Friday, January 29, 2010

The Sea-side Vacation to Kovalam and Kanyakumari

This January 2010, Souji and I fixed our vacation plans the moment I had finalized the plans for moving on to the new company. The plan was to get out of Bangalore in the 15 day break between the last working day with AOL and the first day with McAfee. After long discussions we rounded off on vacationing at Kovalam and Kanyakumari. Bookings were done over the net for our flights between Bangalore and Trivandrum, Accommodation at Kovalam and Kanyakumari.

"A picture speaks a thousand words" and if you want to skip the story and quickly take a look at the pictures and videos, here they are!

Visiting Kovalam and Kanyakumari

Here is a pretty _long_ summary of our vacation between the 18th and 23rd Jan, 2010.

18th Jan, 2010, Monday.

Thanks to the wonderful Volvo service offered by BMTC, it made all our lives so comfortable. We reached Bangalore Airport by 5 AM. We departed Bangalore to Trivandrum at 6:30 AM with Kingfisher Red and reached Trivandrum by 8 AM. This was Pooja's first Airplane travel and I was very excited about it (probably more than she her!). It would have been even more exciting if she had even opened her eyes atleast once during the flight!

The Kerala Govt. Sponsored Prepaid Taxi counter at the airport asked for Rs. 350 for a drop to Kovalam Beach Resort, but considering it was just 12 KMS from airport, asked them if there were any other means of transport like AutoRickshaws, Buses etc. that we could hire. "Trivandrum does not have Auto Rickshaws unlike other cities, buses do ply but not very frequently and to 'Kovalam' not a chance" came the authoritative reply from the lady officer. I looked past her through the small window behind her and spotted an auto rickshaw zoom by. I said thanks to the lady, came out of her cabin and carried my luggage out of the Airport premises to find 100s of Autos over there. Jumped into one of the Auto towards Kovalam and we were there in about less than 30 minutes. Inspite of escaping the first tourist-traps, still got hammered by the Auto guy who demanded Rs. 225 for the drop. The Autowalah dropped us 1/2 a KM short of the beach and told us that his 'gaadi' cannot go the extra distance due to the non-existent roads. So we picked our luggage and walked through some coconut plantation and finally found the backside entry to 'Pappukutty Beach Resorts', our home for the next 2 days.

We had our bookings done with 'Pappukutty Beach Resorts' after a lot of research over the net. Our first sight of the resorts didn't impress us as we came from backside entrance of the hotel. As we moved towards the reception, the feeling went from 'wyuck' to 'wow'!. Our resort was right on the beach alongside 100 others. Right at the entrance was the restaurant and 10 meters further was the beach, separated only by a beautifully tiled pavement. A whole lot of shops selling handicrafts, fancy items, beach wear were dotted all along the 'C' shaped beach. Our resort hosted quite a good mix of pool side cottages, regular 2 bed and 3 bed room accommodation both AC and Non-AC versions, a Ayurvedic Massage center, a very nice swimming pool and a restaurant. Our room was quite comfortable with great view of the sea from the balcony.

'Kovalam' as I am told hosts 4 'Crescent' shaped beaches. 1. Light House Beach, 2. Hawah Beach, 3. Samudra Beach, 4. Ashoka Beach. Ours was on the Light House beach, with the towering light house posted on a small hillock. Actually I was able to spot the beach while descending for the landing at Trivandrum and fortunate enough to capture it from my camera.

The unending sounds of the splashing waves pulled us out of our rooms and in 5 seconds all three of us were on the beach!. And when you are playing with the waves, time just flies and sure it did. By the time we got exhausted it must have been close to the evening. We retired back into our room with full of contempt. For once, the 'paradise' photos of this resort as it was posted on the resort's website, was really real. As the growling noise from the tummies got the better of the splashing waves, our brains started to realize that it would be hard for a veggie to manage as the only food you get in the evenings will be sea-food specialities. The word 'vegetarian' was as virgin as the beach itself over there. The localities also did not have a clue of this cuisine. Fortunately, a small board somewhere behind a thousand others read 'Lonely Planet' - Pure Vegetarian Restaurant!. Our tummies felt full just by the sight of it!. We went in, got seated and checked the menu items and then the pricing against each one of the items and behold, the hunger was gone!!!. Pretty costly Vegetarian food I must say. But later realized that at a Sea-food paradise, vegetarian food is a specialty! A heavy authentic veggie meal of Avial, boiled rice and curries prepared in coconut oil on a hot and humid afternoon, was just enough for us to get back to the room for a nap.

