Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Makara Sankranthi

Today is Makara Sankranthi and it is a big festival in South India. We are surrounded by houses adorned by rangoli designs with colors and flowers.
While I was on my grocery errands in the morning, I saw the children of our society drawing big rangoli designs and decorating them with colorful stones. I was amazed at their enthusiasm and the team effort they had put in. Guess what? It acted as an inspiration for me as well. My mind started racing with thoughts of various kinds of designs, all geometrical shapes. I had just finished teaching Geometry to one my students so explains the designs in my thoughts.

I searched the internet for some easy designs, did not get many. So had to put my coordinate geometry knowledge to good use and apply grid systems to form symmetrical designs. To tell you the truth, while I was drawing the rangoli, I enjoyed it very much. I never realised it will be so much fun.

Thanks to the kids, I also happened to read about the significance of the occasion as well. I would share the same information maintaining brevity.

Sankranthi is celebrated mid-January.

Astrological significance
The word is derived from sat and kranti or sankramana, meaning "sacred movement." The festival takes place when the sun moves from Dakshanayanam to Uttaryanam. It is known as Makara Sankranthi due to the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn. This is significant considering the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the gradual increase of the duration of the day.

Agricultural significance
This is a harvest festival. The crops sowed by the farmers are harvested now. Symbolically, the first harvest is offered to the Almighty and shared with the poor and the needy. Sweet delicacies are prepared on this auspicious day!

Kite-flying is the sport that marks the occasion. The sky is covered with colorful kites flown by children.

Happy Makara Sankranthi or Happy Pongal to all! May God bless the people of the world with peace and contentment!!

I would now like to share my Rangoli experiments:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tryst with nature - Gokarna-Karwar-Murudeswara

First of all, I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year!!

Last year ended well for us as we got the opportunity to visit some interesting places in karnataka.
Places visited : Gokarna, Om Beach, Karwar, Yana Hills(Trek), Murudeswara(world's tallest gopuram)
Team members : 17

Journey prelims
My husband and myself joined the rest of the gang, from hyderabad. After a futile search for trains to gokarna or nearby location Hubli, we finally booked our to and fro ticket by KSRTC volvo bus. There are very limited options from Hyderabad to reach Gokarna.

Hyderabad to Gokarna bus journey experience.
Our route was Hyderabad --> Hubli --> Ankola --> Madangeri --> Gokarna. Hyd to Hubli by KSRTC bus. We reached Hubli at 7:30 am on 24th Dec, and after inquiries found that at 8:00 am a bus to Ankola will come. Buses to Gokarna are again very few from Hubli. So we boarded the bus heading Karwar which has a halt at Ankola. It is a 4 hour journey from Hubli to Ankola with a 30 mins halt at Yellapur. After reaching Ankola, we knew that we are just 25 kms away from Gokarna so we decided to take an auto. Guess how much the auto guys asked us? 300 bucks to cover 25 kms distance. Kind localiites advised us to take a bus till Madangeri which is 15 kms from Ankola. Without giving much thought, we immediately took our seats in one of the small RTV buses that run in towns and villages. These are those rickety buses in which all available space is filled with human beings!!! Anyway, after all space filled, the bus driver triggered the ignition and after 30 minutes, we reached Madangeri. We were so tired thought of taking an auto from here. Again, fare was 150 bucks to cover 10 km distance. By God's Grace, we did not have to negotiate with the auto guys as within 5 minutes a city bus came heading towards Gokarna. In 15 minutes we were at the Gokarna bus station. All tired, hungry and fagged out with the 15 hour adventurous journey, we were just hoping to get a good accommodation.

As soon as we alighted from the bus at Gokarna, one pundit approached us and inquired whether we are looking for rooms. Rooms, oh yes, we are. Shourya, my husband, inquired about the facilities and charges. He said you can come and have a look at the lodge which was 5 minutes walk from the bus station. It was quite a big room with a balcony, dressing room, attached bathroom, all for Rs. 500 per day. We instantly liked it and paid for one day and told him that we will let him know later if we wish to continue our stay here. The lodge was Jagdeesh Niwas Lodge.

A quick bath and we hogged at the food served to us at some restaurant. After lunch, we inquired in almost I guess, all the hotels and lodges for rooms and found that till 31st there is no availability, it being Christmas and New year. Since we reached a day earlier than the bangalore group, we had to find an accommodation for them. After an hour of search, we booked rooms in the same lodge where we took the room, @250 per head per day.

Eye-Opener : Always reach a day earlier, if planning a vacation during festivals.

Following is the lodge where the group stayed on 25th December.

From 26th December to 28th December, we stayed at Kamat Lodge @Rs 250 per day. This lodge had hot water facility from 6 AM to 9 AM. In Jagadessh Niwas, no hot water facility.

Places we had food

Purohit Pure Veg Restaurant (Not very popular with the non-veg eaters!!)

This was very close to Kamat Lodge, right below Gokarna International. It served decent coffee(nescafe only). Upma was sweet, idlis were excellent, vadas too oily. Did not dare to have anything else there. It was not my favourite as it did not serve filter coffee, which is my most preferred hot beverage.

Sea Green Cafe (Best place for sea food)

This was right at the beach. Its location was perfect in the sense that on one side you had the beach and the other side tall green trees. It was my husband's and my favourite eating hangout in gokarna.

CAVEAT: Minimum service time - 30 - 45 minutes. Not a place for those who are famished, or those who do not want to wait for long or those who are looking for some sophistication or typical restaurant ambience.

