Tag Archives: Karnataka

Backpacking India: Gokarna

India - Gokarna
The second half of our beach vacation was surprisingly different from the first. Gokarna is definitely quieter and less developed than Arambol. It seems that new restaurant/accommodation joints are opening every year, but there isn’t much else. And yet the demand still exceeds supply, especially on long weekends (we were there for Republic Day). There are three main beaches: one in town used mostly by pilgrims, Kudle Beach, and Om Beach. The beaches are smaller and separated by rocky cliffs of green, red, and black.

India - Gokarna
Getting to Gokarna from Arambol was a long process involving two taxis, two trains, a security checkpoint looking for drugs, and a lot of waiting around. We left at 8 am and arrived at 5 pm, just to get 200 kms south. We travelled with a French girl and a Finnish guy, which helped pass the time and split the cost of the taxis.

By the time we got to Om Beach, none of the places mentioned in our guide book or reviewed on TripAdvisor had any space left. The best we could find was a dark, cell-like concrete room with shared pit toilets for $5 a night. I was pretty grumpy after all that and was not impressed by our new accommodations.

India - Gokarna
The next morning Chris went for a run to Kudle Beach and checked for available huts there. Most places were full, but he found space at Sea Rock Cafe, which had basic huts for $4, rooms with pit toilets for $8, and rooms with western toilets for $12. We splurged for the western toilet and larger room. Our experience with huts in Gokarna made us appreciate how good the rooms were at Laughing Buddha in Arambol.

Arambol and Gokarna were our first experiences waiting to find a room until we arrived in the place. We didn’t really have a choice as it’s the modus operandi. All other accommodation has been booked online directly or through a booking website. The benefit of finding accommodation when you arrive is you know what you are getting and you can shop around. The downside if it is busy is you end up walking from place to place and finally settling on something less than ideal. It’s easier when all accommodation is in one central place, but I still prefer booking ahead.

India - Gokarna
We spent our time in Gokarna relaxing on the beach, swimming in the wicked surf, hiking between beaches, and building sand castles. We went to one yoga class, but it was too advanced for us – with a lot of time spent on head stands and pretzel poses. It’s three days later and I’m still sore.

India - Gokarna
We’re now heading to Mumbai. It’s going to be quite the shock after 9 days of beach relaxation.

India - Gokarna

Backpacking India: Hampi

India - Hampi
Hampi is the ruined capital of the Vijayanagar empire and my most anticipated Indian destination. It’s a fascinating place to explore, with sprawling ruins that offer brief glimpses of the empire that was once based there. In mock preparation for our trip to India, I played through a campaign as the Vijayanagars in the Civ-like video game Europa Universalis, uniting the Hindu states of South India and resisting the Muslim forces in the north. So I felt a nerdy kinship with the area and its former kingdom.

India - Hampi
The landscape around Hampi is surreal. Hills of large broken boulders, palm trees, and rice paddies. Amidst it all is the sprawling ruins of the Vijayanagar empire and many temples. It took us 4 days to visit the main ruins, and we didn’t see everything.

India - Hampi
On the first day we walked around the sights close to town, including the active Virupaksha Temple with its resident elephant and gangs of monkeys, and the ruins nearby. My favorite ruin was the Achutya Bazaar. We were just hiking around aimlessly and we as we crested a hill there was this large complex spread out below us. Remarkably we were the only ones there wandering through the old buildings. Another group eventually showed up, but it was magical exploring on our own.

India - Hampi
We also spent a day on pair of old, creaky single-speed bicycles exploring the impressive ruins of the Royal Quarter south of town. On our rest day, we did a light hike up to the top of Matunga Hill for a fabulous view of the rocky landscape and ruins in all directions. The steep cliffs gave me a fright, but it was worth it for the view.

India - Hampi

India - Hampi
On our last day, we rented a scooter (more like a motorcycle) and explored the north shore. It was nice having some variety. The scooter was fun and allowed us to cover a lot of distance (much better than the beater bikes we used earlier). We zipped down the highway for a bit and also explored a dirt side road between rice paddies. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic and I only had minor I injuries when we were done – some scrapes on my foot from trying to kick start the engine.

India - Hampi

Hampi is a photographers dream and I took hundreds of photos, the best ones are on Flickr. Check them out.
India - Hampi

India - Hampi

India - Hampi

India - Hampi

Backpacking India: Mysore

India - Mysore Palace
Mysore really is a gem of a city. It was on our list of potential places to visit but it seemed out of the way and we only ended up going because train availability routed us through nearby Bangalore. I’m glad we visited. There are a lot of varied sights to see, traffic isn’t that bad, and the weather is really pleasant.

