Thematic Trips: Following the Cauvery river

While there are some really huge rivers in north India, such as Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Beas, south India does not have perennial rivers or those with high volume of water all year long. Cauvery river is one such important river to both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Let’s take a tour of the river starting from its source at Tala Kaveri upto the point where it joins the sea — at two different places!

Tala Kaveri, Coorg, Karnataka

Stunning view of Mallalli waterfall, Coorg.

Chelavara waterfall, Coorg

Cauvery’s journey starts in the coffee district of Coorg in Karnataka. The monsoon brings heavy rain to the Western Ghats of Coorg. Several waterfalls such as Abbey, Mallalli and Chelavara can be found in the hills around Coorg’s headquarters Madikeri. All these waterfalls join forces to form the course of Cauvery river. Tala Kaveri is a Kshetra which is worshipped as the official source of river Cauvery as Kaveri Mata or Kaveri Devi.

Harangi dam, Coorg, Karnataka

Harangi dam, Coorg

Harangi dam, Coorg

Cauvery’s length is not even 10 km long before it is obstructed by a dam. Harangi dam near Kushalanagara in Coorg district is the first dam of several on the course of Cauvery river’s 800 km run to the Bay of Bengal. While Harangi is the first dam by distance from the source of the river, it is not chronologically the first dam to be built on Cauvery. That credit goes to a ancient dam built 2000 years ago in Tamil Nadu, possibly India’s first ever dam. Nor is Harangi the most celebrated dam on Cauvery. We’ll travel to the outskirts of Mysuru to see such as dam.

Nisargadhama, Coorg, Karnataka

The rope bridge that crosses the Cauvery river and gets us to Nisargadhama nature park, Coorg.

The rope bridge that crosses the Cauvery river and gets us to Nisargadhama nature park, Coorg.

On the southern bank of Cauvery, also near the town of Kushalanagara, is a nature park built by the government of Karnataka. This park is a green lung, nature trail, tourist centre, vacation stay (in cottages set up by Karnataka tourism), mini zoo and handicraft centre, all rolled into one. It is worth spending a day and a night in Nisargadhama.

Mysuru, Karnataka

A pelican sits at the top of a tree at Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary, Ranganathittu near Mysuru

Brindavan gardens on the leeway of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam

Brindavan gardens on the leeway of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam

While the river does not flow right by Mysuru city, it is just 16 km away. Two points of interest can be found at the location where the Cauvery river comes as close to Mysuru city as possible. The first one is a township built around one of India’s largest and most important dams called the Krishna Raja Sagara, which has been functional from 1938. It was commissioned by the ruling Wodeyar monarch Krishna Raja Wodeyar, one of the most progressive rulers Mysuru has ever seen. On the leeway of the dam is one of India’s first and most expansive botanical gardens famous throughout India as the Brindavan gardens.

About 10 km downstream from the dam is one of India’s first river-side bird sanctuaries. It is called Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary and is in Ranganathittu village. In this sanctuary, one can take a boat ride to see various birds like cranes, cormorants, storks and even pelicans. Besides, you can see an occasional crocodile swimming in the river, so don’t stick your hand into the water.

You can read more about touring around Mysuru city in the post: City Focus: Mysuru, Karnataka.

Srirangapatana, Karnataka

Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple at Srirangapatana

Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple at Srirangapatana

Outside Mysuru, the river on its west-to-east course splits around an island and then rejoins at the east of the island. This is not an unknown island. For several centuries, the island has been hosting an important temple for Vishnu devotees of south India. It also served as an Agrahara or a learning / publishing centre for Vaishnavite Hindu literature. The temple is home to Lord Ranganatha Swamy. The island is hence named Sri Ranga Patana or the ‘city of Sri Ranga’. For a brief period in history, between the middle and the end of the 18th century, the town lost its Vaishnavite identity. Muslim rulers Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan took over Srirangapatana and made it their capital. Along came a Jama Masjid, a palace complex, Mughal-style gardens and Muslim mausoleums. The Muslim supremacy ended with the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799 and the town was annexed by the British, who mispronounced it as Seringapatna. The combination of Mysuru and Srirangapatana became an important military advantage for the British to pick off and defeat all the princely states along the bank of Cauvery, all the way upto Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

A history of Srirangapatana during the rule of Tipu Sultan has been described in the post: Revisiting history: Tipu Sultan.

