Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blackbuck at Mydanhalli

Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year!

It appears that Im running quite behind on my blog posts. So much so, that Im now exactly one year behind! Last year around this time, K and I did a little impromptu road trip with an unsuspecting friend - we'll call him B.
We drove to Hyderabad from Bangalore, spent a whole day wandering about museums, gardens, taking in the sights, gorging ourselves on yummy biryani and drinking endless cups of heavenly Irani chai. We stayed at the excellently located Golkonda Hotel ( which I would highly recommend ).

We got back home and decided that some camping would be the perfect thing to do in such excellent weather. So, we made some phone calls, packed and decided to head to Mydanhalli. This was now our third trip and Keshav ( and even me to some extent ) had become familiar with the route.


Who should stay at Mydanhalli?

Do you have a passionate urge to photograph blackbuck and winter migrants? Do you consider sleeping bags the ultimate luxury? Do you have a car with a cavernous boot ?  Do you think that 4am is the perfect time to get up? Does your car have high ground clearance? Do you believe the best way to spend a holiday is on your belly, crawling up stealthily on an dis-interested bird?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you probably want to skip this.

Additionally, do note that electricity is not available at all times ( carry candles - and dont forget the matches ). No food or water is available either, these too need to be carried along with your sleeping bags etc. Your garbage also needs to be carted back home with you. ( Now you know why the big boot is essential ).

Montague's Harrier
But the rewards for those who endure are great. We opted against walks ( the grass seeds really can get into your socks, shoes and can get very annoying , choosing to use the car instead. The low ground clearance and the difficult terrain ensured that we broke one of our suspension parts. But one cannot make omelettes without breaking a few eggs.

The ladies

Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

Top Survival tips: 

1. Permission is needed from the Forest department to stay. Carry your own sleeping bags.
2. Carry food - nature photography is hungry work -  ( 2 breakfasts, one lunch and dinner ) - I recommend sandwiches for breakfast ( carry the sliced veggies, lettuce separately in a box to avoid soggy sandwiches ) Butter the bread before hand. Sauce and mustard sachets are handy here. Sliced cheese is an excellent addition.
3. Caffeine addicts should be aware that tea is not available. Carry cold coffee / iced tea cans ( we did this). Or hot water in a Thermos and tea bags and sugar sachets.
Shrike2 Bay backed Shrike

4. For lunch and dinner we recommend packed biryani - chill it in the fridge before packing it in the icebox. If you dont have an icebox - now is a good time to buy one. Never use actual ice in the box, buy the little blue IceBricks instead to avoid a watery mess.
5. Carry sturdy styrofoam plates or the leaf plates. Carry paper cups, plastic spoons, forks. Paper towels.
6. Hand sanitiser and facial wipes are essential.


7. Carry large seal-able garbage bags and dont leave any litter behind.
8. Be sure to pack powerful rechargeable torches.
9. Take along mosquito coils and a pack or 2 of cards. Theres not much to do after sun-set. 10. Fruit is an excellent dessert, as is chocolate. Carry a knife for the fruit.

BEater Small Green Bee eater

If you have one of those folding chair-table things that fold down to a tidy suitcase, this is a great place for it.


Keshav's photos can be seen at his site. He made friends with the Montagues Harrier and was able to crawl up close to get some nice shots.

Theres not much else to be said, my previous posts :
in 2008
in 2009
provide all the information on getting there etc.

K and I just got back from a 5 day l-o-n-g road-trip ( around 3400kms ) to the Little Rann of Kutch and back. More on that soon. Leaving you with my favourite shot of the series:


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hampi - Day 3

Hampi - View from the top

Yes, its been an age; I know. We just got back from a week long touristy holiday in Hong Kong. Photos and trip report will follow ( at least I hope so, with the back log of pending processing already looming over me.)

Getting back to Hampi, the end of Day 2 coincided with India winning the world cup cricket match. We watched it from our hotel room (Ok, so it was K who watched. I slept through India's batting I'm afraid.) Either way, the next morning, also our final Day in Hampi, we didn't wake at dawn.

Before we get into the days activities, we need a little history with a dash of mythology. The Tunga river separates the ruins of Hampi from those on Anegondi.

