Category: Travel

Train Travel – Sleeper Class

Of late, I have been traveling by train more often. We recently took the 24 hour train to Mumbai as a family, traveling in AC coaches. Recently, I took the overnight train to Kerala, traveling sleeper class after a very long time.

I have always enjoyed train travel, liking nothing more than sitting by the window watching the world go by. As a child, I used to look forward to the long (30+ hours) journey from Mumbai to Kerala as much, if not more than, actually visiting Kerala and meeting family. But as I grew older (and with a family), whatever occasional train travel we did was in AC coaches.

While these are very comfortable, they just do not provide the same fun as the Sleeper class where one can open the windows and feel the wind in your face. Which is why, when I had to go to Kerala by myself recently, I took the opportunity to travel by Sleeper class.

The journey to Kerala was in a new coach. It was clean and quite comfortable. The only aspect where I felt that the older coaches were better were in the design of the window bars. Regular train travelers would know that, in the older sleeper coaches, the window bars bend outwards slightly. This is just enough that, if one were to place your face flush against the bar and peer out, you could get a great view along the sides of the train and catch glimpses of the engine around bends. In the new coach, sadly, the bars are straight. Which means that one does not get the same pleasure of peering out the window. Nevertheless, it is still far more fun that the sealed windows of AC coaches.

The return journey was on an older coach. And it was less crowded than the outward journey. The other pleasure of train travel, though definitely not recommended, is to stand by the open door and get a widescreen view of the scenery. This is, as one can image, a popular pastime, so I was quite surprised to find that the doors of the train were vacant and I was able to enjoy the beautiful Kerala countryside.

Some photos from the journey below:

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Mumbai

Born and brought up in Mumbai, I must admit that I still have a fondness for the city, even though I have not lived there now for over 10 years. Having lived in many cities around the globe, I do genuinely believe that it’s a global / world city. Natural beauty, culture and heritage, food, mix of people from all walks of life, the city has it all.

I spent Diwali in Mumbai, the first time in a few years that I got the chance to spend about a week in the city. Yes, the city has changed and will continue to do so, but it felt like many things are for the better. There is massive construction work going on which is disrupting traffic, but at the end of it, Mumbai should have a world class metro system in place, even if many years late. Juhu Beach was the cleanest I have ever seen it, roads seemed in good condition (except for the construction work for the metro). Public transport was as good as ever. I am presently living in Bangalore, and one of the most fascinating things about Mumbai transport is the fact that you can hail an auto or taxi from the street and they will run on the meter and even give you back Rs. 1 in change!

The food as always, was fantastic, especially the street food. I am yet to find as delicious chaats such as Bhel Puri, Sev Puri, not to mention Vada Pav as the ones you will find at any roadside stall in Mumbai.

The only downside to Mumbai (other than the omnipresent crowds) is the weather. And yes, it was hot and humid even in early November. But for everything else that the city offers, I am willing to live with it!

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Have you spent time in Mumbai? What are your thoughts?

Nandi Hills

Nandi Hills is one of the more popular day trip destinations from Bangalore. Though I had visited this a couple of times during my first stint in Bangalore, we had never made it here in the two and a half year since we moved back to the garden city. So when we were discussing places for a day trip the other day, we decided to visit Nandi Hills.

We hired a car from Zoomcar and drove down the Devenahalli highway. After a stop for a late breakfast soon after the airport exit, we arrived at Nandi Hills around noon. It was an overcast day and quite cool atop the hill, which made for a pleasant afternoon.

We visited the standard tourist places – the lookouts, Yoga Nandishwara temple, Tipu’s Drop and the Amrith Sarovar. The last was a pleasant surprise – a stepped pond surrounded by thick greenery with a walkway around it. Tipu’s ‘Summer Palace’ is also located here.

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After a late lunch at the base of Nandi Hills, we went to pay respects to one of India’s greatest engineers – M Visvesaraya. Located at Muddenahalli village a few kilometres from Nandi Hills is the house where he was born and a neat, well maintained memorial. The house itself now contains a small museum dedicated to his life.