Somanathapura and Talakkad, Karnataka

Pataleshwara temple at Talakad. This temple sunk under the silt deposited by the Cauvery river when it changed course and flooded. The villagers believe that it was due to a curse.

Pataleshwara temple at Talakad. This temple sunk under the silt deposited by the Cauvery river when it changed course and flooded. It was later excavated. The villagers believe that the sinking was due to a curse. Pataleshwara in Sanskirt means the ‘Lord of the world under the ground’.

These are two villages on the bank of Cauvery in Karnataka’s Mysuru district, where the different dynasties built temple complexes. While Somanathapura’s Chennakeshava temple is typical of Hoysalas, Talakkad has a unique story. Talakkad is said to have had 30 temples, but many of them were swallowed and buried by the Cauvery river when it changed course and caused floods. Archeologists are still excavating and discovering new temples in the area.

Shivanasamudra falls, Karnataka

Bharachukki waterfall, Shivanasamudra

Gaganachukki waterfall, Shivanasamudra

If you want to see the equivalent of Niagara falls in India, then look no further than the Shivanasamudra group of falls halfway between Mysuru and Bengaluru. There are waterfalls at two locations and they are called Gaganachukki and Bharachukki. The Gaganachukki falls also drive a hydroelectric project that powers Bengaluru city. Beyond this point, the river turns to take a north-south flow instead of west-east.

Hogenakkal, Tamil Nadu

Cauvery river plunges into the gorge at Hogenakkal

Between Chamarajapuram district of Karnataka and Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, the Cauvery river forms a natural border and flows calmly for a while before it plunges into a lengthy gorge from all sides. The gorge is in the village of Hogenakkal in Tamil Nadu. While the plunge is violent during monsoon, it softens during the winter and summer months, allowing you to take a coracle ride along the length of the gorge while the river streams in from all the sides.

Mettur, Tamil Nadu

Bridge over Cauvery river at Mettur

Bridge over Cauvery river at Mettur

A view of Mettur dam

South of Hogenakkal, in the district of Erode is the village of Mettur, where we see the third dam on Cauvery river. This dam is built at the area where the Cauvery river’s course broadens significantly after getting fed by the waters from the streams of the mountains bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These mountains belong to the eastern Ghats.

Erode, Tamil Nadu

Erode is an industrial town that has grown around the Cauvery river, with the urban area situated on the western bank of the river. In Erode district, there are several temples on the banks of the Cauvery river.

On the eastern bank of the river across Erode town is the Seshasayee Paper mill, a factory that has been a pioneer in the manufacture of paper & paper products since the 1930s. Due to the presence of Cauvery river and the abundance of wood, it was easy to set up a factory that processed paper right from pulp to finished products at the same location.

From Erode, the river once again takes a west-east flow, continuing in that direction upto the sea.

Tiruchirapally, aka Trichy, Tamil Nadu

A view of Trichy from the top of Rock Fort. The two bridges are over the Cauvery river.

The capital of the Pallava dynasty has always had Cauvery river close to its heart. Trichy is spread towards the southern bank of the river. Near the bank is a small hill with a hill top fort. The hill fort is called Rock Fort. It has many historic temples all the way from the base to the peak. One can get a complete view of Trichy city and the Cauvery river from the top of Rock fort. The British used the geographical advantage of Trichy to set it up as an industrial and educational hub. Highways and railways were developed. Even today, companies like BHEL and institutions like NIT flourish in Trichy.

Srirangam, Tamil Nadu

Inside Ranganathar temple, Srirangam

Very similar to Karnataka, the river splits around an island in Tamil Nadu too. The distributary to the north of the island receives a new name: Kollidam or Cooleron. Guess what! There is a famous Ranganathaswamy temple on the island. The temple is called the Sri Ranganathar temple and the island is named Srirangam. Deja vu! Just like Mysuru is a big city to the southern bank of the river across the island of Srirangapatana, Trichy is a big city to the southern bank of the river across the island of Srirangam. Double deja vu! Want more deja vu? Krishna Raja Sagara is a dam near the twin cities of Mysuru – Srirangapatana. Yes, there is a dam near the twin cities of Trichy – Srirangam too. But that’s where the similarities stop. KRS is a modern dam built by a 20th century ruler and with 20th century engineering. Not so for the dam near Trichy, which is 2000 years old. Read the next section to know more.

