Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Visiting Kerala : The epilogue

This concludes the series on my experiences of visiting Kerala. I started with giving an idea as to whether you really need a package tour in the first article Planning a trip to Kerala. The series continued with my travelogue through the following locations :

1) Cochin
2) Munnar
3) Thekkady (Periyar National Park)
4) Allepey (Houseboat ride) and
5) Kumarakkom
Appropriate photographs of each location is attached with the articles. For more photographs you may visit my album in My Photography .

It was February of 2004 when I was there. Time had rolled on since then, but I am sure nothing much has changed. Go and enjoy the fascinating and panoramic landscapes of Kerala. I feel that you should not miss few things because of lack detailed information beforehand. I have provided phone nos. of hotels and travel agents you may be interested. I will feel good if my experiences help someone to have a memorable holiday in Kerala.

Planning a trip to Kerala -VI: Kumarakkom

Kumarakkom was chosen as the retreat for a 5-day vacation of A.B. Vajpayee in 2003. So did Prianynka Gandhi who spent some blissful time here in 2003 shooting this little known place on the outskirt of Kottayam town into prominence.

Adding Kumarakkom to the itinerary was more a spot decision than planned. All I had read about Kumarakkom on the net was that it has a bird sanctuary and is one of the options for houseboat trip on backwaters (the other being Allepey). On my return I was to catch a train to Bangalore where my brother lives and I found the nearest railhead from Allepey is Kottayam, the town made famous by the Malayala Manorama, published from here. Kottayam is also famous for it was the first town in India to achieve 100% literacy. I had planned to spend the last night at Kottayam, but Anthony, the travel agent suggested me to stay at Kumarakkom. So, after getting out of the houseboat, we proceeded to Kumarakkom, 34 km from Allepey. The taxi charged 600 bucks. Here I realized a mistake. I should have booked the houseboat from Allepey to Kumarakkom rather than the common Allepey to Allepey one. This resulted me in the additional taxi journey and associated expenditure.

Kumarakkom is around 12 km from the Kottayam town and in fact is the tourist destination here rather than the town. It was like Ernakulum and Fort Kochi in Cochin. The place is located around the sprawling Vambanad Lake that spreads from Kumarakkom to Cochin. It is seen at its maximum size of 25 km by 4 km at Kumarakkom. Here you will not find hotels. Only resorts. They are costly, but you have very little option. The first one I went in was not by the lakeside and still quoted rates upward of 2500. After a little asking here and there I was directed to a hotel by roadside. As we were dithering on staying there, the owner suggested me whether I would like to stay in cottages costing around 1000 bucks. He gave me a phone no. A lady picked up on the other side and I explained to her that I am having a family of 3 persons and I am on my last day of travel in Kerala. She told that she has a resort named Illikkalam Resort located by the lakeside with both AC and Non-AC rooms. For non-AC rooms the normal charge is 1700 bucks. I told her about my tentative budget of Rs.1000, but somehow she told me to come and gave directions to the driver. We were driven through a village to a farmyard where a young guy greeted us. He told me that madam had informed him about us. It turned out to be a private resort and the lady operates it from home. There were 4 cottages, all separately located amidst a spacious garden having variety of plants. It was right on the banks of the Vambanad Lake and our cottage was hardly 20 feet from the lake. I felt quite nice about the place and was ready to shell out upto 1500 bucks. But when I went to the office and asked about how much I would have to pay, the guy told me that you have already discussed about it with madam. That meant I paid only 1000 bucks. I was really lucky to stumble upon this. But one should be ready to shell out anything between 1500 to 2000. And remember, stay at a resort that is by the lakeside. Else it will be waste of money.

A strong breeze from the lake was lashing us all the time. Hammocks were provided on the garden to enjoy the beauty of the lake. All the four cottages were occupied – one by a foreign tourist and the other two by honeymooners. The resort arranges for boat rides in the lake and one of the honeymoon couples went for a country boat ride in the afternoon. We were just back from spending a day in houseboat, and as such we had no such plan to go out but to sit, relax and enjoy. It was so peaceful and cool on the banks that provides you such blissful solitude. This is why people come here. We relaxed watching numerous houseboats that passed by our resort refreshing our memories of the day before. Look at the photograph above. They are fishermen out in the Vambanad lake for that early morning catch. I took it while having breakfast at the resort garden.

Food was made to order. You are given the options to cook if you want. You may not like to cook, but after having too much of curry leaves in last few days you would definitely like to advise the recipe. It was just like home away from home. We felt totally at home there. Had we had such a cottage of our own at such a beautiful location!