Finally, on the way back, we stopped at what I consider an absolute must-visit while in Bangalore – the Bhoga Nandishwara temple. I have written about it earlier and delighted to say that the second visit was as memorable as the first.

Kanchipuram – Temples in Stone

It’s always been on my bucket list to visit the temple town of Kanchipuram, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. For some reason or other, I could never make it to this town when I was living in Chennai and later Bangalore for about 4 years previously. So I was delighted when we finally made plans to visit Kanchipuram on our way back from Mahabalipuram.

We stayed in a hotel close to the city centre and walking distance to the Kanchi Kamakshi temple. On our way to the temple in the evening, we visited the Ulagalanda Perumal temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his Vamana avatara with a large idol of the Lord that it over 30 feet high.

Ulagalanda Perumal temple
Ulagalanda Perumal temple

We then visited the Kamakshi Amman temple dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi. This is one of the most famous temples in Kanchipura and reportedly the only temple dedicated to the Goddess. It is a big temple with large gopurams that were well lit up.

The next morning, I visited the Sri Pavala Vannar temple. This is a old temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There were hardly anyone else the morning I visited and the ambience was serene and peaceful.

Pavala Vannar temple
Pavala Vannar temple

It is said that one must combine a visit to this temple with a visit to the Pachai Vannar temple located a few hundred metres away. So I visited this temple too and again had a peaceful visit with hardly any other devotees.

We then visited the Ekambaranathar temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and spread over an area of 25 acres, this is one of the largest temples in India. As with many of the old temples in South India, this one also had some incredible sculptures. We again had a very peaceful time at this temple.

On the way out of Kanchipuram, we visited the Kailasnathar temple. This is reportedly the oldest structure in Kanchipuram and was simply fascinating. One of the interesting aspects of this temple are the numerous small shrines built into the inner face of the high compound wall. The temple was closed when we visited in the afternoon, so we could only admire the intricate stone carvings all around the temple compound.

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Mahabalipuram – Poetry in Stone

I recently visited Mahabalipuram, located on the East Coast, close to the city of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was not my first visit there, but the first one was a quick overnight trip and memories were a bit hazy. This time around, I spent over 2 days there and visited quite a few interesting places.

The first place we visited was quite a unique attraction – a Seashell museum. This is the life’s efforts of a private collector, exhibited quite beautifully in a modern museum. The collection is stupendous, and really photos will not do justice to the place, but here are a few.

The next day, we visited the Panch Rathas. It was a bright, sunny (and hot) day. We visited the place in the morning and were among the first visitors, so got to see the place at leisure and without much crowds. The place is very well maintained, with ample parking space, toilets, etc. Kudos to the authorities for doing so.

In the afternoon, we first visited the Lighthouse. On the way, we took in the utterly delightful Heritage Museum. With exhibits largely from the nearby lighthouse housed in a beautiful small house like structure with cool air conditioning, this would easily rank as one of the best small museums I have ever visited anywhere. An absolute must visit.

The whole process of visiting the Lighthouse was quite exciting, with the climb up a narrow, twisting staircase to walking around the narrow ledge with great views across all directions of the compass. Be warned though that it is not for the fainthearted!

We then visited the group of monuments centred around Arjuna’s Penance. The stone structures and sculptures are simply stunning. We ended our visit at Krishna’s Butter Ball. Located within well maintained, lush green lawns fringed by trees, this is a popular destination for local families.

On the third and final morning, we visited the beach located to the north of the Shore Temple. It is a working fishing village, with relatively clean sand and waters. The kids and I enjoyed splashing in the waves!

The only slight disappointment was the food. I had expectations of finding a food scene similar to what one can find in Goa, or even Pondicherry, but was sorely disappointed. The food in the restaurants was uniformly mediocre as was the service. Maybe it was because I visited in the off-season. But all things considered, it is a great place to visit with family.