Kallanai / Grand Anicut, Tamil Nadu

Grand Anicut, one of the world’s first dams.

The Cauvery river swerves around the island of Srirangam to rejoin into a single course. But 2000 years ago, a forward-thinking king from the region’s Chozha dynasty, Karikala Chozhan, wanted some of the water from the northern tributary, Kollidam, to maintain its original course for irrigating the fields to the north of the river. Using the power of elephants, a bank of stones with wide sluices was built to retain some of the water as a seperate river, while the rest of the water was allowed to rejoin Cauvery through narrow sluices. Kallanai was a state-of-the-art dam for the time. In the 19th century, the British noticed changes in the course of the river and some ineffectiveness in the original dam in channelling water to the Kollidam branch. The plan was updated and fresh dam gates were built on top of the original dam. The British made sure that they preserved the original 2000-year old dam in the process. Today you can seen the 2 millenia old bunds along with the modern dam from the road on top of the dam. The road connects the city of Trichy to the Chozha capital city of Thanjavur.

Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu

Brihadheeshwara temple, Thanjavur

Brihadheeshwara temple, Thanjavur

Thanjavur city and some towns around Thanjavur flourished under the Chozha dynasty, especially Rajaraja Chozhan and Rajendra Chozhan. Thanjavur’s Brihadeeshwara temple, the temples of Kumbakkonam, Gangaikondachozhapuram, the Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja temple and the Thivarur temple were all built under the patronage of the Chozhas. Lesser known in the district is the village of Thiruvaiyar on the southern bank of the river, where Telugu composer Thyagaraja wrote most of his work and was also buried. The most famous Carnatic music singers assemble at Thiruvaiyar on his birthday and recite his works in a huge assembly hall.

Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu

Chidambaram Nataraja temple campus

Chidambaram is not directly on the bank of the Kollidam river, but it isn’t very far. This town is the home of Lord Nataraja or Nata Raja, the king of dance. In the temple you can see the murals of the 108 steps of Shiva Tandava. The priests are this temple are a specific sect of Brahmins called the Dikshitars or Dixits.

Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu

The southern branch of the Cauvery river, still named the Cauvery, flows into the sea at the ancient port of Poompuhar. Poompuhar used to be the port for Chozha rulers, from where they sailed into south east Asia and established territory in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. You can still see the old structures at Poompuhar. But the majority of the glorious port has been swallowed by the sea.

Pichavaram, Tamil Nadu

South-east of Chidambaram are the mangroves of Pichavaram. The Kollidam river splits into several distributaries, all seeking the sea. The deltas between the distributaries are home to several species of mangroves, bird life and marine life. One can take a boat around the islets of Pichavaram, seeking migratory birds and sholes of aquatic life. Beyond Pichavaram, the various distributaries and rivulets join the Bay of Bengal.

Conclusion

Any major river in the world creates an entire ecosystem and gives rise to civilisations wherever it flows. Cauvery is no different, creating an ecosystem and supporting several civilisations like the Kodavas, Pallavas and Chozhas. As with all major rivers, Cauvery has suffered at the hands of industrialisation and pathetic waste management. But following the river from the forests of Coorg to the mangroves of Pichavaram and parallely through the ancient commercial port of Poompuhar is a fascinating experience.

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Thematic trips: Following the footsteps of Mahatma

In trip India 360, we didn’t aim to travel by any theme. The goal was to cover as much of India as we could in one year, seeing each region during its best weather. After covering a large part of India, we could easily identify patterns among some of the places we visited. One such pattern is a Mahatma Gandhi trail. As we were reviewing our trip, we found that we covered a lot of cities important to the life of Gandhiji. A thematic tour around those cities forms a great blog post

Porbandar, Gujarat

Birth home of Mahatma Gandhi

Birth home of Mahatma Gandhi

Porbandar is a coastal city in western Gujarat. This is the city where Gandhiji was born in 1869. His birth home is now maintained as a museum and a place of worship known as Kirti Mandir.

Rajkot, Gujarat

Alfred High School renovated from Rajkot English High School, which Gandhiji attended.