Staff at the resort arranges for taxi and autos as per your requirement. Interacting with taxiwala and autowala both on way in to Kumarakkom and out, I understood the utility of Kumar, the driver we had for 3 days. Most of the taxiwalas and the autowalas here could not speak Hindi or English and I had to use every mean, including sign language to interact with them. The driver who brought us here from Allepey seemed know only one hotel – Taj, and despite telling him what kind of accommodation I am looking for he still took me to the Taj, where Vajpayee stayed. I had to yell at him – Are bachhe ka jaan lega kya? Something similar happened on our way out to station as well. We left for Kottayam station on our way to Bangalore. Believe me, there was no coolie in the station. The train arrived on time. The engine chugged along pulling us slowly out of God’s Own Country. Like all good things, a memorable vacation had come to an end.

Before concluding I am giving the phone nos. of Illikkalam Lake Resort : 0481-2525234/ 2525651.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -V: 20 Hours in Kerala Backwaters

Backwaters is what everyone comes to experience in Kearala. Formed by innumerable canals, lakes, estuaries and lagoons, this is a intricate network of lush green waterways that presents you a sight you will savor forever. These backwater alleys are like our road networks. These are lifelines for the people living around them. Motor lunch and boats transport people from places to places along the backwaters. Add to this landscape of daily life, the numerous houseboats, traditionally called the Kettuvalloms, ferrying tourists presenting them 22 unforgettable hours of life in Kerala backwaters.

I had booked a houseboat from Allepey through the travel agent at Kochi. Along with Kumarakkom, Allepy is the hub of backwater cruises. On our arrival from Periyar, our boat was waiting for us at the Nehru Boat Trophy Finishing Point on the sprawling Vambanad Lake. This is where the famous Snake Boat race on the Vambanad Lake concludes. On entering the Allepey town you will finds boats in all shapes and size everywhere. They were virtually jamming the canals inside the town. There are boats and houseboats of all verities and shapes to suit your budget. You will get houseboats in one bedroom and two bedroom combinations with attached bath. Each has own unique style of construction and tastefully decorated. The owners certainly took pride in their houseboats. In addition to the bedrooms, there normally are an open dining hall and also an open balcony on top. There are ample no. of comfortable chairs on board. There is a small cabin cum kitchen on the back for the crew. Solar panels are fitted on top ensures uninterrupted electricity at night. Rooms are equipped with lights and fans. Mosquito nets, which are a must, are wrapped nicely on the ceiling. Most houseboats are powered with a single speedboat engine that produces just enough power to push the massive boat slowly. However there are houseboats available, which are run by manpower rather than horsepower. Some foreign tourists prefer them. But let me tell you that those will be painstakingly slow and boring. Besides there are boats with chairs only available for a tour of the Vambanand Lake and its adjoining backwaters. But book a houseboat. It is worth every rupees you spend for it. One day in houseboat means 12 pm on the day of boarding to 10 am next day. The package is inclusive of lunch, evening refreshments, dinner, and breakfast next morning.

Our houseboat was named the Lake Beauty. We bade goodbye to Kumar, the driver of the car we were traveling for the past 3 days. He was a good fellow. As we were to comeback to Allepey next morning, we arranged for a taxi for taking us to Kumarakkom. The boat set sail shortly after we came overboard. We were a bit late on reaching Allepey and so there were only few boats left in the area. The boat was taken to the middle of the Vambanand lake and was anchored there for lunch. Cooked in the traditional way to give you a taste of local flavours, the lunch was delicious. I liked the fish they served. Once the lunch was over, the boat set sail again, slowly taking us deeper and deeper into countryside through the interlinked backwater alleys.

I put my camera on the tripod and sat on the balcony to have a good view of the surroundings. The boat was traveling at leisurely pace providing us the magnificent view of the lush green backwaters surrounded by coconut grooves. It cannot be described in words. It has to be seen and felt. I tried to capture these moments as much as possible in my cameras. Some of these can be seen at www.albumtown.com/rupankar.

After 3 days traveling this was an ideal foil. On the houseboat you had nothing to do but to relax and enjoy the nature’s spectacle. By evening, the boat reached a point where it was anchored close to the bank with many other houseboats. Most of the houseboats had foreign tourists. May be local tourist found it a avoidable luxary to pay 5000 plus for a 24 hrs. houseboat ride. The sunset created another spectacle of colour around us. As the evening set in, the captain of the boat light up the lanterns in the dining area which added to the charm of the boat. But it also invited the insects and mosquitoes. Dinner was served early as we had ordered. You do not get a choice of food. They have their own menu and you have to take the traditional Kerala food they serve. Food though is delicious. We slipped into the bedrooms for spending a memorable night in backwaters. For your safety, they park the boats at nights away from the banks.

Almost everything was picture perfect except the water. Water is greenish in colour. This is pumped onto the boat for toilets. Once you see the algae and other floating objects in the buckets, forget about having a bath, you will not even like to wash your face with that water. You are served bottled water for drinking as much as you need. But they will not give you bottled water for toilets. So, my advice is to carry at least 2 bottles of 2 ltrs. bottled water for washing face etc. Further, after dark, it was a bit boring, as you have nothing to do in the boat other than waiting to have dinner and go to bed.

