Gandikota: Of Rocks, River And ‘Gorge’ous Views

Pennar river & gorge at Gandikota

Gandikota: A Beauty Lost In Time

We walked through the narrow alleys of the Gandikota village, dotted with houses, with goats tied to posts, chickens running around, men and women busy in conversations. I looked around the massive red sandstone walls of the impressive Gandikota Fort dating back to several centuries ago that must have guarded the town.

Spread over several miles, the fort has a long perimeter wall that can be seen alongside the ruins of the once-majestic fort and the beautiful Pennar river. The Pennar river – serene and tranquil, cuts through the Erramala hill ranges and forms a stunning gorge – the highlight of Gandikota.

Pennar river & the perimeter wall of the Gandikota Fort

I had heard about Gandikota, almost always being referred to as the Grand Canyon of India. Though I understand doing so gives one an idea about the place, but feel it’s more of a marketing gimmick. Calling a certain place a ‘this’ of ‘that’ is taking away the uniqueness of that place and comparing it to something else. And comparisons, in any form, is something I personally do not prefer.

Pennar River & Gorge

Though Gandikota was actually an offbeat place until a few years ago, it’s not anymore. It still is less-frequented, possibly due to the fact that the place is quite remote with only limited options to stay, eat, etc. I had visited the place in February 2018, and if not for the comfy road-trip that H agreed upon, it would have been kind of difficult for me to be there.

Entering the Gandikota Fort

The February weather is supposed to be cooler, at least it is so in the other parts of the country, but it wasn’t the case in Gandikota. The mornings & evening were comparatively manageable, but it got really hot during the day. So do check the weather, pack light clothes, sunscreen, hat, etc. On the other hand, you may want to consider visiting here during the relatively cooler months of December, January or the post-monsoon months of September-October, as per your convenience.

Charminar inside the Gandikota Fort

I was under an impression that I’ll definitely find someplace – out of the many – to stay, but after a lot of research, I learned that the Haritha Resort, maintained by AP Tourism department is your best (& only) bet for accommodation in Gandikota.

Pitching your own tent near the rocky cliffs is possible as well. There are no restaurants or shops in the vicinity of the fort or even around the village, so you may have to carry or cook your own food. Jammalamadugu is the nearest place where one can find any shops, ATMs etc. and which is 15ish km away. Perhaps this is the reason why not too many people crowd the place (which I think is a good thing! call me whatever).

Haritha Resort at Gandikota – managed by APTDC

If planning a stay in the Haritha hotel, expect very simple and basic food. The resort is well-maintained, the cottages are spacious and tidy. The staff speaks little English but is pretty helpful. As Haritha is the only accommodation available here (with about some 10-15 cottages) the bookings generally tend to get full soon. Also note that the booking can only be done online.

By the time I went to the APTDC website for the booking, there was no availability. I dropped a mail to the ID mentioned in the footer, & was super impressed when I actually received a call. The rep. was super helpful and after checking a few options like date change, etc, which were not matching with my plan, connected me with the Divisional Manager. I wasn’t sure if we’ll be able to continue with the plan or not but was happy to come across a team that was putting efforts in helping me.

Ranganath Swamy Temple near the Gandikota gorge view

After I had dropped the plan, two days later, the super helpful Divisonal Manager called me and told me we needn’t cancel our plan and that the accommodation will be managed for us! I must admit this level of customer-centricity was highly impressive. We set out on the road trip the next morning.

Panorama of the gorge

The drive was a pleasant one and passed through pretty sunflower fields, rocky hills and several nondescript villages. The final stretch of road leading up to the village had boulders and stones of various sizes on either side, that looked as if someone had neatly stacked them up.

Sunset and the ruins

A little before sunset we were relaxing on one of the many boulders strewn around the gorge formed by the Pennar river. The chaotic voices of the surroundings were subdued by the strong winds that blew over the dark water and across its magnificent gorge. We sat quietly watching the changing colours of the sky, the sunset on the rocky ruins opposite the gorge and the Pennar river moving quietly giving an illusion of stillness.

