If you haven't read part I, it doesn't matter..there is no particular sequence to this travelogue!
You can read this first and catch up with part I later :)
After spending the first 2 weeks in Hong Kong, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, we headed to Nilgiris.
Ooty and Coonoor
Masinagudi route to Coonoor was beautiful, especially with monsoon greenery. The road has about 37 hairpin turns, but much quicker than the Mudumalai/Gudalur route. We saw beautiful sunflower farm near Gundulpete and stopped for a few pictures. After a quick visit to the Chocolate Museum, our next stop was for lunch at A2B (Adayar Ananda Bhavan) in Ooty.
As planned we headed to Fernhills Royale Palace after lunch. Google Maps navigation led us to a dead end at some private property and after losing our way completely, we checked with the local horse carriage man who guided us to the spot like a TomTom!
At the palace gate, we heard about restrictions for visitor access. However, as the saying goes in India, 'Where there's a Bill, there's a Way ;)'
Similar to Lalitha Mahal Palace in Mysore, they do allow people inside the palace for visiting their restaurant! Feeling sleepy after a heavy lunch at A2B, we didn't mind some hot chai after all. A monsoon weekday was the perfect time for palace visit as we were the only visitors enjoying the great ambiance for more than an hour with hot tea served at our table. Next India trip, I plan on spending a night at this palace. Their nightly rates run ~ $150/- which is not bad for the location and luxury it offers.
Outside the palace, it was a different story though. We were back to reality driving in rain clogged roads of Ooty as we headed straight to SunValley Homestay in Coonoor, where my brother's family had already checked-in. The homestay is nicely located in the middle of a tea estate with some splendid views of sprawling tea estates from the rooftop. Food and service was also great at the homestay. Catered menu of our choice included idiappam, idly, vadai, and parotta kurma!
The following morning, after breakfast, we drove to Dolphin's nose and lamb's rock. With fog cover in the valley, we couldn't see anything from the vista except for a few cute monkeys, which my kids enjoyed more than the scenery.
The drive to Dolphin's nose was great. There were tea estates all around and locals even allowed us to take photographs inside the tea estate with ethnic costumes.
|Giant Indian Malabar Squirrel||Please forgive me|
|Mr. Curious||Tea Factory - Coonoor|
We also spotted a Giant Malabar Indian Squirrel near one of the estates which was a surprise sighting as they are normally shy and hard to spot. Visiting Nilgiris, without a stop at the tea factory was not going to be complete. So we took a tour of the Brooklands Tea Factory; sampled their black tea and picked up some tea leaves at the factory store.
My brother's family returned directly to Mysore while we drove in another car to Coimbatore. With only a stop for tender coconut water by the roadside, we were hungry by the time we hit Coimbatore area and stopped at Hotel Annapoorna in Saibaba Colony for a late lunch. Curd Semiya, Masala Dosa, Poori with Coffee ..nothing beats that for sure.
Trichy and Srirangam
Without much break in between, the same evening, we were busy re-packing for our great temple trip in South India. The very next day, we were on the road again in a roomy tempo traveler van. We took a small break for tea at Karur and reached A2B restaurant near the Rockfort in Trichy for lunch around 1 pm.
After lunch, we went to Srirangam temple around 2.30 pm and had a great Darshan. With sparse crowd during afternoon hours, it was a great time to do photography of temple interiors. By the time we got out, it was 4 pm, just about the right time for 'fresh filter kaapi' at Murali's Coffee..the best filter coffee I had during my India trip. It kept us awake all the way till we reached the Tanjavur Big Temple.
Big Temple was in my bucket list for a loooong long time. Finally, during this trip, I could check mark the item and made full use of it with my camera and portable tripod. Tripod use is not allowed inside the temple campus, however, I used my portable setup for just one 'Paisa Vasool' shot during the blue hour. By the time I finished the shot, I fully recovered the $225 I had spent on purchasing a travel tripod exclusively for my India trip.