I got up early next morning to catch a glimpse of the rising sun in backwaters. The boat started its journey back at around 7:30 am. Soon we are caught in a virtual houseboat race as houseboats coming from different directions keep getting converged onto the main canal on their way back We enjoyed this spectacle from the breakfast table. Finally we got back to where we had started the day before at around 10 am bringing an end to this unforgettable trip. The jetty was crowded with houseboats. Our car was waiting at the jetty. We will not forget this 20 hours in houseboat in the backwaters for our life. We will definitely come back here one day.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -IV: Thekkady and Periyar

We left Munnar at around 3 pm and set out for the famous Periyar National Park, known for its elephant herds. We covered the distance of about 180 km from Munnar in 4 hrs. The drive through spice plantations was very pleasant. This is the Spice County. The road runs along the borders Tamil Nadu in some places. May be Veeranpan once roamed in these jungles. Thekkady is the town centre about 3 km from the Periyar NP. Munnar has a charm of its own but you may not like to stay there for more than a night. But Thekkady is one place where you can seriously think of staying for 2 nights. Most of the hotels are located near the gate to the national park. I was surprised to find hotel charges very low as compared to other places in Kerala. This may be because most tourists stay here for more than a day. I took cottages (not rooms!) for Rs.500/- each in Leela Pankaj Resorts located just 200 meters from the gate to the park. We decided to have dinner outside in the town so that we can move around the town. The market is full of Spices shop. They sell spices in various packaging and are ideal for souvenir to be gifted on your return. Prices were cheaper as compared to what we get at back home. Everyone was buying spices. We also ended up buying more than 1000 rupees worth of spices. Thereafter we had to buy extra bags for carrying these spices back home. Let me tell you that quality of the spices were really good. There are some souvenir shops near the gate of park that sells handicraft items. We bought Kathakali masks and houseboat replicas there.

One big headache of visiting national park is to get up at those unearthly hours to catch the first trip into jungles. Wild animals like getting out early before sunrise! The visiting area Periyar National Park is limited around the beautiful Periyar Lake. Lake Cruise conducted by forest deptt. is the best way to visit the park. Animals come out early in the morning before the sun shows its might in search of water and freshly sprouted grass on the banks of the lake. The first cruise starts at 5:30 am. Next trips are at 7 and 9:30 am. But those will be too late, as rising temperature will push the animals back into the jungle. Vehicles are allowed upto the jetty from where the ferry leaves. Another good thing I found here was the very nominal gate fee charged by forest deptt. For taking the vehicle into the park I had to pay just 16 rupees – Rs.10 for the vehicle and Rs.2 per head. For the 2-hour boat cruise the charge per head was 60 rupees plus an additional 20 bucks for the camera. Now compare these to the amount charged at Kaziranga NP. You are forced to pay 60 rupees as entry fee per head, pay 100 odd bucks for the vehicle entry, pay another 50 as guard fee, pay 50 for camera everyday, pay 120 per head for elephant ride, and so on. Low fees certainly encourage more tourists.

So the boat set its sail at 5:30 am. Sun was still under horizon. Reflections of the red soil and lush green vegetations on the placid waters of the lake were exuding a different kind of eerie charm. The lake is dotted by many burnt dry tree trunks, which indicates the once there were plantations in the area now under water. In fact this lake was a man made artificial reservoir built by the Britishers in 1935. Most of the passengers on the ferry were foreign tourists and a fair no. of Gujjus from Mumbai. The ferry was moving slowly, navigating through the tree trunks. On the way it picked up some tourists from a forest deptt. run resort located well inside the jungle. I can tell you this is probably the best place to spend a night though it is very costly. Forest deptt. has another resort named Aranya Nivas near the boat jetty, which is also within jungle. But this one is ideally located. The ferry moved on. Soon we spotted some deers. Then we had the first sight of a small elephant herd. As the ferry was taken closer to the bank for us to have a good view of the herd, they fled into the jungle. We saw few odder, bisons, wild boars, some water birds and another herd of elephant. I must say you see more animals in Kaziranga safaris. But watching animals on this unique boat safari on this scenic lake is by no means less exciting. The safari ended after 2 hours and we were back to hotels. Somking inside the park arae is prohibited and is strictly enforced.

The boat safari is not the end of activities in Periyar. If you have time in hand this is what you can do here --- 1) Go on jungle trekking. Groups of 5 are allowed per trip and are conducted in the morning. 2) In the evening forest deptt. conducts Night Safari from 7 to 8 pm which should also be interesting. I felt it will be more fun and adventure rather than getting to see animals. 3) Then there is a 3-day Tiger Trail conducted here. 4) Indulge yourself in one of those Kerala style ayurvedic massage centers here. 5) Every evening Kathakali dance is organized for tourists. Your hotel will arrange for tickets.