When I found a perfect spot

The next morning, however, we decided to go to the surrounding cliffs, a few kilometres away from the fort. It was absolutely quiet here, with not one soul around. If not for the cloudy skies, the sunrise over the gorge would have been a stunning sight. We walked around, hopped over the boulders until we found a perfect spot. I don’t remember how long we sat there, soaking in the peace and beauty of the surrounding that, for that moment, was just for us.

Other Places To See And Activities To Do In Gandikota

In the fort premises, there are numerous monuments and structures like the Juma Masjid, Charminar, Granary, Ranganath Swamy Temple etc. Apart from these, several adventure activities take place in and around the fort area. If interested one can also go for water sports like boating & kayaking in the nearby Mylavaram dam. The second largest natural caves in India – Belum Caves, which is at a distance of about 60ish km from Gandikota can also be visited.

Gandikota: Of rocks, river and ‘gorge’eous views

Kashmir Great Lakes Trek: The Spectacular Beauty

Krishnasar and Vishnusar Lakes

Traversing the Great Lakes of Kashmir

The sun was shining so bright right on my face and I felt completely drained as the heat sucked all the energy from my body. My bag felt so heavy and I, who always travels light, kicked myself for stuffing all those extra kgs into my compact backpack. Thoughts of not being able to make it to the camp, right on the first day of the trek felt very discouraging. I also doubted myself of whether I will be able to complete the trek at all. Packing right and packing light is so damn important!

Tired as I was, I constantly reminded myself to focus only on the next step, and the next, and the next. I was unable to enjoy the picturesque landscape that the trail had magically transformed into. I would only know it later on checking the few photos I had managed to somehow click, and of course from the photographs shared by fellow trekkers.

Campsite on day1 at Shitkadi

That night I succumbed to altitude sickness with a splitting headache and a slight fever. That night was nothing like what I had imagined the first night camping in the mountains of Kashmir to be. Feeling extremely low, discouraged and drained, I took some medicine and slept. To my surprise I woke up super fresh the next morning, I think I just needed a very good rest to spring back to being my usual self. Somehow, I felt more determined and ready to go on and face the challenges that were waiting for me next, with a faith deep down in my heart that the mountains will be kind to me, as always – thank you dear mountains!

That was my initial experience on day 1 of one of the most beautiful treks ever – Kashmir Great Lakes. No matter how many times you visit Kashmir, it has to offer something absolutely wonderful every time and having done the fabulous Chadar Trek, I couldn’t stress this point enough. On one monotonous day, I was craving to go to mountains and somehow the name Kashmir kept popping in my mind. When looking up for the trails around there, I remembered reading about the Kashmir Great Lakes trek sometime back. Taking it as a sign, I booked myself for this trek for August of 2018.

One of the many beautiful resting spots

Kashmir has always been an intriguing place for me, as for most of us. I decided to visit a few places there before the trek and zeroed down on Pahalgam. As like many other places in Kashmir Pahalgam too, is abundantly beautiful, and yet there are far too many stories of conflicts, of sorrows and losses, of fear and distress, of griefs and lost hopes, that are subtly hung in the air despite the mind-blowing beauty of the place. Well, that’s the topic for another time.

A blissful morning in the mountains

So while my first day of this 7 days-long trek wasn’t particularly exciting, I swear, I had no idea how good it was soon going to turn. If I can ignore the initial part, the rest of the trek was not just a visual treat to the eyes, but also impacted me in so many other ways. I met some of the kindest souls ever, laughed and sang with some of the friendliest and genuine mountain people, befriended some very talented and lovely people, challenged my body and mind to go out of my comfort zone and (fairly) succeeded. Watching the beloved mountains from so close was magical and peaceful – the feelings that I still strongly get when I think back about this trek.

Like a poet’s words or an artist’s stroke, the trail we walked on, just got breathtakingly beautiful each day and filled my mind and soul with such joy that I can’t put in words here, try as much I do. The majestic mountains with their snowy/icy peaks with glacial melt forming sparkly lakes at the foothills was a common yet incredible sight. The stunning colours of the clear blue skies and the dreamy reflections of mountains and skies in the glacial lakes, forever getting stamped in on my mind.