Alfred High School renovated from Rajkot English High School, which Gandhiji attended.

The capital of Saurashtra district, Rajkot, is where Gandhiji went to school. The modern day Alfred High School, now renovated by the Nawab of Junagadh, stands at the same place where Rajkot English High School once stood. This is where a young Mohandas Gandhi attended school in his childhood.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Sabarmati Ashram is on the western bank of Sabarmati river at Ahmedabad.

Sabarmati Ashram is on the western bank of Sabarmati river at Ahmedabad.

With Gandhiji’s plea for creating and using Swadeshi goods, came his idea of building a place where people from all over India would convene, learn basic skills like weaving and thus be independent of British goods. His flagship project for promoting self-sufficiency and for people to work together still stands today on the western bank of the Sabarmati river at Ahmedabad. Gandhiji decided to start with his own state and to mentor the Gujarati speaking population. He tried his idealogy locally before he took his movement pan-India.

Dandi, Gujarat

Gandhiji ended his Salt March at the Dandi beach. But it was the beginning of a new chapter in the India's freedom struggle.

Gandhiji ended his Salt March at the Dandi beach. But it was the beginning of a new chapter in the India’s freedom struggle.

To break the back of the Indian resistance, the British introduced the Salt Act. They imposed a tax on the purchase of salt, making the daily commodity extremely expensive for the common Indian. In an act of defiance, Gandhiji, with thousands of followers, walked the 240 miles (384 km) from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi beach near the city of Navsari. On reaching Dandi, Gandhiji picked up a fistful of salt from the sea and asserted to the followers that the salt was theirs and it was their right to use as much of it as they needed without paying taxes. He encouraged Indians to make their own salt, thus boycotting the British sold salt. Thus Gandhiji used an item used every day to teach a form of non-violent defiance (Satyagraha) to his fellow countrymen. The Salt Satyagraha became an iconic movement as the message of peaceful non-cooperation and self-reliance reached the masses.

Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mani Bhavan was home to Gandhiji for nearly two decades.

Mani Bhavan was home to Gandhiji for nearly two decades.

Gandhiji studied in London and later worked in Transvaal, South Africa. But it is an often forgotten fact that he stayed in and practised law in erstwhile Bombay, soon after his education and after his return from South Africa. Mumbai was home to Gandhiji for 17 years. It is in Mumbai city and other places in Bombay Presidency (present day Maharashtra) that he met with mentors Lokmanya Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gandhiji stayed at Mani Bhavan, a mere 100 metres from the famous Marine Drive promenade and Chowpatty beach, which are legendary landmarks in Mumbai. The August Kranti Maidan, frequently used by Gandhiji and his mentors to address the public of Bombay, is right behind Mani Bhavan. The building is now a museum exhibiting Gandhiji’s life.

Pune, Maharashtra

Pune's Aga Khan palace, where Gandhiji was kept under house arrest.

Pune’s Aga Khan palace, where Gandhiji was kept under house arrest.

Angered by the ‘Quit India’ movement and the constant demonstrations crying, “British, Go Back”, the British resorted to putting Gandhiji, his wife Kasturba and his secretary Mahadev Desai on a two year house arrest between 1942 to 1944. The arrest was at Pune’s Aga Khan palace. Both Kasturba and Desai got terminally sick during the arrest and were cremated inside the palace grounds. Both the deaths were huge blows to Gandhiji and he came out of the arrest, a sad and broken man. But the burning desire of Indian freedom made him go back to the freedom struggle soon after the arrest.

Sewagram, Maharashtra

Sewagram Ashram on the bank of river Wardha.

Sewagram Ashram on the bank of river Wardha.

Geographically ideal Sewagram is located on the bank of the Wardha river. The village is about 10 km from Wardha city and 70 km from India’s centre, Nagpur. It was from Sewagram that Gandhiji could travel in any direction with equal effort, not being confined to a corner of the country. Sadly, his last departure from Sewagram Ashram was his ill-fated trip to New Delhi in 1948.

Kausani, Uttarakhand

Anasakti Ashram, Kausani.

Anasakti Ashram, Kausani.