I did not have much prior information of these activities at Periyar. neither these were available on the net. So my itinerary had only one day allocated to Periyar. Further my houseboat was already booked and so I could not alter plans to extend my stay here. But if I come back here, I will certainly stay for two days here. We left Periyar for Allepey where the best 24 hours of our vacation was waiting to unfold.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -III: Munnar

Our next destination was Munnar, a hill station approximately 150 km from Cochin. A few kilometers out of Cochin, you start getting the first glimpse of rubber plantations in the area. The climb is not stiff and your comfort is doubled by the feel of the cool weather on your way up the hill. On the way we stopped at a roadside restaurant named Farm Yard. The place is beautifully landscaped and decorated to give you a feel of real farm. The place was not crowded and so you can spend few moments of blissful solitude. After a 3-hour drive we had arrived at Munnar. Kumar, the driver took us to a hotel named Sree Narayana Annexe. The charges were Rs.950 plus taxes for a double room. It was a good hotel but we found no accommodation there as two big groups in busses had checked in just before we reach. We settled for a nearby lodge that was more of a kind of private home. We paid Rs.600/- for a double room. Foreign tourists prefer this kind of accommodation. But we took food in the restaurant of Sree Narayana Annexe. Talking about food I have to make special mention of curry leaves. They will be everywhere – from cutlets to aloo parantha to dal to anything you get to eat.

Next morning we started our local sightseeing at around 9 am. Once we started climbing, tea gardens started appearing. The lush green bushes of tea were laid like carpets on the hill. We had seen many tea gardens in Assam. But this sight of tea gardens was quite unique. You cannot stop getting down to have a photograph amidst the gardens. First we went to Madupetty dam. It had a big reservoir surrounded by hills. What we found quite interesting is that mango was sold here in February. We devoured those tasty February mangoes. Many small kids were also strawberry and nice fresh carrots. Speedboat cruise of the reservoir are operated from the other side of the dam. Two kinds of boats were available – speed boat and one large boat for big groups. The place was crowded and one has to stand in long queues for your turn. I paid Rs.200/- for a 15-minute speedboat ride. Ride was fun. But you can feel the pollution caused in the tank by the spilled oils from the boats. This reminded me of such a boat trip in Chennai, on way to Mahabalipuram. The water there was full of kerosene mixture smell.

After the boat ride, we proceeded further up the hill. There is spot called Echo Point few kilometers up. People were found letting out all kind of yell to here the echo getting reflected from surrounding hills. Further up the hill, there was another dam but we found the reservoir there dry. Both the dams are on the same river. This completed our Munnar local sightseeing. We came back to hotel for lunch.

After lunch and a siesta, we set out for our next destination Thekkady. This road out from Munnar, unfolded before us another spectacle of magnificent tea gardens clad hills. In the horizon there were never ending hills all covered by carpets of tea bushes. It was an unforgettable sight. Munnar is the HQ of Tata Tea Ltd. All the gardens there belong to Tata Tea. Initially I thought of skipping Munnar. But I took the wise advice of must go to Munnar and traveling on this road I felt what I would have missed. It was an unforgettable sight.

A little further down, we start getting the spice plantations. This is Spice County. Kerala is famous for spices and colonizers came here in search of spice. First we saw the Black Pepper plants grown at home by the villagers residing along the road. Then we found stretches of cardamom plantations for several kilometers along the road. We got down to pick up some fresh cardamom and black pepper from trees.

This completed our Munnar trip. What was unique to Munnar were the tea gardens clad hills. This is what people come here to see. The climate here is also quite different from Cochin. We had to buy summer attires in Cochin to cope with the rising mercury even in February. We had started with warm clothes from Assam which were useful in Kolkata as well. But Cochin was hot beyond our expectations. Munnar was in contrast was much cooler and pleasant. As always, at the end I am giving you the phone numbers you may need.

Hotel Sree Narayana Annexe, Munnar : Phone – 04865 –232022/ 232033

Monday, July 18, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -II: Cochin

Tourism in Kerala can be broadly classified into two circuits viz., beaches in South and backwater in North. You have to decide what you want to experience. If your plan is to be in the beaches, then go to south and head for Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum). That itinerary should include Kanyakumari as well. However if your plan is to experience the backwaters and the real Kerala, then head for Cochin. My word is head for Cochin and experiences the backwaters. It is breathtaking, splendid, and magnificent. Words cannot describe your feelings amidst this resplendent beauty specially bestowed by God. Someone truly wrote – Like an epic poem, Linking a glorious past to an unfolding present, it is the God’s Own Country. This circuit includes Munnar, Thekkady (Periyar), Allepey and Kumarakkom.

The tales of backwaters had always allured me and so I headed for Cochin.

Cochin :

After being hauled through six states by the great Indian railway, I landed in Ernakulam Junction on a fine evening in Feb, 2004. Cochin is basically divided into 3 parts. Ernakulam is the main city (and rail head), Fort Cochi is where tourist goes and then you get the manmade Willingdon Island connecting these two places. Fort Cochi is where you should stay in Cochin because most of the places of tourist interest are there. I too headed for Fort Cochi but found no accommodation there though there were a good number of hotels there. The place is mostly occupied by foreigners. After scouting for accommodation, I had to come back to Willingdon Island and put up at ATS Willingdon Hotel. It was a good hotel charging Rs.850/- for a double room plus taxes. But the location is very isolated. You can also think of staying in Ernakulam as KTDC boat tours of Cochin are conducted from there. But ideal place is Fort Cochi. Book there before you go.