By the time we got done with the Big Temple visit, all of us were ready to check-in at Lakshmi Hotel located about 3 km from the temple. It was one of the top 2 hotels in the area and I would recommend this to anyone visiting Tanjore. We had dinner at Sri Krishna Bhavan right in front of the hotel. After a good night sleep, I woke up for sunrise and visited the temple again to absorb it completely. I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere during morning hours and left before the crowd showed up.
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we left for the town of Thiruvaiyaru, the home legendary carnatic composer St Thyagaraja. Our kids had a chance to sing and it was soothing to listen to my sister sing 'Seethamma Maayamma' in front of the Saint.
Soon after, we left for Kumbakonam and surprised my friend Anand and his family at Mangalaambika Vilas, where we stopped for lunch. Lunch at Mangalaambika was fantastic. I wish I stayed till 4 pm to taste their kumbakonam degree filter kaapi in the place of its origin. After spending few hours at their ancestral home, we headed to another heritage temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram (GKC).
GKC, although not as big as the Brihadeeswarar Temple, was equally beautiful. I was blessed with some good lighting and high clouds at both GKC and Big Temple which allowed me to come back with some solid keepers. By the time I got done with my photographic venture, we were already getting late for our Madurai road trip. We reached Madurai around 11pm.
We stayed overnight at our aunt's place and were planning to visit the famous Meenakshi Amman temple following morning. As usual, I woke up early and visited the temple during sunrise. Only after I got there I came to know that they don't allow DSLR's inside. I ended up using my high-resolution mobile camera instead to shoot the beautiful temple interiors ;)
I walked around the hallways and 1000 pillar mandapam for at least 2 hours before breakfast. I went back to the temple again after breakfast with my family and enjoyed the temple in a more leisurely manner. My family members were awestruck by the wonderful architecture and interior beauty. We also visited the Thirmalai Nayakar Mahal Palace, the spot where the famous song 'Kannalanae' from Manirathnam's movie 'Bombay' was filmed. I couldn't do justice to the spot as well as the great cinematographer PC Sriram, but did manage to get a nice action shot of my daughter running inside the palace. South India Thali at Hotel Aarathy was awesome with great service. After lunch, we took a brief nap at my aunt's place before hitting the road again towards Coimbatore.
Our driver covered the distance in under 4.5 hours and we reached Coimbatore just in time for dinner at Annapoorna near our home in Nanjundapuram road. We had just a day before embarking on our next leg of the trip to Mumbai and Pune. Flight to Mumbai was a quick one and Jet Privilege, for a change unlike other domestic low cost airlines, provided in-flight meal.
Being monsoon season, we were greeted by rain in Mumbai and our drive to Hotel Trident was a wet one. We took the newly constructed Bandra-Worli sea link and got some great views of the city from seaside.
|Carriage ride in Marine Drive Mini Vada Pav at Status Restaurant||Queen's Necklace||Marine Drive during Day|
|Bandhra Worli Sea Link|
We reached Hotel Trident and freshened up before stepping out for a breezy walk along marine drive. We thoroughly enjoyed the location and made full use of our stay by just spending time in marine drive and nothing else!
After picking up some street food for evening snack (Dabeli, Ragada Patty, and Vada Pav), we spent the whole evening walking along the marine drive and viewing queen's necklace from 32nd floor rooftop access at the hotel. By 8 pm, we were hungry again and had dinner at Status restaurant in Nariman Point, which was a real highlight.
Due to exertion or some other reason, my son fell sick the same night and his body temperature shot up to 103 F. Luckily, the hotel service was top notch. They had an in-house nurse and doctor on-call at our service and they took excellent care of my son. We couldn't step out of the hotel with my son's illness and spent the whole day inside the hotel. Once his temperature dropped below 100F, doctor advised us to drive and we left for Pune after a brief stop in Chembur at our relatives place. The drive along Mumbai-Pune Expressway was an adventurous one with dense fog cover combined with bad driving by truckers crawling along fast lanes.