The majestic stance of the Himalayas and the calmness of this Kumaoni village was so inspirational for Gandhiji that he wrote his work his own Yoga work named as the Anasakti Yoga. An Ashram was established at a hill with a commanding view over both the village and the VIP peaks of the Himalayas, i.e. Nandadevi, Trishul, Chaukhamba, Nandighunti, etc.

Every evening at Anasakti Ashram comes a time for prayer, when Bhajans written by or practised by Gandhiji are sung, e.g. Vaishnava Janto, Raghupati Raghava, etc. In addition, you are also requested to sing a Bhajan / devotional song of your choice.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

The Viceregal Lodge at Shimla was the venue of the 1945 round table conference.

The Viceregal Lodge at Shimla was the venue of the 1945 round table conference.

At one end of the mountain, where Shimla city flourishes, is a majestic building named the Viceregal Lodge. This was the seat of the Viceroy of India, with Shimla being the summer capital of India, to escape the heat of New Delhi. The fledgling Indian National Congress and Gandhiji met with the British Viceroy Lord Wavell at a round table conference in 1945 to discuss the provisions for self-rule of India by Indians (independence) and also a seperate federation for Muslims (which culminated in Pakistan).

Today the Lodge is a museum showcasing the storyline of the conference. It is also an excellent specimen of opulent woodwork, high ceilings, lighting and interior decoration.

Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Madurai's Gandhi museum gives an excellent insight into the life of Gandhi

Madurai’s Gandhi museum gives an excellent insight into the life of Gandhi

On a trip to Tamil Nadu by the third class compartment of a railway train, Gandhiji noticed that the locals were wearing western clothes and what looked like western finery. When he asked them to renounce those foreign clothes and adopt the khadi, the locals told him that they had no money to buy any clothes, khadi or otherwise. The western dresses he was seeing were in fact hand-me-downs from the British families in whose mansions they worked as servants. Stung by the harsh reality of poverty, on reaching Madurai, Gandhiji renounced his expensive khadi fineries and started the practice of wrapping himself in a long, white khadi loin, thus leading to the iconic image of Gandhiji that we often see.

New Delhi

Under the India Gate in New Delhi is also a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi displaying the words 'Hey Ram', the last words from his lips.

Under the India Gate in New Delhi is also a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi displaying the words ‘Hey Ram’, the last words from his lips.

In January 1948, India were four months into independence, but were facing the bitter effects of partition, betrayal and communalism. In such conditions, Gandhiji visited the House of industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla in New Delhi. While going out for his daily prayer, he was shot dead. His last words were “Hey Ram”. Those words have been immortalised on a memorial right under India’s most important monument for martyrs, the India Gate.

Conclusion

Being to the same places that Mahatma Gandhi had been was an eye-opening and experience for us. We were so lucky to have travelled and watched India from some of the same places that the Mahatma has been to, watching the country exactly as he did with his eyes. It has been a pleasure to be all those places that went on to become some monumental moments in his life. If not all of India 360 in a year, the Mahatma Gandhi trail is something that you can definitely plan and execute in a matter of 2 weeks.

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Geography: Understanding Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand is a large state, despite being carved out of Uttar Pradesh. It required us 50 days to see each of the its important destinations. This is because, the state is mountainous and it requires a lot of time to commute from one place to another. Also, there is something of importance at an average distance of every 40 – 50 km. To plan a trip around the state is mind-boggling. But we used a simple rule to plan our route. By the time we reached Rishikesh from Delhi, we had a solid plan for exploring the home state of Ganga river. While there are hundreds of places to see in the 13 districts of Uttarakhand, at the most elementary level, the state has just two divisions: Garhwal and Kumaon. Planning a trip where you cover one division followed by the other makes the task less overwhelming. Continue reading

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When, Where and What of the Indian Travel – Indian Winter

India is a tropical country, with half of the country lying between the equator and the tropic of Cancer. Summers are harsh, whereas the winters can get cold, but milder than what North America or Europe faces. But then, to the northern end of India are the Himalayas, where it snows heavily. Depending on where you are in India, the winter is as diverse as the country itself. India has places like Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, where winter merely means that the night time temperature may drop to less than 27 degrees celsius with a pleasant breeze. At the other end of the spectrum, there is Dras in Jammu & Kashmir, which ranks as the second coldest inhabited place on earth, averaging -20 degrees celsius in winter, with the record low being -45 degrees celsius. Depending on whether you just want pleasant weather or an adventure in head-popping cold, holiday destinations may vary.