I hired a taxi for around Rs.400/- for local sightseeing of Cochin next morning. Cochin sightseeing hardly takes you half a day. There are the Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Cochi, then the St. Thomas Church which is the first church built in India and then visit to the Muttoncherry Dutch Palace. That’s all you have to watch in Cochin. You will end up spending most of the time in Fort Cochi and so I told that prefer to stay at Fort Cochi. The big Chinese Fishing Nets which needs 6/7 man to operate are the main attractions there. Chinese traders introduced these nets. You will also see the ships getting in and out of Cochin harbor. Dolphins are also spotted here. Dolphins ? Yes, I mean dolphins! Just spend some time on the banks and you will get to see many dolphins. There are small boat operators in that area who charges around Rs.200/- per trip for dolphin watching. But you are really not required to take this trip. Just spend some time on some stalls on the banks sipping some natural cold drinks and you will get to see many dolphins. Cochin is called the Venice of the East. It was once a busy trading port for spices.

There were many travel agents at Fort Cochi market area. I approached one Matha Taxis to decide on my future course of travel. A guy named Anthony manned it and the guy was good. Kerala economy thrives on tourism and so these travel agents are not like those found in Delhi. If you approach those so-called travel agents around New Delhi station, you will be doomed and have to cut short your visit, as they will loot you as much as they could. But Kerala is totally different. I hired a car from him for next 3 days and also booked a houseboat at Allepey. The rate agreed for houseboat was Rs.5000/- for a double bedroom boat. As I had mentioned in my last article the rate I paid for houseboat was much cheaper than what is normally quoted in the net.

As my sightseeing in Cochin was over by noon, I had checked out in the afternoon and proceeded for Munnar. On the way out of Cochin, I found the city to be very scenic. Abundant water bodies and coconut grooves were adding to the beauty of the surroundings. I got the first glimpse of backwater alleys. This completes my Cochin trip. If you plan to spend one complete day in Cochin, then take a village backwater tour in Cochi in the afternoon. Matha Taxi conducts such tours. I am giving you few numbers below that may be helpful to you.

Matha Taxis : Office at Fort Cochi. Phone – 0484-2215534, 2215334 Mob - 0944716636
Email -- mathataxi@hotmail.com

KTDC : Office at Ernakulum. Phone – 0484-2353234, 2382199
Email – ktdccok@sancharnet.in website – http://www.ktdc.com/

ATS Willingdon Hotel : 0484-2667643, 2667282 Email : atswillingdonhotel@vsnl.net

(Next I will be writing about Munnar)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tour de France

Watching the live telecast of Tour de France being shown these days in Ten Sports every evening, I was curious to know how Lance Armstrong, who is not seen winning any race, eventually wins the tour. So many such questions pop up like what is the scoring system, how winner is decided, how jersey's are awarded, etc. The most coveted jersey is the Yellow Jersey, called the maillot jaune worn by the overall time leader, i.e., the rider with the lowest total race time upto that stage is considered the leader. The colour of this Yellow Jersey came from the yellow page named L'Auto, the original sponsor of the race. The tradion of awarding the Yellow Jersey on a daily basis came into practice from 1919. There are other jerseys for winners in different categories. There is the Green Jersey, called the malliot vert awarded to the rider who accumulates maximum points. Then there is the Polka Dot Jersey awarded to the King of the Mountains, the rider with highest mountain points. The last one is the White Jersey awarded to the best rider in under 25 category. Besides being an individual sport, it also is a team event, where teams of 9 pedalls over 3500 km in 3 weeks in this tough test of endurance and strength. The race was started in 1903 and this is the 92nd edition. Want to know more. Read on this excellent link Tour de France .
Here is another interesting link at The 2005 Tour de France which will give you graphical details of the tour and many things you may like to know.

Planning a trip to Kerala?

Most people in ONGC forego the chance to explore exotic places they get once every four year by encashing their LFA – OTHT. LFA is the LTC equivalent for us. Many are compelled to do this because they have more dependents on record (cash cows) than they actually have whom they cannot tow along for a holiday, and some because they do not have time or want to explore places. I had always utilized my LFA-OTHT and I had used the one for this block for a wonderful vacation in Kerala in Feb, 2004. Kerala is indeed a place chosen by God to be beautiful. Nature’s beauty is in resplendent form all around. Visit Kerala for a vacation you will savor for your life. I spent six unforgettable days amidst the breathtaking backwaters made greener by coconut forests in Allepy, the hills with tea gardens blanketing them in Munnar, the placid waters of lake Periyar and the tranquilled resort on the bank of Vambanad lake in Kumarakkom.
Package tours: Think again before you decide