Vishnusar or Vishansar Lake

The landscapes magically changed after every few kilometers, taking my breath away every time I walked into it. From lush treeline to rolling meadows laced with gurgling, icy cold streams. The sun sometimes, warming up the tip of my nose and hiding completely behind the darkening clouds other times, making me shiver in the cold mountain wind. The skies dramatically changed, wispy clouds one moment and dark clouds the other, ready to burst any moment.

Also read: Stories From The Mountains: Chandratal Lake Trek

The meadows carpeted green and dotted with colourful wildflowers, its beauty making my heart skip a beat each time I rested for a while at such a spot. The crossing of mountain passes, in spite of the tiring uphill climb, was nothing short of a reward, given the stunning views it offered from the pinnacle. The vastness of the mountains, constantly instilling a feeling of how petty and insignificant all those things are that I worry about at times.

The night sky full of stars. The belt of Milky Way is so clearly visible

The treks in Kashmir are all beautiful given the beautiful-beautiful landscape of the place, in general. But the Kashmir Great Lakes trek surely changed something so drastically inside me. The many lakes we trekked to and camped at, each with its unique beauty just took away all the worries and filled my mind with such peace, that I cannot possibly explain.

Gadsar Lake

The trail is scarce of people, save a few shepherds that you might (or might not) see on this trek. And while some days of the trek are challenging and tiring, most days are filled with awe-inspiring vistas, walking amidst the gardens of vibrant wildflowers, watching reflections and ripples in the azure lakes, gazing at the clouds hiding and revealing the snowy peaks of the mountains, listening to the gurgling of the numerous streams meandering through the musing meadows creating a fairyland-ish scene, sipping kahwa in the middle of nowhere, meeting the few locals smiling heartily at your despite their hardships, warming your frozen hands and toes in the subtle warmth of the kangdi, waking up to the baa-baa of the sheeps roaming freely, watching the star-filled skies and milky way on clear nights – the universe affirming life is such a bliss!

Twin Lakes of Nandkol (L) and Gangabal(R)

A lot of travel and outdoor companies arrange this trek and there’s a lot of useful information out there on the internet for anyone who’s planning this trek, so I won’t really get into the details of it. But do feel free to message me in case you have questions about the trek that you are unable to find answers for, I’ll try my best to answer them. However, I strongly feel, and this is also something that I practise myself – that you go with an open mind. Sometimes when you travel leaving the apprehensions behind, the journey surprises you in ways you can never imagine. Of course, you need to have a decent idea of the terrain, weather etc., so that you are prepared for certain other important factors.

Close-up of Mount Harmukh
Mt Harmukh enveloped in clouds

About Kashmir Great Lakes Trek

Kashmir Great Lakes is one of the best monsoon treks and one of the best in Kashmir. The KGL trek starts from a place called Shitkadi that’s a few kilometres before Sonmarg and ends at Naranag (this is the route followed by most organisers). It takes you through a number of stunning alpine lakes, namely – Kishansar, Vishansar, Gadsar, Satsar (seven lakes scattered around the BSF check-post after Gadsar, but you don’t really see all the seven lakes) Gangabal (twin lakes of Gangbal and Nandkol). You also cross beautiful mountains passes like the Nichnai pass, Gadsar pass, and walk on the ridge (on the last day). You camp in most amazing spots, sometimes by the glistening lakes and see the Mount Harmukh in its full glory.

Gangbal Lake

The max altitude you gain on this trek is 13750 ft (4191 Meters). The Maggi and tea points at unexpected places are blessings! Sip on the Kahwa as much as you can – it also helps keep you hydrated at the high altitude. Between July and September is the best time for the trek. I went in August which is just the perfect time for this trek.

Also read: Trekking In The Incredible Valley Of Flowers

Some Tips

Keep your rain gear handy as it’s a monsoon trek plus the mountain weather is unpredictable in general.