Snow

Priya tries to walk on a foot of snow in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Priya tries to walk on a foot of snow in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

With India being a tropical country, snow is confined to the higher altitude of Himalayas. It snows moderately in the lower Himalayas, while the Greater Himalayas receive heavy snow, to the point that they are covered in some snow even during summers. Countries like Canada, North America, New Zealand and Germany dread snow, since they know the real dangers of getting stuck in a blizzard and the tremendous effort required to just have a normal life when it snows all around you. But most Indians travel long and far to see snow. Snow for most of them is a novelty. Indians aspire to see and play with snow. We can see their eyes glow with excitement even when they spot a small patch of snow by the kerb of the road in Himachal or Sikkim.

In winter, several Himalayan mountain passes shut down and remain closed after facing a week of snow. Anticipating such snow, the locals who inhabit higher altitudes relocate to their winter residences on lower ground and sometimes to cities outside their native state. Heck, they even bring the deities of important temples down with them. E.g. Kedarnath’s idol is brought down to Okhimath, whereas Gangotri Devi is brought to Harshil.

That said, Himalayan winters have their own specialities which are not available during rest of the year.

Vistas of snow everywhere: Looking at towns covered in snow can indeed be a fairy tale experience, with great photo opportunities. Winter is the time when the British-built Himalayan hill stations in India, such as Shimla, Manali and Mussoorie look like European cities, with their wooden houses, town squares and slated roofs all covered in snow.

Train trips: If you are lucky and the trains are operational, then winter is a great time to hop on a ride from Kalka to Shimla (Himachal) or from Banihal to Srinagar (J & K). You will see pine and fir trees covered in snow and several vast open meadows in sheets of white.

Skiing: India has various levels of ski slopes. Ski resorts above those slopes offer skiing courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiiers. Good ski resorts are at Auli (near Badrinath, Uttrakhand), Gulmarg (near Srinagar, J & K), Pahalgham (J & K), Kufri (near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh) and Solang Valley (near Manali, Himachal Pradesh). If you are new to skiing, you can try a very basic level at one of these places.

Chadar Trek, where you walk on a frozen river: This will probably be your only opportunity to do what Jesus was supposed to have done, which is to walk on water. The trek goes along the bed of the Zanskar river, with accommodation in the form of camping in caves along the way. The Chadar trek is one of the costliest treks in India. This is because it is very remote, in the district of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir. The opportunity is very exclusive. The third reason is because you cannot go solo. You’d never tell the difference between hard walkable ice and fragile thin ice. A system of guides and porters is required to safely navigate on the frozen water, which is extremely slippery with zero grip. The roads that lead to Ladakh from Srinagar and Manali are closed during winter. So the only way to reach the base of the Chadar trek is by taking a plane to Leh airport from New Delhi and then subsequently using local transport provided by the adventure company which will take care of your walk. Flights are few and premium during this time of the year. So the whole activity is extremely expensive. You might get lucky with off-season discounts if seats don’t fill up.

A word of warning

However, be warned that high altitude, snow and extreme cold can cause a lot of adverse effects in your body, leading to altitude sickness, breathlessness, frost bites, snow blindness and hypothermia. The best advice we can give you is that the scenes from Hollywood and Bollywood movies are fake. Don’t imitate those scenes at all. Here are some do’s and don’ts for high altitude and snow.

