Apr 25, 2012

Hesaraghatta Grassland - Some PostcardsI

Hesaraghatta grasslands in Bangalore are always a treat during the winter months specifically as its famous for the visiting raptors from all across the world and from the north too. Kestrels, Harriers, Falcons, Chats, Pipits, Larks and it also supports a whole variety of resident species too.

Presenting some of my takes from the wonderful place.

Unfortunately, the lone surviving grassland in the near vicinity of bangalore is in threat of losing its identity and birds as the government has other ideas for its beautification and promoting it as a tourist spot.

I would request you to lend your support against this by signing this petition here -

Apr 22, 2012

Haddinakallu betta and Melukote temples

Haddinakallu betta (Eagle hill when translated directly to English)

From Markonahalli dam, we moved ahead to visit this place just located after Yediyur town that we avoided taking the bypass.

Route: 4kms after Yediyur, you will reach a village Tirumalapura. Immediately after this village, take the turn to the right (boards indicative of this place is put up on the main road), you will reach Byrasandra village and from there you can’t miss the track to the foothills of the cliff.

The temple at the village was not any big structure, temples dedicated to Lord Rama and Hanuman and lots of pilgrims from nearby villages visit here regularly (it seems by the development activity around). We just took a look and proceeded in the direction of the cliff. Except Dhiraj’s blog (http://teamgsquare.blogspot.in/2010/07/places-to-visit-around-bangalore-part-5.html), there was no other source of information about this place. Two things struck us as we approached closer to the base of the cliff – there were lots of raptors seen around (raptors are birds of prey) and we could see lot of sacrificed hen feathers strewn all around.
Yes, we realized that it was a place for animal sacrifice (mostly hens being butchered and taken away right in front of us) and that explained the presence of many birds of prey near that cliff. They got protective shelter in the cliffs and meals in the form of leftovers by the people who came there. But, what surprised me was animal/bird sacrifices to Lord Hanuman… never have I seen anything as such before? Just as we looked around, an Shikra perched close to us and up in the sky we saw the Egyptian vultures hovering near the edge of the cliff and also another of the raptor perched on a tree branch on top of the cliff. It was out of reach of my binoculars and camera and the only option we had was to climb up and go and see for ourselves what the bird that perched was?
Crazy it may sound, but fueled not to miss the opportunity I started climbing briskly loaded with two of my cameras on my shoulders and Nag and Guru following closely behind with the binoculars and some water to quench our thirst. The sun was blowing hot and climbing a bare hillock on an uneven inclined path was not easy. We had to reach the top with the hope that the bird would not fly away and also before any other group of people ascended the cliff and lest the bird fly away! Panting and gasping for breath, we reached the top only to find the bird not on the branch that we had seen; in fact we could not identify which branch it had perched on! A few steps ahead and there I found it perched in the shade and I was quick enough to sign others to view the beauty. It was the beautiful Peregrine Falcon, an avid hunter and has the tag of the being the fastest flyer in the animal kingdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrine_Falcon).
My first sighting of the elusive raptor and we sure will remember this for long. It just gave us a few seconds before it took off and we could not trace it there after. Happy for the sighting and disappointed of not getting a good shot of it, we moved ahead towards the edge of the cliff where a sort of temple is there. In fact we could not find any shrine inside the temple complex but a lone pillar stands with carving of Lord Hanuman on it and true to its name as soon as few other visitors ringed the bells tied over there, a horde of monkeys descended near the pillar from nowhere to feast on the coconuts and bananas offered.

The view from the top was good but the heat was getting to us. With the lone water bottle frisked away by the monkeys, we were all left high and dry under the hot sun. A lone Egyptian vulture soared next to the cliff which we were intently waiting for and it kept soaring and soaring and showed no signs of perching anywhere near the cliff. All of our tiredness was forgotten till the vulture was around and after a good fifteen minutes of soaring; he vanished from where he came! Alas, again we could not find out where he went. We wandered around the cliffs sneaking in all corners and all pathways available to try and see if we could find any of the vultures around but to no luck. After wandering around like lost souls, we came back down the cliff and towards our next destination Melukote.