First some history, Anegondi was the old capital of the Vijaynagar Empire, with its naturally rocky geography lending it self well to fortification, before expansion required a shift to the new capital on the other side of the river bank at Hampi. The name is said to have come because the the king's army elephants were stationed there (Ane means Elephant in Kannada, Gondi means deep pit ).

On the Coracle on the Tunga river, midway. The Anjaneya Hill in the center

Anegondi was the capital city when Mohammad Tughlaq, the then Sultan of Delhi, defeated the king Jambukeshwara Raya and installed his representative in the kings place. It is said the brothers Hari Hara and Bukka Raya founders of the Vijayanagar empire managed to successfully recapture Anegondi without armed conquest by sneaking into the Anegondi fort (of which only ruins now remain) and taking the sultan's representative prisoner while he was drunk. [ Imp lesson here folks - don't drink and rule ]

Now some mythology, Anegondi is also said to be the mythical kingdom of Kishkinda from Ramayana. Its important to know this because a majority of the historical ruins are all drawn from the epic. The monkey god Hanuman was said to have been born here. He met Ram and Lakshman for the first time here. The great mano-a-mano battle (or is it monkey to monkey ?) between Vali and Sugriva is also said to have occurred here. This is also where Ram met Shabri and ate the famous fruit, also where Jatayu the vulture was killed. So brush up on your epic before you get here.

To see the ruins on the other side of the river Tungabhadra and that meant a crossing. There are 3 crossing points - at the Virupaksha Temple, the Kondendarama Temple and the one at the Vittala Temple. We chose the latter. This is also the place where you can see the collapsed cable stayed bridge which was the governments brain child, intending to link Hampi to Anegondi.

River View

Ofcourse the good King Kampabupa, brother of the king Harihara II had also had the same idea, way back in the day and had met with greater success. The ruins of that bridge of which only the supporting pillars now remain look better than the more recent govt funded ruin which frankly is an eye sore.

In the absence of bridges, the crossing is by coracle or by small motorized wooden boats. Sadly we couldn't get the coracle and you should take it if you can, what better way to relive the glory of Vijayanagar than by using the same transport as they did. The motorized boats, somehow defy the laws of physics and also transport 2 wheelers in an already cramped boat and get them across.

BushChat on the Rocks!

The great BushChat (male) surveys his kingdom

We left the car and proceeded on foot. The heat though persuaded us to reconsider our decision, and alighting on the other side after a short 5 min boat ride, we decided to hire an auto for the day. The driver insisted on taking us to all the tourist places and drop us back as well.

Hampi_Sadhu2 1.The Ranganatha Temple

This is a in-use temple and you need to remove your foot wear. The temple has one or 2 stone pillars but the rest is all more recently built going by the white washed walls and the gaudy color scheme. Its nothing you wouldn't find in any other temple.

What we did find was a very photogenic, money-minded sadhu. We took a few photos and left after he hounded us for more money.

2. Gagan Mahal

This is a crumbling yellow colored building which was built in the 16th century and has apparently been recently restored. Its only claim to beauty are its arched windows which gave the royal ladies a chance to view the proceedings outside. It was closed when we went and we were ok with that.

3. Pampa Sarovar

This is a small Shiva-Parvati (she is also called Pampa) Temple which also has a lotus pond. Sadly when we saw it it was not well maintained, there were no blooms, the water looked dirty and the place was inundated with tourists. There were tribal women who were selling knick-knacks and the like.

From my experience, all 3 are skip-able. What you should probably do instead is
Hachappa Mantapa
Chandramouliswara Temple
Prehistoric Rock Paintings

Either way at this point we were hot, bored and annoyed; we lost faith in our driver and told him to take us to Anjeneya Hill. A good place to look at it from the other side of the bank is from the Vittala Temple complex, it is easily identifiable by the gleaming white steps that snake all the way up a boulder studded hill.
It offers great panoramic views of the whole of Hampi and in hind sight, I think it should be done on ones first day and probably either first thing in the morning or just before sun set.

Its quite a climb and because we did it at noon the April sun was already high up in the sky and beaming cruelly upon us. There is no shade to cower into. The steps are slightly uneven and steep and at the 3/4th mark I gave up, the whole of vijaynagar was spinning slowly around me. A Caucasian couple coming down warned us that people up top were hopping like bunnies on the hot stones. Important lesson 2 : always wear thick dark coloured socks when visiting Hindu temples.

