chilli, simple salad, papads & omelette. While cooking the papad i made a error in using less oil since i didnt have or wanted to use much oil. It finally dawned on me that instead of frying the papad i should just microwave the darn papads 20-30sec on high. Tastes so much better & healthy too. 

Since i was staying near Mylapore i visited the Arulmigu Kapalesswara Temple, Ramakrishna Math & the Anna Library.
The Ramakrishna Math is peaceful place...nothing much to add on to it unless u are a follower. It opens in the morning & evening.
While traveling in the south, any darshan to the various temples always makes me feel like i unlocked another level. The Arulmigu Kapalesswara Temple is not too strict and tourist can easily check out the outer compound with the beautiful architecture, the inner sanctums are of coursed barred to non-Hindus.
I suffered a shocking defeat at the Birla Planetarium whilst checking my weight after close to 4 years. I had piled on more than 50 pounds...Although i was gradually increasing my dress sizes i didnt realize since all the clothes were meant to be worn loose... It was a reality check & made me ponder on the implications as i walked to Anna Library. 
The palace is huge and had tons of books/references/magazines etc spread out over several floors. As usual the first floor i check out is the children section and i was kinda impressed for it's spacious. 
Whilst reading this book "My Big Fat Secret" and i had similar eating habits with the protagonist.. Guys emotional overeating is always a bad idea...Anyways i was engrossed in the book when the librarian comes over & asks me if i'm a student. Flattered i replied negatively and she replies with a knowing smile~ "this section is only for students" -___-''
After the trip to the library it was time to head back for lunch & i happened to pass by Youngdoo, a Korean cuisine specialty restaurant.
Since i was craving for spicy food, i ordered the jjamppong set, which is spicy Korean seafood stew. It comes along with various namuls (side dishes) & kimchis & the mandatory bowl of sticky rice. I love short grain sticky rice so different from the usual rice varieties available in India.
Visited Chennai on 2 separate occasions during this trip- the first time spending most of my time in the hostel enjoying the AC in the hot weather & binge watching k-dramas. The second time i stayed over in my friends place to help babysit her kids & dogs. The place is near the beach & Ashtalakshmi Temple.
Nearby is the famous Murugan Idli Shop, said to the first to sell idlis in the city. while it was tasty it was not mind blowing. Maybe because i dont fancy idlis too much. heh..
In between babysitting i went sightseeing and one of the places was the Fort museum which is located inside the same compound Secretariat so super long queue & several security checks.. It has many interesting things like various dress/uniforms, crockeries, weapons used as well as original oil paintings. Do visit if you have several hours to spare as the queue & security checks might take up better part of the hour at least.                                                                                                            
Whilst there visit the stationary shops behind the Museum and purchase some "Amma" letterheads & envelopes which are actually used for official correspondence but of course ordinary folks can use it too.
I did purchase several letterheads & posted it to my friends all over...Given that it was my first time using Indian Postal Services combined with the strange looks when posting using "Amma" envelopes i was skeptical if my friends would actually receive them. But they did!! Manse!

Pongol occurred during my stay and i watched my friends celebrate bhogi which is basically burning old items early in the morning to create space for new. They had a modern take as they burned a piece of used butterpaper and chanted bhogi. Lol.
The neighborhood also went around creating some noise music by banging on pots & pans..they seems to be having a blast despite the hazy weather...maybe too much old items being gotten rid off?
I had always assume that Chennai was hot & humid throughout the year and thus was grateful for the cool temperatures in the morning.
Despite having stayed more than a handful of years in Bangalore i have not been able to learn how to create beautiful rangolis. I wonder if this artwork is taught as part of a young daughters' education in South for they all seem to be effortlessly painting the ground with minutes. 
Saw this discarded car along the footpath & 2 thoughts passed through my mind 1) a whimsical fancy of turning it into a overflowing garden passes my mind, 2) too little love to take care, too much love to let go...
the nets looks so much like candy floss along Elliot Beach.
i guess it is vandalism but i love seeing all the artworks on random walls in various cities.
Snack time in Chennai like in any other place in South is not without fried items or thing is for sure the Tamils sure do know their chutneys..
it was not just snacks from random stalls that i munched on but also from popular joints. The first of course if the Korean cuisine  at Youngdoo which i highly recommend. Also checked out Amethyst Cafe...which is over rated. Personally i didnt like it.
Not sure of the scrambled tofu or the singular piece of brown bread toast or the bland kale salad. The cheaper brand of tea sachet did not help either. Amethyst Cafe is not very affordable & thus i expect the quality to reflect the prices. if one is interested in dinning in a conservatory like environment- it's perfect.
Chennai is one of the destination where i can hardly stomach their Biryani as i am a big time fan of Hyderbadi biryani style fan but there's one stall in the Central bus terminal that had nice Biryani. dirt cheap too @ 90rs.
Based on my friends recommdendation i tried out Bella Ciao..
It was one the few restaurants where the food was bad Bad. Especially since i had such high expectation after knowing that the place was run by true blood Italians...i had order the Pescatora Fettuccine...the pasta was limp, the seafood stale and used dried ingredients instead of fresh version-an ironic achievement considering that the restaurant is located meters away from the sea.
Upset that i had such a lousy dinner, i raided my friends' pantry made pasta for breakfast the next day, complete with juice & black coffee.  Felt so much better afterwards... hehe

Soon enough it was time to leave Chennai and as i reached Egmore Station, i noticed that railways line stopped here as well... umm. Dumb of me to think that only Kanyakumari had the last stop...

This was an eye-opening trip of Chennai for me. Shamelessly i had always been a bit prejudiced against Chennai- i think the heat & humid tends to aggravate my sullen moods but this time i realize Chennai is actually not bad. The people are lovely & well mannered despite the scorching heat, the local food is amazing and there are few places that can actually prepare a decent biryani. The metro press news of being good is a hogwash but the bus routes are accessible & affordable for all. The low cost of transportation surprised as most bus journeys to & fro within  the city did not cost more than 10-30rs. come to think of it i would not mind working in Chennai should the opportunity arise. Hahah

shopping is also slightly cheaper! this note pads cost around 200rs in Chennai but around 350rs in Kolkata. darn it, i should have purchased it then.

will try to post the remaining travels post soon though cant promise as my k-drama addition has gone through the roof in that certain words/reply i do so in Korean.