Melukote (or Melkote)
Route: From Yediyur town, you need to travel up to Nelligere and then take a left towards Nagamangala and again a right towards Melkote temple (the best option would be to enquire the directions before proceeding).

Melukote had been on my wish list since long and I was more than happy to visit the place. For the first time visitors, reaching the place without having sufficient knowledge would be a little confusing as we found out. There are 2 temples here (the main temple at the base and another atop a hill).
Something about Melukote (from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melukote)
Melukote in Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district, Karnataka, in southern India, is one of the sacred places in Karnataka. The place is also known as Thirunarayanapuram. It is built on rocky hills, known as Yadugiri, Yaadavagiri and Yadushailadweepa, overlooking the Cauvery valley. Melukote is about 51 km (32 miles) from Mysore and 133 km (83 mi) from Bangalore. Melukote is the location of the Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple, with a collection of crowns and jewels which are brought to the temple for the annual celebration. On the top of the hill is the temple of Yoganarasimha. Melukote is home to the Academy of Sanskrit Research, which has collected thousands of manuscripts.
We first drove straight to the temple atop the hill only to find it closed, we had reached at a wrong time and the temple would open only by 5pm! Then we came down to visit the main temple shrine after visiting the sacred temple pond and passing through the small by-lanes of the village and looking at the ancient old buildings, I felt as being in a village centuries old. The old style buildings have some good feel about them that you stop and exclaim Wow! We took a quick darshan of the lord Cheluvanarayana Swamy and then halted for some rest, time to explore the Galaxy S2 phone of Guru, eh!
Time was running out and we had to reach Ramanagara to get a glimpse of the vultures around and had about 80kms to cover in an hour and add to that the busy Mysore-Bangalore highway would be choked with traffic returning home to Bangalore. Odds stacked upon us, we quickly moved from Melukote to reach the highway bypassing Pandavapura on the way. As expected, the traffic rush wash high and I had to slow down many a times owing to the slow moving vehicles and to give way to the super speeders! Unluckily it was almost dark as we reached Ramanagara and still I took them to the place as they had never been seen it before. Alas! We were late by about thirty minutes as the sun had already set and the few rays were diminishing very rapidly. From there on, it was a slow and steady drive back home negotiating the mad traffic and driving at leisure reaching home by 8pm.

What a day and what a drive! 335kms drive in a day and got to see a lot of good places never seen before :)

Thanks to Dhiraj (http://teamgsquare.blogspot.com) and my buddies Guru and Nag; 
Raja-we missed your colorful company.

Route outlay: Bangalore-Nelamangala-Kunigal-Markonahalli dam-Yediyur-Haddinakal betta-Nelligere-Nagamangala-Melkote-Mandya-Ramanagara-Bangalore.

Food: No food or water available near Markonhalli dam or Haddinakal betta. Melukote is self sufficient being a touristy place.

Other Info: Markonahalli dam suited for a family getaway, Haddinakallu betta for those interested in climbing and Melukote for all the pious people :)

Apr 16, 2012

A lean, mean biker and his bikes

Me: I have biked on a Java and a Yezdi, the cult bikes!
Audience: Don’t joke buddy, you rode it or it rode you!
Audience2: (to Audience1) Simple maga, he would have just sat on it and the wind would have carried him forward (both laughing loud)!
Me (to myself): Wait people, my day will come (and I stamp out of the place)!

Well, this is no fiction but my actual story :) Looking at my physical fit and size, I’ve always been on the receiving end of the taunts and jokes but that never bothered me as I always took it sportingly and with each such incident my resolve to prove them wrong got all the more stronger and stronger in my heart and mind. I still lack the physical strength but lack no dearth of skill or confidence to maneuver any bike I ride.

Dad’s LML scooter was the bike that I grew up with during my school days and he would often let me once in a while to handle it. His policy was simple, first learn to remove the scooter from the stand, push it for a distance and come back and put it back on the stand and then only he would let me ride it. (Scooters didn’t have side stands then and bikes were very few and far).