At the top is Anjenyadri a small temple dedicated to the Vanar God Hanuman (Anjaneya - means Son of Anjana ) who lends his name to this hill. He was the son of Anjana and Vayu ( also called Maruti - son of Marut another name of Vayu). It is believed that this is his birth place.

Sorry I couldn't make it to the top, I will next time. Dehydration is a major problem here, there are no toilets to be seen anywhere, so you really don't want to drink too much water, but do keep yourself hydrated in the summer. Carry your water and some snacks with you, I didn't find any one selling any at the bottom.

Tunga Dam
We high tailed it back to the air-conditioned confines of our hotel for the afternoon and made our second mistake soon after by planning to see the Tunga Dam in the evening. This was a complete waste of time, because no modern structure however large or grand at Hampi can compare with the sheer beauty and elegance of what the old kingdom has left us.

Tunga Dam
If you need exercise though, its a great place to visit, because there is no traffic allowed on the perfect tar road to the Dam. After parking in the crowded parking lot, you need to walk all the way to the actual reservoir. On the way are a couple of gardens which are just so-so.

Realizing our mistake, we headed to see the Hazara Rama Temple which we had missed, just to wander about just before Sunset. Another site which made a deep impression on me were the Toll-Gates ( this may look familiar to you because it is used in a biscuit commercial where a van drops biscuit packs for 2 kids when crossing a speed breaker). 

When we reached the temple, the light was fading and we knew we couldn't take any photos. But even then, Hampi didn't disappoint and rewarded me with the friendly little spotted owlet photo which frankly made my day.
The ruins it must be said are even better at Sunset when most of the tourist buses have left. It is quiet and a cool evening breeze fans you as it must have done the erstwhile occupants of this awesome city.

With some nice ambient lighting, the buildings would look awesome, but sadly there isn't any and they close the monuments at 6:30pm so we had to say good bye to Hampi and head back.
Toll Gates - Hampi

The Owl
Spotted Owlet at Hazara Rama Temple

The true enthusiast would like to read up more and frankly though there is a lot of material, it is rather scattered and sources are questionable.

As K and I sat there in the sunset with the owl, I did wonder about the citizens of Vijayanagar, what were they like? What did they wear and what did they do for fun? And as my tummy rumbled, I wondered, what did they eat? Fortunately, if you also had these questions I have saved you time and found you the answers and the source does seem authoritative, the first in the form of a paper by Jyotsna Burde and the rest by Jyotsna K Kamat. Enjoy!

Food in Vijayanagar Times
Social Life
Pastimes and Sport

Keshav's Photos can be seen here.
Sources and Further Reading:
Other places to see in Anegondi -
Hampi and the Ramayana - In pictures
History through Vijaynagara Coins
Story of Vijayanagar Empire

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hampi - Day 2

Virupaksha View

To be honest, Day 1 at Hampi left me a little underwhelmed. The Zenana Enclosure and the Elephant Stables are maintained rather like parks with open grassy lawns and trees, so in the evenings they are full of perambulating couples and hordes of chattering school children.

The dusty parking lots are packed full of giant Volvo buses, each of which regurgitate dozens of people carrying various plastic items which they plan to leave behind at the sites. If you carry a DSLR, people will ask you to take their pictures. We even had one school girl who wanted to pose with our car as a prop. She even borrowed my sun glasses and straw hat.

Hampi at Dawn

The next day though, Hampi compensated us and how! We left our hotel before dawn, much to the astonishment of the staff, to make it to the famous Vittala Temple at sunrise. Indeed, this is how Hampi is intended to be seen. Having parked our car in the dusty parking lot, carrying our backpacks with a few snacks and liquids, we started the long walk to the temple. The sun was just rising and the dawn colored the rocks along the way a gentle orange. The air was just slightly crisp, and a pleasant breeze accompanied us all the way.

Walkway to Vithalla Temple

We took the long route, walking along the river bank, and this is the route you should take. It is like stepping back in time, looking around you, the place looks preserved exactly like it would have been in its hey day. Except for the occasional moped, you can walk along pretending that you are a citizen of Vijayanagar. There are plenty of monkeys, keep an eye on your belongings.