Package tours promise you a complete tour without any headache. So, no headache oflooking for hotel, transport, etc. (and so no planning and adventure). But mind you they will leave a hole in your pocket. Most of the packages are ex-Cochin and costs 40K plus. The route followed is Cochin -- Munnar -- Allepey (for backwater houseboat ride) -- Cochin. Kerala being a far off land with apprehensions of language and tourist influx, I almost fall for a package trip. But the cardinal principle is that Package tours are meant for foreign tourist or foreign land, not for Indians in India. The cheapest package I found on the net was offered by traveljini.com for Rs.27,000/- for 3 persons with only one meal plus breakfast. So, after gathering all information I need from the net, I set out on my own, landed on my own, traveled on my own, and booked hotels on spot. I went to all these places plus Kumarakkom and still my cost for this 6 day trip of 3 persons was just 18,000/- including meal. The bulk of expense was for houseboat @ Rs.5000/- for one night and the hired car @ Rs.1000/- per day for 4 days. Not taking a package tour also provides flexibility to your itinerary. I could slip in 24 memorable hours break at a Kumarakkom resort on the bank of Vambanad lake. Remember, most packages do not include Kumarakkom in their itinerary.
What you cannot avoid while traveling In Kerala is having your own hired vehicle. Language is the biggest barrier for communication. Your driver will double up as your guide. So, try getting a driver who at least understands Hindi. After landing in Cochin, I did my own sightseeing for a day. Thereafter I hired a car through a local tour operator named Matha Taxis form th Fort Cochi area. I had also booked a houseboat at Allepy through this tour operator. I paid 5000 rupees for a double bedroom houseboat. On the net, I found that charges for single bedroom house boat was upwards of 5000. So, I got a good bargain for houseboat as well. Do you still want to have a package tour?
(Next I will be writing individually on these locations in Kerala)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Numaligarh Dhaba

Located precisely 124 km from my residence at Nazira, this was our eating joint on occasional Sunday outings. Nazira as a living place is terribly boring because it lacks even a single outing spot for refreshment or entertainment. Sivasagar though is a little better. But the highways were good with very moderate to low traffic and so driving on the highways was always a pleasure. So you can plan outings for little far off places. You can easily drive at 80 plus on the highways. However, you will be stopped on numerous occasions by stray animals that somehow loves living on the roads. There is a popular term to refer to them -- Bovine Breakers.

The dhaba is located about a kilometer from the Numaligarh tinali, on the right side of the highway towards Guwahati. You can easily spot it by cars parked outside it. Besides, the occasional Sunday outings, the dhaba was ideally located for us to have breakfast on our journey’s to Guwahati. Similarly, it was ideal location for the evening cup of tea on return trips from Guwahati. The dhaba remains open till very late in the night. We once had dinner there at around 12 in the night on a late return from Guwahati.

What is so good about the dhaba? Well, it is more of a hotel than the dhabas that dots the national highways. It is clean and open enough to make you feel like having food. Food is good though not delicious. It is bit costlier then those hotels in Jakhalabandha and Bokakhat. A little price you pay for having food in a good clean place. They have a big pond in the backyard where they farm fish. Farm fresh fish are though not served probably. They also have their own mini duck and chicken farm in the backyard. The open paddy fields in the backyard add to the pleasantness of the place. It also has a PCO which you may not need anymore in these of mobiles.

The main motive of coming here on holidays is a little break from the monotonous life at Nazira. There is not much on Dibrugarh side. Come here on a weekend or you may stop here on your way to Kaziranga. It will take you about 3 hrs. from Nazira. Have food and relax. You may also check out the road that goes to the Numaligarh refinery about 7/8 km from here. The road is scenic. Once you see the location of the refinery township, the isolated landscape will make you feel good that you live in a better place called Nazira.

Monday, July 11, 2005

GMVN phone numbers

I have collected few GMVN guest house nos. which may be useful to you for planning a trip -
Joshimath (new) -- 01389 - 222226
Ukhimath -- 01364 - 264236 (On Joshimath - Kedarnath route)
Syalsor -- 01364 - 258228 (On Rudraprayag - Kedarnath route)
Harsil -- 01377 - 232210 (Preferred night halt on Gangotri route)

Rain! rain! Go away

One of the rhymes in my little daughter's book starts like this. Many of the Doonites would be echoing this rhyme this morning. It has been raining here since yesterday like pouring from buckets. The roads are having a thick ankle deep flim of water. Can we get flood here in Dehradun? Probably not. But this incessent heavy downpour will certainly create floods in plains down below. We could hardly got out for office this morning. Visibility was a problem because of the rain. I wondered how people were out on two wheelers. It is still raining. We hope that the rain god should take some rest. We have had enough for this spell.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I understands that many of my readers are not able to view photgraphs of Badrinath posted in my blog (may be because of websense). My photographs can be seen now at www.albumtown.com/rupankar/ . A link to this website is also provided on the right. Hosting an album is the best way to share your photos with friends and family rather then sending them as attachments in mail. You also can share your photographs through albumtown. It is fairly easy and provides free storage space of 50MB. This is good enough space if you know how to scan for net. My photgraphs are mostly scanned at 75 dpi. I have wrote about scanning in one of my earlier posts. Yahoo also offers photo sharing facility which gives you 30MB of free space. But that site is also not opening properly because of websense.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Dehradun Paltan Bazar razed down