College days saw me looking with envy at each bike/scooter on the road and secretly wishing I would get a chance to ride it! Brother’s TVS XL was my next buddy for some months and each time I rode it, I would go zip, zap, zoom leaving others dumbfounded and some yelling at me :) Friend’s bikes were my next target and often I would request/plead to get a ride on it and one such bike was the cult bike the Yezdi. I still remember the day I took the Yezdi for a round around my college and I still remember even harder, the few people who were laughing at that. The sound, the power, the ride left me drooling over the bike and that bike left a lasting impression on me that I still remember and thanks to my friend for having confidence in me and letting me ride it :)

Again my brothers’ Samurai (the No problem bike), Victor and the Splendor were often taken away by me for a ride and I would wait for every opportunity to go to the market or the grocery shop just to go on a ride on the bike. Early job days when I used to commute by bus, my colleagues bikes enthused and often I would be riding a Fiero or an Rx or an Caliber whenever I could get an opportunity and sometimes I would create opportunities for such rides!

Finally after a couple of years later, I was a proud owner of the Bajaj Discover bike that fit into my modest budget delivering high performance and being good on my wallet too. I still remember the long rides I have been on it and sometimes those hair raising rushes through blink miss gaps and also those pleasant drives and how to forget those scratches and bruises when you are either knocked off or fall in the stupid of fashions. As years passed by, I always nurtured a zeal for those heavy racing bikes but right on top of the wish list were the cult Harley-Davidson cruiser bikes. Owning one of them is like a dream seeing their prices in India, but I still hope to ride one of them. A couple of rides on my friends Royal Enfield (the Indian Harley Davidson I would say) changed my perception that I did not deemed myself fit to ride a bullet.

A seed with the secret desire to own one such bike took more than an year to germinate and overpower my negative thoughts and after a lot of infighting for months as to buy or not, a final decision was made and I just walked into the showroom and booked a Royal Enfield Thunderbird all for myself (probably one of those situations when I listened to my heart rather than my head that is still busy calculating ways to sort out the finances). After six months of a long tedious wait, finally the day came when the bike became a part of me and my life.

I sat on the bike, turned the ignition to on and as soon as the electric starter was depressed, the RE came into life growling dub…dub…dub…dub that still echoes and I hope it remains the same throughout… It’s often said a bullet is just not a bike; it’s a part of your life and this you would realize only when you own one and importantly ride one :)

Lastly, ride safe and ride with the conscious that there are others riders too and all of you have the right of way! Speed but do not over speed, Speed thrills but Kills!

and this to all those who taunt me:
Kuch Toh Log Kahenge
Logon Ka Kaam Hain Kehna
Chhodo Bekaar Ki Baaton Mein
Kahin Beet Na Jaaye Raina
Kuch Toh Log Kahenge
Logon Ka Kaam Hain Kehna! :)

This post is for a contest 'What Motorcycling means to the Indian Motorcyclist' sponsored by Castrol. You can find their FB page here.