River Side

There are coracles which will take you across the river to the other side, just like in the old days. From the pillared hall above the coracle boarding area, you can see the ancient collapsed bridge which connected the 2 banks. Further ahead, as the pathway slopes upward, you can see the Virupaksha Temple in the distance, easily noticeable as its ivory colored form standout among the rocks and boulders.


All along, there are little temples, buildings and pavillions, all mostly unmarked, free to be explored. They are good places to stop and take a drink of water and have a nibble. But please carry your garbage with you. Plenty of lizards and small birds like wagtails, bush chats and robins will keep you company as you walk along. Keep your self hydrated and fed at all times, I got a tad dizzy on our way back to the car and gave K quite a scare. :)

Vitthala Temple Entrance

When we finally reached the temple, we were delighted to find that we were the only people there. Our delight was short lived when we found that it had a steel gate which had been locked. Soon we spotted a guard who looked like he might have keys. A quick chat in kannada and it should be open we thought. But the poor man was from Bihar and looked askance at me; some fluent Hindi from K later, we were inside. Just us, the rising sun and the temple.

Temple with Lady

There was an old lady who collected flowers from the old Frangipani tree and did a pooja of a small temple which had a idol installed inside. Possibly some one like her back in the day, would have done the exact same ritual.

Vitthala Temple_Chariot

Sadly within ten minutes, my reverie was broken by a guide who had appeared like a genie and would not take no for an answer. He spoke only kannada and gave me ( K happily pleaded ignorance and left me to my fate ) a full tour. In a way, it was a good thing to take a guide there, being a large temple complex, theres lots to see.

Chariot Profile

The buildings though are in a poor state of preservation, the carvings are not very sharp and many are broken. The Musical pillars were wonderful to hear. He also helped interpret some of the carvings, identifying people, gods and explaining context. Finally a couple of Caucasians entered the temple and the guide took off like a rabbit after greener pastures.

NarsimhaKing's Balance

On our way back we saw the Kings balance, almost by chance, standing by itself near some neem trees, surrounded like everything else in Hampi by lots of boulders. You'll notice at the left pillar's base there is a small carving of a Man, a Woman and a child.

In the evening, we saw the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. You'll notice that lakshmi is no where to be seen in the photo above. Thats because she left, and took some of his hands with her. You'll also notice that the lord looks like he is untangling wool going by the band between his knees. The original statue installed by Krishnadevaraya had Lakshmi sitting on his lap with her arm affectionately behind him. The statue was broken during the attack on the capital during the invasion by the Bahamani sultans in 1565 A.D.

The Giant ShivLing

Near the Temple, is the Badavi Linga which is enclosed in a tiny chamber and protected by the powers that be, by a grilled entrance to make it hard to photograph. Its base is covered by murky water and it is built over a canal. Which explains why its base is always flooded. Its size is massive and the One rupee coin near the pink flowers gives an idea of scale.

Stepped Tank

Another place that should not be missed is the Stepped Tank, which is a must see for the photo opportunity it provides. It is located near the Mahanavami Dibba which is like an open ground with a large stage and lots of steps.


Shadows are important when taking these photos so better to do it when the sun is in a position to be casting them. Below is a photo of the very nice Sadhu we met on the walkway in the morning. A man who had truly renounced worldly goods, he did not ask to be paid in turn for allowing us to take his photo. He looked mildly amused when we showed him the pictures and we paid him anyway. A far cry from the not-so-genuine holy man we were to meet on Day-3. Stay tuned!


Reading Material
Must see Monuments in Hampi

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hampi - Part 1

LotusMahal doorways
Door Way at the Lotus Mahal

At barely 350 Km from Bangalore, Hampi is a world heritage site that is just waiting to be explored. However, the majestic ruins of the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar empire are for those who appreciate the vision and the skill of the city planners and architects. It is a site to be lingered upon and savored slowly like a fine wine. It would not do to be herded through it like cattle.