  1. Never get to high altitude rapidly. Take your time, at least 24 – 48 hours, to go from a altitude below 5000 feet to something above 10,000 feet (this altitude and above are called high altitude). Your first day at a high altitude location should be spent in mild exercise such as walking or very light jogging. The idea is to get your lungs used to the lower levels of oxygen. While there are flights from New Delhi and Mumbai to Leh, personally we at India 360 think that those flights are not a good idea for your health since they take you from low to high altitude in a matter of a couple of hours. The flights can have really adverse effects if your daily lifestyle doesn’t include aerobic exercise.
  2. Always do exactly what the locals tell you. Do not let anyone from the metro cities of India give you advice about how to eat, sleep, drink or behave at higher altitudes. Locals have been there for several years, living through the difficulties of winter. Only they know best. You may have read this post from us Mumbaikars, but when you reach the Himalayas, please consult a local for better advice 😉
  3. Always have your layered clothes on. One layer of underwear should be covered by a layer of high quality woollen thermals, followed by your regular clothing, i.e. a full-sleeve top and full trousers and finally a padded fleece jacket. You should wear one layer of cotton socks, with woollen socks above it. The shoes must cover your leg above the ankles, preferably upto the shins. Your palms and fingers should be covered in woollen gloves. A woollen monkey cap stays on your head all the time. The cap should also go over your ears. This is how locals will be. They keep their sweaters on all day. At first, it will seem strange, but within two days, it will all make sense.
  4. Winter clothing is where movies show you lousily misleading scenes with heroines wearing mini-skirts, heel shoes and sleeveless tops on snow. They let their hair open with an uncovered head. You may wear such attire when you visit the Himalayas in summer and are roaming on grass meadows or town promenades during day time before 5 pm. Avoid such summer-themed dresses and wear all your layers if:
    1. it is winter
    2. it is soon to be or past sunset in ANY season, including summer.
    3. you are standing on a field of snow during ANY season.
  5. Always remember. Snow looks extremely gorgeous. But it is an evil in a beautiful disguise, a witch in the attire of a fairy. Movies are to blame for the hundreds of silly things that tourists from cities do on snow. Here are some terrible ideas.
    1. Holding snow in ungloved hands. You can try this at home. Trying holding an ice cube from your freezer. You will start feeling numbness. Holding snow directly over the skin of your hands without being aware of how long you are holding it can cause numbness and subsequently frostbite.
    2. Throwing snow at each other. Snow is soft, but compact balls of snow can be quite hard. A mis-aimed, misdirected hit can go straight for the throat or for the eyes. There is no telling how much damage will be done if that happens.
    3. Licking / sucking on snow. Point one, snow is made of water, but it causes dehydration. Sucking on snow will actually dehydrate you. Second, it can cause frostbite to your tongue. Third, a really hard suck can shoot some particles of snow into your throat and cause serious damage.
  6. Driving on snow is very tricky. Road trips will be longer due to slippery snow. It also needs special equipment like snow tyres and chains wrapped over tyres. If you have driven less than 5000 km in your life or if you have never driven even on gentle mountain roads (e.g. Nandi Hills or Sahyadris), then give up the idea of driving on your own in the Himalayan winter and hire a local vehicle with its own driver. He / she knows better. And definitely do not use a motorbike. India 360 found out the hard way while driving through Sela pass in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Sea

India is blessed with a long coastline and many beaches. Seen here is Kappad beach near Kozhikode in Kerala, where Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama landed, thus finding a sea route between Europe and India.

India is blessed with a long coastline and many beaches. Seen here is Kappad beach near Kozhikode in Kerala, where Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama landed, thus finding a sea route between Europe and India.

India’s coastline covers huge ground (7500 km). It starts at the Arabian Sea at Mandvi in the Kutch district of Gujarat, continues through Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. At Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari, the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet. The coastline ends in a tip, changes direction and becomes east-facing in Tamil Nadu, continuing through Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, upto Diamond Harbour near Kolkata in West Bengal. That’s not all. India is blessed with two island union territories in the form of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar. Just imagine the wealth of beaches, sea shells, marine life, rock formations, sea forts and coastal cities than India enjoys. It’s staggering even to think about it. Don’t think, just act. It is during the milder weather of winter that India’s coast can be best enjoyed.

India's coastline supports a plethora of marine life

India’s coastline supports a plethora of marine life

Gujarat & Diu

The clean beaches of Kutch and Diu are yet to attract hordes of tourists. Gujarat is usually seen as a destination for temples and palaces or as a hub for business and industry. But there are some beautiful beaches tucked away in coastal Gujarat. Dwarka, Madhopur, Veraval and Porbandar are some beautiful beaches. And who can forget Dandi beach, graced by the Father of our Nation in a bid to defy the salt act?