Apr 10, 2012

Markonahalli dam

Gandikota and Haddinakallu betta was on my mind after reading about them in Dhiraj’s and Arun’s  wonderful blogs respectively. Raja opted out and finally I, Guru and Nag decided to spare a Sunday to visit Gandikota for this trip in my Alto.
A little over enthusiasm and ignoring basic details led me to a shocking discovery that Gandikota was about 350kms away that too on the previous day night, hours before we had planned to leave. Switching over ideas, I planned a small circuit to cover Haddinakallu betta, Melukote, Ramanagara and finally home that would run into around 250kms but I was still unsure of the connectivity between these places and the proper distances too. Finally close to midnight on Saturday, I sent an urgent email to Dhiraj (teamgsquare.blogspot.in) asking him to call me if he saw my mail and went to sleep for a couple of hours.
My friends were not even aware where we were going nor was I sure :), still as we had already left we proceeded with an open plan. A wrong turn near Nelamangala (courtesy Nagaraj Gaitonde) made us stop near a tiffin room to ask for directions and the effervescence of ‘Thatte Idli’ was so strong that we could not resist! The sun was slowly rising up the horizon and it was a sight seeing the bright orange ball in the sky clearing all darkness and radiating golden rays all over the place. After a heavy breakfast, we were back on the right track towards Kunigal and that is when I got a call from an unknown number. As expected, it was Dhiraj calling (he had seen the mail and was calling me early in the day) and he gave some valuable information regarding the places we wanted to see, he also cited Markonahalli dam as an option that was also echoed by Guru earlier.
So, somewhere on the highway, stopped to receive a call and a few changes and our plan for the day was somewhat clear now. It would be Markonahalli dam – Haddinakallu betta – Melukote – Ramanagaram (for vultures) – Bangalore. Kunigal lake was also one of the probable places to visit, but we could not include that due to time constraints.
About the dam: Markonahalli dam was built in 1930s under the guidance of Sir M.Visveswaraiah. Constructed across river Shimsha (a tributary of river Kaveri), the dam serves as a water source for almost 4000 villages for agriculture and also for storage purpose. It’s located in the Kunigal taluk under Tumkur district in the state of Karnataka. The dam has an automatic siphon system, very first to be of that kind in Asia – thanks to the great Sir MV. When the water inflow increases and water level reaches 88ft, extra water goes out of the dam unmanned. There is no need of any person to be present to open the gates. Main reason to implement this system is, if water increases by another 4 ft, the famuous temple of Sri Siddalingeshwara in Yediyur will drown
Reach – From Bangalore take the NH4 towards Nelamangala and then divert to the left to proceed on the NH48 towards Yediyur town. 2kms before Yediyur, turn left (a signboard is put up indicating Markonahalli dam) and proceed 5kms to reach the dam area. Just before this, you come across an IB to the right, just proceed behind this to access the bed area.
About 100kms from Bangalore and ideal for an weekend drive.
Food – Nothing available here, need to reach the main road or Yediyur town. Packaged food and water must if you plan to spend time here.
We were pretty surprised by the dam and the water levels as we had no idea of what to expect and instantly I saw lot of birdlife all around the place. Leaving the car with Nag and Guru, I was behind them all over the place and the place was so rich in birdlife that our plans of a brief stopover gobbled up more than 90 minutes of our time. Surely, birding can be addictive :)
From there, we drove till the entrance of the dam from where went around the dam and were shown those heavy iron crest doors and the technique being employed (no wonder Sir MV was a genius)! After roaming around the place for some time and gulping some tea and hot bajji’s, it was time to move on as already we had overstayed and had a lot more to cover for the day.
Quite a lot of people visit the place as picknikers during weekends and holidays. There is a small park like area near the entrance of the dam, but now looks all barren and broken; clearly no maintenance of the place. We were the only crowd present till the time we were there probably because we were there too early on a Sunday morning :)
The Red Munia's, Shrike, Robins, Sunbirds, Mynas, Barbets, Pigeons kept me occupied for a long time. I was particularly happy seeing the Red Munia in multiples. The bird being blood red color belongs to the Munia / Sparrow family in broad and more or less keeps foraging on the ground for grains and other stuff. (See the photos for Munia stuff).

Bird checklist -
Red Munia (Red Avadavat)
Scaly breasted Munia
Coppersmith Barbet
Asian Koel
Jungle Myna
Common Myna
Long tailed Shrike
Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin
Ashy Prinia
Tailor bird
Spotted Dove
Laughing Dove
Rose ringed Parakeet
Yellow footed Green Pigeon
Red vented Bulbul
Red whiskered Bulbul
Rosy Starling
Grey Heron
Little Cormorant
Little Egret
Whiskered Tern
Common Kingfisher
White breasted Kingfisher
Oriental Bushlark
Purple Sunbird

wait for Haddinakallu betta and Melukote...