Later, we went to watch the Sunset along the rocky side of the beach. The cool breeze brushing past our faces while the sun was setting down slowly, created a picturesque setting. Dinner again at the Lonely planet, we ended our day with a broad smile on our face with what we had accomplished during the whole day!


19th Jan, 2010, Tuesday

The next day morning, we got up early and took a stroll on the beach. The sun was still rising and we could see the early-bird foreigners all ready in their swim suits doing the Yoga, jogging and things like that. For once I found out how lucky it is for you if the other person has put on their ipod. One of the old ladies jogged past us and Pooja started singing "Shame Shame Poppy Shame" with her little hands pointing towards the lady. My heart stopped for a moment, but consoled it by tapping my heart a few times and saying 'All izz well' and ran back to our hotel in the opposite direction. A rich European breakfast at our resort which had a good menu of Bread and Jam, more Bread and Jam and some more Bread and Jam. Cornflakes, Coffee/Tea and Fresh fruit juice followed. By this time, Pooja was jumping on me to take her to the pool and so we did. For the next 4 hours we had a great time in the pool facing the beach. Soujanya tried the Authentic Kerala Style Ayurvedic Oil Massage prescribed by the in-house Ayurvedic doctor. One hour later and half a thousand spared, Soujanya came back with a big smile of satisfaction on her face, a testament that she loved the treatment. Our team slept off blissfully during the heavy hot and humid afternoon, while I slipped out of the room to explore the sections that we had not covered. Went up the upper deck area close to the bus-stand and found another 'vegetarian' Punjabi Dhaba and couldn't resist the temptation. The food was great, much much cheaper than Lonely Planet and very edible for its price. For fellow vegetarians visiting Kovalam beach, please remember: You have 2 and only 2 Pure Veg restaurants. Lonely Planet and the Punjabi Dhaba on the upper deck, on the way to the main bus stand. By 3 PM I came back down to the beaches looking at all the variety of shops. Knowing that the Light house is open between 3 and 5 every day, wanted to make sure that I was ready to be up there.

The light house was half a KM from our resort on the same beach. Buy your ticket for Rs. 10, and Rs. 20 for your camera, and you have the license to climb and shoot. 200 + steps later, I was over the top of the light house. Man! the view was breathtaking. Over the top I could see all the beaches of Kovalam. The wind was blowing fiercely and the aqua-green sea was looking beautiful. All this while, Soujanya and Pooja were still sleeping, so called them up and asked them to join me which they did . A few more snaps got clicked again with all of us in the team. A must visit place for anybody who visits Kovalam, but looking at the meager crowd over there, did not seem to be high on the agenda as a point of visit for many of them.

By the time we came back, my legs were not moving. So wound up the exploring bit for the rest of the evening and hit the bed for a couple of hours. We took a small stroll in the evening across the beach with lights from the street shops looking so pretty. By 8 PM, we all went to 'Lonely planet' for our dinner and Surprise Surprise! There was a classical dance festival and buffet dinner. Not a single place to sit as it was aimed only for the 'phirangs'. The floor was packed and the buffet was a whopping Rs. 450 for the same Avial and boiled rice!.

Deprived of a vegetarian meal, we asked our resort folks to prepare something at least close to vegetarian and that they did exactly that. The North Indian cuisine was served to us under candle lights right at the edge of the beach. Another amazing first time experience as we could enjoy the beach in the fullest with its amazing scenery.

20th Jan, 2010, Wednesday

We got ready for an early breakfast and checked out Pappukutty Beach resort by 10 AM. Picked up the Volvo Bus service over the top of the Upper Deck area which costed just Rs. 23 per person back to Trivandrum. Was just thinking how much the visitors get ripped inspite of taking precautions to overcome these fraudsters. Our train to Kanyakumari was at 3:30 PM and we were in the deep-fry zone of Trivandrum by 11:00 AM. So we pushed most of our luggage at the Railway Station's Cloak Room, and set again for some street side window shopping. Trivandrum's most happening place is the M.G. Road (as always) and the Chellam Street right opposite the East Fort area. Piggy riding Pooja under the sweltering heat took a toll on her as well as on us. Trivandrum has good number of Veggie hotels and right opposite the Railway station, we had one by name 'Archanas' which had a good spread. After a good lunch we were back into the waiting halls of the Railway station. Our train journey to Kanyakumari took 2.15 hours for a mere 87 KMS. It hardly had many stops but still took a lot of time.