This was the only place in gokarna that served yummy sea food and delicious north indian cuisine. I am a vegie and my husband(a bengali) out and out non-vegie. So we both got everything suiting our taste and needs!! :) They used to serve awesome phulkas(chapati).

Some of the stuff that we tried from their menu was: kofta, veg and fish sizzler, egg bhurji, soup(not that good), mouth-watering prawn masala, prawn fry, and many more.
Those who like to booze, they serve only beer.

Right after our meals, we would go for a walk on the beach. That was one primary incentive besides the good food. Hence, we did not mind the wait time.

Some techniques we used to expedite our order:
a) Call the waiters by their names. They like being called by their first names. More personal touch!!
b) Go directly to the counter and place your order first and then sit.
c) They have a system of leaving a writing pad on every table so you can write your order in that.
d) Remember, they prepare the dishes in the order you write, so if you write the starter at the end and main course first, then it will come in that same order!!! It took us one visit to understand the whole system.

Namaste Cafe

Cafe at Om Beach. This was again a good cafe. Apparently, the italian cuisine is very good, but we did not find it out of the world preparations. Sea food preparations were good. Non-salty finger chips served. Below is the photo of prawn sizzler that we ordered.

Naveen Beach Hotel

This restaurant was right next to the beach at Murudeswara facing the big Lord Shiva sculptor. Service again was little slow again. Here we saw another phenomena. The waiter would come to the table, commit the order to the memory and immediately run to the kitchen and vomit out what he memorized. Obviously he would run between table and kitchen like infinite times. Patience pays!!

I learnt one thing in the whole trip, that these are small, non or semi-commercial places where the localiites are still novice to the service industry and are incognizant of the professional methods to provide efficient and quick service to the customers. Besides, the localiites have seen a sudden influx of tourists in the past 3-4 years. Therefore, we need to just adjust to their sluggishness or amatuerish demeanour.

Now, something about the destinations.


Whenever we got time we would visit the beach. The beach is not all that clean. Its littered with animal/human feces, tree twigs that would hurt while walking on sand barefoot.

Besides the beach, Gokarna is very famous for its religious significance. Famous Mahabaleshwar temple is situated in Gokarna. It enshrines the atma-lingams. MahaShivarathri is a very important festival here.

The sunrise was awesome here. Following are some photos of Gokarna beach.

OM Beach

As the name suggests, the beach is in the shape of Om. There are half-moon beaches there. It is an ideal place to stay where they have huts on the beach. People go on trekking from one beach to another. Most of the hut accommodations are reserved mainly for foreign tourists.
We went on a boat ride in the evening there and then had dinner at Namaste Cafe.


The bus ride from Gokarna to Karwar was beautiful. The beaches of karwar are famous for its scenic beauty and historical significance. Most famous beach is Devbagh beach.

Photos of the beach we walked on. Also we found a dead jelly fish there.

After lunch, we all hired a boat to visit a private island. The owner quoted Rs. 250 per head, but after negotiations, he came down to Rs. 175 per head. We went on a mechanised boat, and the 40-minute ride to the island revealed scenery which was simply breathtaking. Karwar is actually sandwiched between the sea and the western ghats. At the island, we were the only tourists along with another family there. We folks played water frisbee for like an hour or so. After 1.5 hours we summoned the boat and were taken back to Karwar. Before leaving, took some photographs of the sunset. We also found some crabs there. Karwar is full of crabs.

Some more photos at Karwar

Yana Hills

Yana is located in the lush evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. The Bhairaveshwara Shikhara and the Mohini Shikhara are the main attraction of Yana. Yana is a popular destination for pilgrims, trekkers, and nature lovers.
Our bus took us to the spot from where trekking starts to reach the two shikharas. The ride up the hill was scenic and scary at the same time. The path/track was so narrow that only one vehicle could fit at a time and twice or thrice it happened that we were facing vehicle coming from opposite direction. Hats off to our bus driver for his driving skills who seamlessly treaded the path. It was 1 hour trek uphill.

We stopped at the Mohini Shikhara for 15 minutes and then started our trek downhill. The forest cover is so cooling, like air conditioner in summers. After finishing our trek, we ate sweet puris(called munch) and boiled eggs with salt. These we got them packed at the foot of the Yana hills.

Some photos of Yana Hills.

Our trek starting point... Bhairaveshwara Shikhara


This was our last destination point. From Yana Hills, it took us 2 hours to reach Murudeswara. We reached in the afternoon. Thus, first headed for our lunch to Naveen Beach resort.
Out of all the places that we visited, I found the beach at Murudeswara the best. The beach faces the world's tallest gopuram(249 feet) and a large structure of Lord Shiva.
The walk at the beach was really serene. After walking for a while, you cross the crowd and reach the more silent areas where you can just hear the sound of the waves!!! The beauty was too much to be captured by any camera in the world. One has to be there to really understand the beauty that is totally indescribable!

Some photos at Murudeswara:

Return Journey
Bus from Gokarna to Ankola. Then another bus from Ankola to Hubli and then our KSRTC bus to Hyderabad. Lo! we were home on 29th dec by 8 a.m.

And, our vacation comes to a conclusion. I feel it was the best way to end 2008 and welcome 2009 with refreshing memories of the trip to cherish forever!! :)

Bon Voyage! to all those who plan to visit these places of untouched and unexplored natural beauty and of historical and religious significance.