Elephant looking on at the stables

A year ago, on the 1st of April we were there. It had taken me 2 months of planning an itinerary - a task that K wisely left to me. Within 2 weeks, after going over a hundred odd blogs, trip reports, wikipedia, archaeological survey of India sites, I had given up. To do Hampi the way it deserves to be done, one would need 3-4 weeks. We had 3 days.

LotusMahal Emblem
The famous emblem

Who should go to Hampi ?

You should really like historical sites or photography or both. Period. There is little else to do there. Much of it is best done in your own car. Or hired bikes or on foot. Be prepared to walk for long distances without shade. It helps to know your history, do your research before you get there.

The Lotus Mahal

When to go?

We went in April - why you ask? It can get incredibly hot, and is considered off season. So you have fewer tourists (good for photography) and the hotels give you discounts that you will not believe. These are the advantages. The only disadvantage is the heat. The best time to go ofcourse is in Winter.

Elephant Stables
Another angle of the stables

Where to stay?

The "proper" hotels are in Hospet. Which is 30min drive on bad roads from Hampi. All the Hotels are pretty much next to each other, there are a lot of nice looking places, so options are many. The most famous and oldest is the Hotel Malligi. Dont go by the name, its apparently the place of choice for firangs but not very swank or clean and it looks slightly seedy to me. The pan walla there is very good though.

Hoopoe @ lotus mahal
Hoopoe among the ruins
The Watch Tower - Zenana Enclosure

We stayed at the brand new Royal Orchid Central Keerti at Hospet. Which is situated 1 km from the railway station at Hospet. I give it full marks. Good food, great service, super comfy beds, swank rooms and the techno-philes will love their touch screen controlled lights :) Nice pool too. And you'll need all these creature comforts because you can only do Hampi 6am to 10am and 3pm to 6:30pm. Its too hot at other times.

How to Reach?

We drove from Bangalore to Anantpur (NH7/NH44) which is a road you can fly on. From Anantpur head toward Bellary taking the state highway which is not too bad and join NH67 to Hospet. Do not think of trying NH13. It is in horrible condition. We left before dawn and reached before lunch. We could find no suitable places for breakfast, so just had emergency rations which we had packed from home.
The other way of getting to Hospet is by train or by KSTDC bus.

The Lotus Mahal's Doorways

Day 1

After a lovely lunch and some much needed snoozing and relaxation, we set out after a refreshing cup of tea. We headed out to the Lotus Mahal in the Zenana enclosure and the Elephant Stables. Buy a 50Rs guide book which people will anyway shove at you where ever you go. It has the map showing the important places so that you can plan your trip along a route and avoid driving to and fro.

Found this on a wall - Ram and Sita - I think

Hampi is deeply steeped in history and mythology. Its supposed to be Kishkinda from the Ramayan, which explains the Ram,Sita carving with the monkeys.
I'm not going to explain the history of these places here, I wouldn't be able to do it much justice. Where ever possible we avoided the guides like the plague so that we can explore on our own and try and figure things out for ourselves.


Birders should watch out for Spotted owlets, Parakeets and Hoopoes in large numbers during dusk.
Carry hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
Wear very comfortable shoes and light cotton clothing
Wear soaks. Some temples require you to leave your shoes outside. You dont want to hop around on the hot stones.
Keep plenty of refreshments in the car.
Keep sun shade open in the car when parked or the steering may melt. :)
Carry plenty of change to buy tickets, pay parking charges.
Hampi is a dry town and also has no meat available ( we never tried any eating places here, but the guide books say so )
Hospet - where you will be staying has no such restrictions.

TinyPavilion lotus mahal
Behind the Lotus Mahal

Research and Further Reading

For the Tourist and a brief history -
Research -
Research -
Archelogical Survey of India -
World Heritage Site -

View Larger Map

Sunday, February 26, 2012



I recently upgraded my Motorola Droid to Samsung Galaxy Note. My delightful new toy comes with a lovely 8 MP camera. And no, I'm not just saying this to gloat. This blog will feature photos from the Galaxy Note's Camera. Though I may not be able to zoom, I found that I can control exposure settings. I welcome comments on the image quality. Please look carefully and let me know what you think.

On to the plant in question; this is a family heirloom of sorts. My Mom acquired it in 2001 from my Grandma's garden in Mumbai, as a cutting. I got my own cutting from Mom 3 yrs ago, so its not technically too old.