India - Mysore
In many ways it had everything we expected to find in Pondicherry but didn’t – grand buildings, broad tree-lined boulevards, thriving markets, busy street vendors, beautiful parks, and a zoo.

We were in Mysore on a weekend and it was packed with Indian tourists. Everywhere we went we had to compete with hundreds of school kids, families, and pilgrims. The “lineups” to get into tourist attractions were nuts. Sometimes there were queues but often it was just a shoving match. On Monday, it was a lot more calm and crowds were manageable.

India - Mysore Palace
The main attraction is the opulent and stunning Mysore Maharaja’s Palace. Unlike many of the sights we’ve visited in India, it was well maintained and wasn’t run down at all – probably because it is only 100 years old. As we shuffled around the interior (barefoot), packed in with the other tourists, we saw ballrooms with crystal chandeliers, marble columns, and stained glass – most of it imported from Europe. It reminder me of Versailles. Every Sunday night they illuminate the palace and the buildings around the main square with thousands of white lights and let the public in for free.
India - Mysore

On Sunday we took a bus to the top of Chamundi Hill and then walked down the thousand steps past temples and a giant Nandi (bull) statue. The top of the hill was packed with thousands of pilgrims trying to get into the temple at the top and monkeys trying to steal their food. The walk down was blissfully quiet (except for the boy dressed up as the monkey god Hanuman who followed us for 10 minutes asking us to pay him for a picture), with great views of the city.
India - Mysore

We were reluctant to visit the Mysore Zoo, expecting to find sad animals kept in small, dilapidated cages. The reviews we found reassured us it was one of the best zoos in India, and met international standards. We agree. It’s remarkably well maintained and most of the animals had big, open areas to roam. It’s still a bit sad to see some of the larger mammals in captivity, but wild animals in India aren’t exactly thriving with human encroachment and poaching. We do hope our time at the zoo was just a taste of what we hope to see in one of the National Parks later in our trip.
India - Mysore Zoo

India - Mysore Zoo

India - Mysore Zoo

India - Mysore Zoo

Backpacking India: Bangalore

India - Bangalore
Bangalore is the high-tech hub of India and originally we had no intention of visiting it. There isn’t a lot to offer tourists, except the modern conveniences they may miss from home. The city has slick malls, microbreweries, doughnut shops, and an under-construction metro system. If I lived in India, it would most likely be in Bangalore.

India - Bangalore
Our travel plans changed while we were in Cochin trying to figure out how to get to Hampi. Our original plan was to head up the coast, but trains from Goa to Hampi were all booked for weeks. It turns out that Bangalore is a major transit hub with lots of train connections to Hampi and nearby Mysore (a tourist destination we had considered going to).

Our time in Bangalore was split between eating great food, checking out the parks and meagre attractions, and hanging out with tech acquaintances.

A former coworker, Sreekanth, who I had never met in person, was kind enough to meet us for lunch (with another techie Steve) when we arrived and invite us to his house for a homemade meal a few days later. It was great to just hang out with friends and have conversations that went deeper than the usual traveler queries – where are you from, where have you been, etc.

India - Bangalore qIndia - Bangalore
Bangalore has some nice parks. I went running through Cubbon Park and we spent a whole morning checking out the botanical gardens. We also went to the main tourist attraction – Sultan Tipu’s Summer Palace, which was frankly very disappointing.

India - Bangalore India - Bangalore
The food in Bangalore was excellent. We ate lots of good Indian food, including the much hyped Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) where we had an extensive thali lunch. I lost count of the number of dishes there were. They just kept bringing food, served from silver buckets. The selection and quality of non-Indian food was a nice treat – more than the standard Chinese and Italian options. Green Theory was our favourite – a modern veg restaurant that would do well in Vancouver. We also went to a mall food court and had excellent burrito and falafel meals.

Beyond the hipster food options, you could tell Bangalore was a tech city. The internet was the fastest we’ve had all trip and apps like Strava and Zomato have a lot of local users. The one disappointment was trying to get bus directions. Google maps and the official transit authority website disagreed and where we should catch the bus to Sreekanth’s house. And both were wrong we found out after searching frantically and asking around.

India - Bangalore - Brigade Road
Bangalore has the worst traffic in India we’ve seen so far. Both Sreekanth and Steve are part of a growing cycling community trying to provide alternatives to cars and relief from the traffic and pollution problems plaguing the city. They’re brave men, as I wouldn’t want to have to battle in those streets everyday.