The Paltan Bazar in Dehradun has been the favourite evening hotspot for most of our ONGC colleagues during their IMD (now Academy) days. The Paltan bazar is just one of the bazars in that area that sells regular daily wears. Interweaved by gallis, there in fact are many bazaars in that area about which you may not have heard. We were used to the narrow road that dissects the Paltan Bazar unmindful of the fact that constricted road is a result of encroachments from both sides. Local authorities sprung into action on 27th June after reprimanded by court for not taking any action despite court orders. It all started around 11 in the morning. My wife who went to the market got caught in the mess. According to her account, more than 300 policemen cordoned off the market and nobody was allowed to come or leave the market area. Traffic from Kaulagarh side was stopped at Bindal Bridge. Bulldozers were pressed into service, which demolished all the unauthorized constructions. All the shops had lost their front doors as they were illegally extended on to the road. Some shops were totally razed down.

When I went to the market last Saturday, it looked more like a construction site with debris scattered all around. Few shops have managed to reopen. Others are busy removing the debris or repairing what is leftover. It is understood that notice have been sent to other areas / markets as well. I could see people making alterations in their buildings themselves in Moti Bazaar and Macchi Bazar areas before the axe falls. This action has indeed sent a strong message though many shopkeepers seem confident that this was just one off incident. But as of now, we in Dehradun has to postpone certain shopping for want of Paltan Bazar.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Scanning photographs: What resolution we should scan at?

You may be elated at acquiring a good scanner that is capable of scanning at 1200X1200 dpi or above. But soon found that file size of your 4X6 photograph scanned at 300 dpi is more than 1MB and will be tough to upload onto internet or send it through email. You are worried that scanning at lower resolution may result in loss of detail. So you are caught at the dilemma of what resolution to use. I had experimented with various resolutions and formats before deciding to do a bit of research on the net. I have compiled the findings to get you of this diaspora.

Photographic Resolution :
Scanning color prints can rarely yield more detail when scanned at more than 300 dpi. The word color prints is to be noted here, to exclude film and B&W prints. In particular, we are speaking of typical 6x4 inch (4X size of 35 mm negatives) color prints. It is generally difficult to detect much practical benefit when scanning above 300 dpi (and frankly, sometimes above 200 dpi for not that sharp snapshots from inexpensive cameras). Higher resolutions are meant for scanning negatives which helps in capturing much finer details in they possesses. Enlargements produced from scanned negatives always gives better results then from scanned prints.

The HP scanner web site says:
"A Note on Resolution: The vast majority of scanning projects require resolutions lower than 300 dpi. For example, scanning a photograph at resolutions higher than 150 to 200 dpi only produces a larger file, not more detail."

Tips: If you plan to print your images in a magazine or book, scanning at 300 or 600 dpi is highly recommended. You can scan once, save a high resolution (600dpi) TIFF file, then change the resolution to 72 dpi and save another copy as a JPG for the Web. Later, when you want the print resolution image, you'll have it.

Scanning for Video / Your PC :
Scanning for viewing or displaying in PC is totally different from scanning for print. For images viewed on computer screens, scan resolution merely determines image size. The bottom line is that dpi or ppi means pixels per inch, which means that if you scan 6 inches at 100 dpi (or 1 inch at 600 dpi), you will create 600 pixels, which will display on any screen as 600 pixels in size. We think of greater resolution as showing more detail, and while that's generally true (within reasonable limits), it's because it makes the image larger.

Your scanning resolution is determined by the screen resolution of your PC. The most popular screen resolution for a 15” monitor is 1024 X 768. We often scan at higher resolutions to fill more of the screen. When we increase scan resolution, we get more pixels, so it increases the image size. But a little goes a long way, and there's no advantage in wrestling with overly huge images just to discard most of the pixels when we display them. So don't scan at 300 dpi or 600 dpi when there's no purpose for it.

If you scan a 6x4 inch photo at 110 dpi, then you will necessarily get an image size of
(6 inches x 110 dpi) x (4 inches x 110 dpi) = 660 x 440 pixels
which more or less totally fills a 640x480 monitor screen.
Or scanning the 6x4 inch photo at 140 dpi gives
(6 inches x 140 dpi) x (4 inches x 140 dpi) = 840 x 560 pixels
which more or less totally fills a 800x600 monitor screen.
Or scanning the 6x4 inch photo at 180 dpi gives
(6 inches x 180 dpi) x (4 inches x 180 dpi) = 1080 x 720 pixels
which more or less totally fills a 1024x768 monitor screen.