There’s plenty of water all along the trail (except a few stretches, your guides will warn you about those so you can refill/carry more water). That being said, I’d say use water, for your morning tasks, instead of using tissues, etc. It would also help keep the mountains clean – which is a very very big thing you’d be contributing towards.

Pack light (and this I say from my personal experience!) unless it rains and you get drenched you are really not going to change clothes every day, 2 extra pairs of quick-dry tees & trousers should be just fine. Do pack according to the packing list provided by the trek organisers, they would tell you exactly what’s needed and what’s not, or mail/message me anytime.

Camping by the shy Mt Harmukh and Gangbal Lake

And I can’t stress enough but – please be respectful towards the mountains, its fragile environment and those lovely mountain people. You may be well-off in your respective lives but remember treks such as this are just not possible without the local mountain folks.

Lastly, have a lot of fun, explore the surroundings (be cautious) and click lots of pictures – you’ll get some of the best shots ever and enjoy the trek thoroughly!!

Happy Trekking! Happy Travels!


A Rejuvenating Weekend At Shathayu Retreat, Bangalore

Imagine waking up to the melodious chirping of birds, amidst hills and greenery. To witness the chunky clouds float above a lake casting photographic reflections in it. To relax and reconnect with yourself; to experience peace and tranquility, as you take a step towards wellness with Ayurveda. Well, I’m just back with all this (and more) after spending the most relaxed weekend in a while.

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Sunrise behind the Meditation Hall at Shathayu Retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

I was at this beautiful location on an invitation from Shathayu Retreat, an Ayurveda & Yoga retreat set at a picturesque location, about 36 km from Bangalore. The retreat is located very close to the popular tourist destination of Nandi Hills and is just about 12ish km from the Kempegowda International Airport.

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Sunset, hillock & the entrance to the retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

On a fine Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore. As we crossed the toll and took a left turn, following the signboard for Nandi Betta, we left behind the sounds of highway and the hustle-bustle of the city, entering a quieter place. Following the directions on maps for the last bit, we reached at the sole structure standing in the middle of a sprawling piece of land, surrounded by hillocks on two sides. At first it looked like any other resort, but in no time we realised it was more than what meets the eyes.

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Statue of Lord Dhanvantari, at the entrance

At the entrance, one can see a huge brass statue of Lord Dhanvantari – the divine God and founder of Ayurveda. And I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that this field of medicine is so widespread in the world attracting people from not just India, but worldwide. As the world has come to accept and recognize the potential and health benefits of Ayurveda and Yoga, I feel Shathayu Retreat is a perfect place to experience the journey to good health with it. I haven’t been to any other Ayurveda facility before, but this one surely caught my attention with its simple yet elegant architecture, location and great vibes.

After sipping on a glass of the cooling welcome drink, we went around to look around the property. The place offers a comfortable and luxury stay with options to choose from standard, deluxe and studio rooms. There’re consultation rooms with certified doctors & a number of, well-equipped, therapy rooms, with experienced, well-trained and courteous staff. The restaurant serves a decent variety of healthy food, no non-veg or liquor is served, for obvious reasons. I’m a vegetarian so this worked perfectly for me, but my husband gorged on the egg dishes (eggs are served, yes) whenever the menu had it.

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View of the little lake and resort from the hilltop. PC: Shathayu Retreat

We woke up at the crack of dawn to watch a beautiful sunrise, and needless to say, clicked a lot of pictures while admiring the play of colours in the morning sky.  So while a typical day at the retreat begins with meditation and yoga sessions facilitating a great and positive start to the day, we skipped that routine. I was more interested to go on a small hike to the rocky hill opposite the retreat. This place is also the venue for many adventure activities, like cross country race, Downhill Mountain biking, etc. Recently, the retreat was the venue for the Bangalore Mountain Festival.

I must confess, I wasn’t quite sure about what to expect before going there. But I’m so glad that the weekend turned out even better than what we had imagined. Plan a visit to Shathayu Retreat and embark on a journey to wellness with Ayurveda. Watch the magical sunrise & sunsets, eat healthy, indulge in yoga and meditation for peaceful and calmer mind, connect with your inner self, relax and just be.