Anna had booked our stay at the Vivekananda Kendra for the next 3 days and the moment we landed, we hired an Auto and it took us about 5 minutes to reach Vivekananda Kendra. Our room was assigned and found it to be very good considering that a non-AC double bed room costs Rs. 250. Considering the time and age we live in, Rs. 250 in any part of India for a 2-Bed room during peak seasons is an outstanding deal. No TV and Hot water though. Well, the reason being that this place is not a hotel. It is an institution and that provides a lot of things other than affordable accommodation, Awareness to youth, Yoga, Harnessing the power of Youth to build a strong nation, propagating the values and culture of our great land as envisioned by Vivekananda himself. The campus has a about 6 different blocks for accommodation, a few buildings for discourses, conferences, a huge canteen serving great food at very nominal prices, an Internet Browsing section, a small shop selling all consumables required for the stay and to top it all, a private beach for itself. More details can be had from "Vivekananda Kendra" @ http://www.vkendra.org.

Later that evening, we took a stroll down the main road of Kanyakumari, and located all the places that we wanted to see the next day. The area around the temple had a festive look during the night with the glittering shops showcasing their best products. The street side vendors were selling lorry loads of Sea Shells, Conches, Star Fishes and other artifacts which was a rare sight for us.

21st Jan, 2010, Thursday.

We had a great breakfast at the Kendra and headed straight to the Kanyakumari temple. The queue was quite small. As in temples all around South India, the temple requires asks the male devotees to remove their Shirt and Banian. The darshan at the temple was 100 times easier compared to Tirupati and more satisfying. In 30 minutes we were all done with the darshan and out of the temple. We then took a stroll around the temple and walked towards the 'Triveni Sangam'. This is 'the' southern most tip of India and the point where Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea meet up. For me personally, it is a geographical landmark worth visiting. 'Cape Comorin'as we had read in our Geography classes. From this point we could see the Vivekananda Rock, The huge Thiruvallavur Statue. The beach is just about 20 meters with Rocky terrain, but that did not stop the folks from taking a dip into the sea. We took a lot of photos around this serene location too. We got back to our room and took a good nap. Later in the evening, we came back for visiting the Light house, which again was open between 3 and 5 PM. The view from over the top was as good as the one at Kovalam, this time, it was view of India's tip covered by the 3 seas that took our breath away. Such a beautiful place. Kanyakumari's Light House is not as tall as that of Kovalam but the view was as good as the former. We were glad to see Pooja climbing up 135 steps of this light house without even taking a stop in between while we were gasping for breath!.

Next stop was the adjacent Gandhi Memorial. This was the place where the Ashes of Mahatma Gandhi was kept before it was immersed into the ocean. Resembling central Indian Hindu temples in form, the memorial was designed in such a way that on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept.

The sun was almost setting and we climbed on top of the building which houses a huge terrace where Sunset can be best viewed at Kanyakumari. Kanyakumari is one of those few or only place in India where Sunrise and Sunset can be viewed. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the orange ball of fire go sinking into the Arabian Sea.

Soujanya did some street side shopping around the temple area and soon our day came to end after a sumptuous meal at the Kendra.


22nd Jan, 2010, Friday

With Souji taking care of Pooja, I left for an early walk around the Kendra's campus and read a board 'Sunrise beach' and followed the directions. 1.5 KMS later, I ended up on a beach along with 100s of folks from the Kendra all waiting for the sun to wake up. The breeze was heavy and occasionally had enough power to push people of their feet. The golden sun emerged again and in minutes, every other person started moving towards their next task at hand. We started the day with a good breakfast and then went to the port which runs steamer boats to the Vivekananda Rock. After a long queue and waiting for about 30 minutes, our time had come to board the boat for the rock museum. It took about 10 minutes of swaying through the seas to reach the Vivekananda Rock Museum. Nice to see that the port authorities have formalized the use of life vests for every one who takes these rides here. Vivekananda Rock Museum is a something that should not be missed in a lifetime. I had seen this earlier way back in 1981, but this was the first time with Pooja and Souji. They loved the place. The winds were so hard that it could simply push anybody to the ground. We spent about a couple of hours checking out the island and taking snaps. We returned back to the mainland and Soujanya continued her 2nd day of shopping on the shores. We spent the noon back at the Kendra.