In real world practice, we are much more likely to scan at round numbers like 100, 150 or 200 dpi (giving 600x400 pixels, 900x600 pixels and 1200x800 pixels, from a 6x4 inch photo) instead of 110, 140, or 180 dpi. Ideally for sharing in web your images should be not more than 100K at 1024X768 pixels.

File Format :
TIF file format is the undisputed leader when best quality is required. TIF is very commonly used in commercial printing or professional environments. It is best suggested for preserving the master copies. But file size is very large.

Web pages require JPG or GIF or PNG image types, because that is all that browsers can show. On the web, JPG is the best choice (smallest file) for photo images, and GIF is most common for graphic images. (.JPG file extension, pronounced Jay Peg). This is the right format for those photo images which must be very small files, for example, for web sites or for email. The JPG file is wonderfully small, often compressed by 90%, or to only 1/10 of the size of the original data, which is very good when modems are involved. However, this fantastic compression efficiency comes with a high price. JPG uses lossy compression (lossy meaning "with losses"). Lossy means that some image quality is lost when the JPG data is compressed and saved, and this quality can never be recovered.

Never save scans for the Web as GIFs or BMPs, because those formats throw away about 16 million colors, most of which you probably want to keep, and once they are gone, they're gone. TIF and Photoshop formats keep more information in the image while you are editing it. After editing, Saving a Copy As JPG format gives you Web compatibility and reasonable compression with good file size.

Scanning Resolution for Printing:
Scanning for Printing and for viewing in PC calls for scanning at different resolutions. If the purpose is about printing, perhaps the goal is to print 8x10 inches at 300 dpi. Then to do that, we need an image size of (8 inches x 300 dpi) x (10 inches x 300 dpi) = 2400 x 3000 pixels. If scanning an 8x10 original, then 300 dpi will create 2400x3000 pixels. But if scanning a 4x5 inch original, then it takes 600 dpi to create 2400x3000 pixels. However if we only intend to print 6x4 inches at 300 dpi, then 1800x1200 pixels is the right goal. You must decide what you want, but the answer is entirely about pixels per inch (often called dpi). If you want to print the image to be 6x4 inches at 300 dpi on paper, then the requirements for the image are : (6 inches x 300 dpi) x (4 inches x 300 dpi) = 1800x1200 pixels. This image is larger than most video screens. Printing typically requires a larger image (more pixels) than does the video screen.

In most programs like Photoshop or PhotoImpact or PhotoDeluxe, the scans are printed at real size. That is, if you scan a 6x4 inch photo, and then select the menu FILE - PRINT, it will print 6x4 inches on the paper too. Resolution does NOT determine image size on the printer as it does with video. The size of the original scan area determines printer image size. Lower resolution can look fuzzy, and higher resolution may look better, but the printed size will be the same at any scan resolution. Printed resolution works like we think of resolution, as increasing image detail instead of image size. Printed pages are normally a standard size defined in inches, 8.5 x 11 say, so printed image size in inches is very meaningful too. The printer driver will try to print the image at its original size in inches, unless told otherwise. Conversely, video screens don't care about inches. If you have a 600x400 image, video monitors will show it as a 600x400 image (unless the viewing software's goal in life is to make it fit or fill the screen, etc). Notice that both techniques do maintain the same relative size of the image to the total size of the page or screen.

Scanning for Magazine / newspaper prints :
Magazines and Newspapers use a different parameter called LPI (Lines Per Inch). The resolution requirements are as under --
Magazines 133/150 lpi - scale to 225 to 300 dpi.
Newspapers 85/100 lpi - scale to 150 to 200 dpi
Many magazines use 133 or 150 lpi, for which scanning at 133 lpi x 1.5 = 200 dpi is fine for many cases, but many editors will habitually ask for 300 dpi. 150 to 200 dpi images are enough for printing in newspapers at 85 or 100 lpi.

Conclusion :
By now you have got a fair idea of what resolution is to use. Ask yourself, “How many times you are going to print enlargements from scanned prints?” The answer will probably be NIL. For most of us the main purpose of scanning is to share it with friends and family over the internet. For preserving in CDs, scan at 300 dpi. File size for a 4X6 print at 300 dpi will be around 650K. Then save another copy for sharing over net at around 100 dpi or less to keep file size less than 100K. All these, however do not mean that you should not be too worried about the resolution of the scanner you are buying or you should not boast of higher resolution of your scanner. You should still go for the scanner with higher resolution as a 150 dpi scan from a 1200 dpi scanner will still give you a better result then from a 600 dpi scanner. In fact for good quality scanning 600 dpi is considered just good enough and you should not buy anything less than that. Further, the Bit Depth should be at least 30 (most new models has the max. of 48) and Optical Density should be at least 3 (max is 4). So, you should still feel happy about your acquisition.

Badrinath photographs

Picteresque Mana village

Badrinath photographs

Frozen glacier feeding a river underneath

Badrinath photographs

Joshimath to Badrinath route -1