I didnt know much about it, and though its fairly popular in offices and as a house plant, never once had I seen it bloom. Until one Saturday afternoon while picking off dried leaves I was floored by a flower hidden among the large leaves. It was no small affair, this was a Goliath the size of my hand. The inevitable research follows.

The Plant
Philodendrons are a genus of several hundred plant species. They are a flowering plant. They are climbers native to tropical America. Philodendrons belong to the Araceae family. But they are not totally unknown to us, we all know many of its relatives. The Colocasia, the Caladium and the Anthuriums all belong to the Araceae family too. Not surprising then that they all have large leaves and similar shaped flowers.

Caladium by Shobha Kamath
Some species of  colocasia plants are native to India and are used as a savory food like Pathrado (In the photo its made with Spinach instead of Taro leaves. The Anthurium is common as a house plant. Palak Patradau (Spinach Rolls)
Patrado - by Shobha Kamath

So among hundreds of Philodendrons which is mine? I think its the Philodendron 'Golden Emerald' based on this blog by PlantsAreTheStrangestPeople. It looks just like mine. I did think I had the 'Moonlight' but its flower has a pink outer covering unlike mine which is pale green-yellow.

My plant in the pictures is sporting 2 large buds - see if you can spot them. The two new leaves also in the picture are rolled up neatly. They have a thin outer covering.


The thin outer coverings are called cataphylls. They cover the new leaves and as the leaf unfurls, the outer covering hangs down like a peel. It eventually dries up, turning brown and crispy and curls up at the base of the leaf. It can be seen clearly in this photo.

The flower
The flower ( technically its a inflorescence ) is composed of 2 parts - the Spathe (which is the outer hood like covering) and the Spadix ( the long finger like projection ). The Spathe in my case is a pale green-yellow stiff hood. The insides are brick colored towards the end. The Spadix is a plain white tube.

The flowers open slowly, and over a day, the spadix gradually leans itself outside of the hood. It closes up again looking very similar to the original bud, just a little puffier.
Since the first flower, my plant has been quite busy in this department, producing them at a rate of 2-3 a month. So, does it become a fruit? Sadly it doesn't seem to be the case. Philodendrons are pollinated by beetle species.

20120221_172405The plants attract the beetles by giving off pheremones which attract male beetles and offer the males the spathe as a sort of secure motel where they may mate with beetle females. The enclosure provides safety from predators which benefits the beetles.


After the flower blooms, typically in my observation for not more than 2 days, it closes up again. Tightly. So I guess the beetles if any would be not welcome as house guests after 48 hrs. It then proceeds to dry up turn brown and falls off.

We can safely assume that no beetles from South America are heading out to help my plant propagate, so how do we make more philodendrons?

Growing and Propagation

Stem cuttings grow readily and can even be kept in water for several days ( I do this while I wait for empty pots ). Wikipedia says the cutting must have at least 2 joints. I have just used large cuttings usually from accidentally broken off parts of the Parent plant.

It is ideal to grow it indoors at home or at an office. It doesnt require natural light. The leaves will turn pale if exposed to too much sunlight. It does well in shaded corners of balconies, which is where I keep mine. The thumb rule is bright light but not direct sunlight.

In my observation, the leaves are also getting progressively larger as the plant grows up. The leaves will droop if it needs more water. It seems to like the soil to be quite moist. I add used tea leaves to the planters.
It requires little care beyond that its leaves tend to get dusty every now and then and it needs to be wiped down with a damp cloth ( a time consuming job for large plants ).


The philodendron's uses are mostly decorative. Wiki tells us that some species are poisonous. So its best to avoid adding those leaves to any salads. :-)
Btw, I have acquired a White Butterfly pea. Here is a recent photo.

I also have 2 other species of philodendron, the names of which I have yet to discover. I have also finally found out the names of 2 of my wierd plants.
1. Euphorbia tirucalli
2. Cissus quadrangularis  ( my plant's leaves are shaped differently )

If you had a doubt ( I know I did) on whether the common MoneyPlant is a Philodendron - It is apparently not, going by this explanation.

A post on these and more will follow as and when I learn more.

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