 

A Late Post From Cartist – A Creative Art Festival For Car And Art Lovers

While on a trip to visit family in Pune, happened to come across Cartist – a creative automobile art festival and roadshow. So, these car and art lovers are on a road journey across India showcasing the work of talented artists. The festival provides a platform, encourages and promotes the artists, art students and creative individuals. You can read more about them on their website.

Though this is a late post about the Pune venue, the Cartists will still be journeying across India and you could catch them at their next destination.

My brother-in-law, who is a Professor at the Agriculture College of Pune told us about this colorful art festival that was happening on his college campus. The Agriculture college is a beautiful, stone building with a lovely campus. When we strolled in at the venue in the afternoon, some of the artists and art students were at work with their creative hats on, armed with brushes, colors, and paints.

If you someone who appreciates art & creativity or an artist yourself, take a look at these. If you have missed them at Pune, don’t worry they will be going to more cities in India where you could catch the artists at work or maybe participate.

For now, enjoy these pictures from the art show in Pune.

Agriculture college campus, Pune
Agriculture college campus, Pune

Cartist Map
Cartist Map

Art festival Pune
Art festival Pune

Art Festival India
Art Festival

Art Festival Car Paintings
Art Festival Car Paintings

Cartist Art Festival
Colours and creativity

 

Cartist Art Festival
Artist at work

Cartist Art Festival
Cartist Art Festival

Blooms And Blossoms: Lalbagh, Bangalore Flower Show 2017

It was a good day for a walk in the city. The day was clear and not too hot, and since I wasn’t doing anything significant (apart from lazing around on a Sunday afternoon) I decided to stroll off to the Flower Show happening in Bangalore. Every year, on the occasion of Independence Day, Lalbagh hosts a flower show. This year the garden city is celebrating the 206th flower show and it’s dedicated to the great Rashtra Kavi (national poet) Kuppali Vekatappa Puttapa who is fondly called as Kuvempu.

Flower Show Bangalore

A gallery showcasing the poet’s photographs, literary works, books, etc., can be visited. Stalls showcasing flower, fruits and vegetable arrangements can be seen around the area. You will see a huge arch welcoming the visitors to the flower show. Do look out for the 3-D visualization of the poet’s portrait on the left-hand side as you walk inside the arch.

The road from the arch leads to the glass house which is inside the Botanical Garden. Here is where the many beautiful flowers and plants are exhibited. One can see a huge replica of Kuvempu’s house made out of flowers at the glasshouse. There are beautiful flower arrangements inside the glasshouse. One can also see Cymbidium flowers here, that are grown in Sikkim and Darjeeling and which are originally from Australia and Netherlands. My favourite was the Gerberra and Pansy gardens and the colourful cacti pots.

Flower Show Bangalore

Outside the glasshouse, several stalls and booths are set up. Stroll past these or shop for the varieties of seeds, plants, gardening products and more. I chatted up with some of the exhibitors who gave informative insights about agriculture, horticulture, along with the unique/useful products they were exhibiting. For the first time, I tasted Areca tea and Stevia leaf (Stevia is a natural sweetener and a healthier alternative to sugar).

Later, I strolled off to the Peninsular Gneissic Rock Hill or commonly known as the Lalbagh Rock or Lalbagh Hill. This rock hill is a geological structure that is identified to be billions of years old, by the Geological Survey of India. A tower is erected on the hill top and a placard next to it suggests that it is one of the four watchtowers built by Kempegowda marking the predicted limits of the Bangalore town.

Flower Show BangaloreFlower Show Bangalore

The Lalbagh Flower Show is celebrated for 10 days. It was inaugurated on the 4th of August 2017 and will conclude on the 15th of August 2017. The flower show is open to visitors between 9 am – 6 pm. The entry fee per person is Rs. 60 (on weekdays it is priced less) for adults and Rs. 20 for children.

So are you going there? Tell me your observation if you have already been there.