We reached Pune the same evening and it felt good to be at my sister's home finally after a string of hotel stays. In Pune, we watched the newly released Rajinikanth movie, 'Kabali' at Ammanora Mall.
|View from Sinhagad fort||Hiking Trail at Sinhagad Sinhagad Hills||Kabali da|
We visited the Sinhagad Fort the following morning where traditional maharastrian breakfast was truly special. A very cheerful maushi served us mouth watering hot Bajjis, bhakri, and bharit.
|A wonderful cook||Food court at Sinhagad|
|Spicy Mangoes!||Sinhagad Fort|
Besides the fort, we visited Lavasa City, which is 2 hours driving distance from Pune. The route to Lavasa was extremely green and picturesque.
|Lavasa City||Hillside Temple|
|On the way to Lavasa||Lavasa Reservoir|
Inspired by the hindi movie 'Bajirao Mastani', I made a special effort to visit Shaniwar Wada. I thought visiting during a weekday morning would be ideal for photography, however, I noticed a lot of college kids out there. Must be a great place to take a break from their boring coursework I guess ;)
|Shaniwar Wada||The Door at Shaniwar Wada|
After leaving Pune, our family forked at Bangalore with my wife and kids taking a flight to Chennai directly from Bangalore Airport. Coffee at Hatti Kappi along with Madhur Vada inside the airport was great. We had a prepaid cab waiting for us and left for Mysore directly from the airport. On the way to Mysore, we had dinner at the Kamat Lokaruchi restaurant on Mysore-Bangalore highway.
The ill effects of too much outside food had to catch up with me at some point and it promptly did as soon as I hit Mysore. The rest of my stay in Mysore was confined to the bedroom and bathroom! As soon as I got slightly better, I dragged myself to the Venugopalasamy temple located near KRS backwater. Sunset was great at the temple and I got my money shot at the spot.
|My son point this at me for some reason ;)||Temple sunset||Dinner at Kamath Lokaruchi||Mysore - Coimbatore Highway|
|Entry to Venugopalaswamy Temple||Sunset at Venugopalaswamy Temple|
After a brief stay at Mysore, we left for Coimbatore and spent a few days there before I took a flight to Chennai.
In Chennai, my original plan was to spend just 2 days, but due to flight delays, our trip was extended in Chennai for 2 more days. Thanks to the forced extension, I visited the newly renovated Kapaleeswarar Temple and Marina Beach one of those days. At the beach, I let my kids enjoy marina in a true chennai fashion. Lighthouse was closed at 5 pm..such a bummer..can't they keep it open for sunset?
Another day, we visited the lighthouse during afternoon hour and drove to Besant Nagar beach after that. On the way to the beach, I made a pit stop inside Santhome Church and sneaked a couple of interior pictures despite some resistance from the security boy inside.
|Beacon of Chennai||Mylapore Tank and the Temple|
|Kapaleeswarar Temple Gopuram||Santhome Church|
|Sunset at Besant Nagar Beach||Grace Cathedral - ChennaiLocated on Cathedral Road..|
|View from Chennai Lighthouse||Karl Schmidt Memorial@ Besant Nagar Beach|
|Inside the Kapaleeswarar temple||Balloon Shooting at Marina||Bermuda TriangleStairs at Lighthouse in Chennai|
|Catamaran Fishing in Marina||Bhaji Stand in Marina Beach|
After a full month in India, I should say I enjoyed a lot and covered many different places along with my family members.
During my days in India, I have always wanted Indian cities to look like the cities in western developed nations as I didn't really like the shabby side of the country. Although my opinion about the shabby part has not changed, I have to admit that I had completely failed to admire and enjoy its beautiful side during my days there.
Thanks to my photographic interests, I was able to appreciate India's beauty in an completely different manner through my lens. I honestly feel every city or town is uniquely beautiful, maintaining its own charm and character because of the diverse mix of people and cultures. The same cannot be said of some of the newly formed cities in the western world.
There are plenty other places to cover in India like Leh-Ladakh, Rajasthan, Sikkim and eastern states. I hope to cover them during my future trips there.
If you have read this far..you were probably patient enough to go through my blog and pictures...would really appreciate a comment from you in the comments section!