In the Evening we took a local bus to a small temple town called 'Suchindram' about 20 minutes from Kanyakumari. The huge temple over here showcases better architectural styles compared to that of Kanyakumari. The sitting deity is the combination of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara all in one single piece!. As always, temples have become more of business then a place of worship. We could see a foreigner taken for a ride by the temple poojars. The poor lady was coaxed to do arathis after buying the deepas at 10 times th actual price. Blissfully unaware of what was happening, the foreigners eyes were bright and happy to be doing whatever the poojars asked her to do!.

Our visit to Suchindram was over in a couple of hours and we took the next bus back to the Kendra. We started packing our luggage for the last day of our trip and then had a good dinner before we hit bed.

23rd Jan, 2010, Saturday

We got up early and visited the areas around the temple again for some last minute shopping. After a quick breakfast, we checked out of the Kendra and reached the Railway Station and bought tickets back to Trivandrum. We left Kanyakumari at 10:30 and by 12:15 we reached Trivandrum Central. Again, we pushed our luggage into a cloak room and started walking towards the M.G. Road. Trivandrum hosts a lot of Jeweler Majors like Joy Alukkas, Josco, Bhimas and many more. We visited a few of those to check out some designs. 'Aa bheil muje maar' it was and had to pay the tax for a Gold ring at Josco. Soujanya loved the gift and made up her day!. We also visited the Chellam road pretty much similar to the Avenue road of City Market in Bangalore. For the first time, I tried the 'Nendra Bale' - the Red coloured Banana. It tasted good and not very different from the regular ones, but was a bit tangy. With so many new 'first times' during this trip, we headed back to the railway station, freshened up and left for the Airport. The 7:45 PM Kingfisher Red flew us back to Bangalore by 9:15 and Pooja was wide awake the whole duration of the flight and I was happy more than her to see her awake and enjoying the flight. We took a taxi from the Airport and reached home @ 15 past 10.

Overall, this trip was spent leisurely compared to the touch-and-go types that we took in the past. There were many 'first time' in this trip for all of us and every day was as exciting as the previous ones. We returned back home a 2-tone 'darker' than before, but the experience got us 2 times better!. We all returned with the same good health and spirits and great memories, a few of them have been captured in the form of Pictures and Videos provided below.

Photos and Videos of our adventure:
Visiting Kovalam and Kanyakumari


Summary of the trip:
5 days and 6 nights.

Distance Travelled:
Bangalore ~ Trivandrum : 753
Trivandrum ~ Kanyakumari: 87
Kanyakumari~Trivandrum: 87
Trivandrum~Bangalore: 753
In and around these places: 150
Total Distance travelled (approx): 1830

Expense Report:
Airfare - Bangalore to Trivandrum round trip: Rs. 12,600
Accommodation (Trivandrum + Kanyakumari): Rs. 6000
Food: Rs. 2000 (approx)
All other Transportation charges (Rail, Autorickshaws, Bus and Ferry): Rs. 1500 (approx)
Approx. Total cost of the trip: Rs. 23,000. (Exclusive of shopping).

South India Tourist Map

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pooja completes 3 years!

Jan 10th (Sunday) and 11th (Monday), 2010.

As per the Hindu Astrological Calendar, Pooja completed 3 years as on Jan 9th and so we celebrated her birthday on 10th as it was a Sunday. We also had a small family scale Satyanarayana Pooja function in the morning at our apartment premises and later in the day, decorated Pooja's room with colourfull buntings and balloons on the wall.

Sanjana, Siri and Anirudh were the guests of honour for the evening occassion while a lot of other folks who missed out the Satyanarayana Pooja joined us for the event. We ordered two cakes from Kaggis bakery, one for the evening party and the bigger one for Apple Kids Play school on Jan 11th (Monday).

Here are a few photos from both the events.
Pooja's 3rd Year Birthday Celebrations

Labels: , , ,