Maharashtra

You will fall in love with Maharashtra’s coastline the same way you do with the mountains and snow of Himalayas. Among all the states, the 600 km of Maharashtrian coastline offers you so much variety and such a wide experience that it is hard to pack an end-to-end trip even if you give it a week. You may have better heard of Maharashtra’s coastline by the name of Konkan. There are 6 districts in Konkan, starting from Palghar adjoining Gujarat and continuing upto Sindhudurg which borders Goa. The mega-city of Mumbai is along the way. Here are some activities to enjoy in Konkan winter.

  1. Beaches: Maharashtra has a plethora of beaches, some of them crowded and touristy, but some tucked away in quiet corners.
  2. Sea forts: Engineering marvels such as Vasai fort, Alibag’s Kulaba fort, the genius of Murud Janjira, and then Vijaydurg and Sindhudurg, two forts commanded by the Great Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre.
  3. Cities: Mumbai, Ratnagiri and Malvan are some cities on the Konkan coast. Each city has its vibrant culture and history.
  4. Vantage views: Adjoining the beaches of Korlai, Velneshwar, Harnai and Velas are small hills you can trek to or drive to and see entire stretches of beaches and villages from a vantage point. The beautiful coastal highway runs parallel to the sea at all times in the Ratnagiri district.
  5. Bird life: Winter is the time when birds from as far as the Arctic migrate to India’s coastline, Maharashtra being one of them. It is great time to spot exotic species.
  6. Olive Ridley turtles: On the beaches of Velas and Kelshi, both in Ratnagiri district, the month of February is when the endangered species of Olive Ridley turtles crawl out of the eggs laid on the beach and into the sea. Hundreds of tiny turtles can be seen tottering at a slow pace from the beach to the waves of the sea.
  7. Beach resorts: Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (or MTDC) operates several cosy resorts by the beach at several locations in the state. All of them have fantastic views of the sea. The best resorts are at Harihareshwar, Velneshwar and Tarkarli. In addition, several homestays accredited by MTDC are run by locals. These can be great places to spend your beach-side vacations.
  8. Temples: Several temples are located right on the beach shore in Maharashtra. These are: Harihareshwar, Velneshwar, Ganpatipule, Kunkeshwar and Redy to name a few.
  9. Water activities: Several beaches have water sports such as motorboating and parasailing. The Tarkarli beach in Sindhudurg has operators offering scuba diving.

Goa

Beaches of Goa from Anjuna in north Goa to Palolem in south Goa are extremely happening during winter, especially in the week from Christmas to New Year, when carnivals happen. Each of Goa’s beaches is unique in its own way and you will never get tired of spending time there. Anjuna, Calangute and Palolem are shoppers’ paradises where you can pick good quality western clothes and beachwear for a bargain. Anjuna, Arambol and Morjim also has several budget friendly backpackers’ hostels with zero restrictions, making it a paradise for solo travellers and backpackers looking to let their hair down.

If you consume alcohol, then look no further than Goa. All drinks are available at cheaper rates than the rest of the country. And then there are happy hours, which drives the costs even lower. Neither members of India 360 drinks alcohol, so we cannot tell you which bars are the best. But a lot is spoken about Tito’s between Baga and Calangute beaches, the two most happening beaches in Goa. Tito’s also has an attached discotheque.

Karnataka

The 123-feet tall Shiva statue on Murudeshwara beach

With the exception of Karwar, Udupi and Mangalore, beaches in Karnataka are less talked about. There are several in number, but not much tourism. Beaches like Gokarna are just starting to pick up tourism on scale. Right now, the most visited beach in Karnataka is perhaps Murudeshwara, but not for the beach. Right on the beach is a temple with a 123-feet statue of Lord Shiva in a sitting posture.

Kerala

Beaches in Kannur in north Kerala are spotlessly clean and were some of the most pristine ones we saw in all of India. We would personally prefer a beach holiday in Kerala over Goa. In south Kerala, Varkala and Kovalam on either sides of Thiruvananthapuram are worth a visit and a stay. Near the shores of Alappuzha are the lakes of Vaikom, Kumarakom and Punnamada, where you can stay on houseboats for a night and enjoy a cruise.

Tamil Nadu

The best sea-side destinations in and around Tamil Nadu are Kanyakumari, Thiruchendur, Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi, Pondicherry and Chennai itself. For Dhanushkodi, you can ride all the way to the end of India with your car. It has an abandoned ghost town which was destroyed in cyclone of 1964. Meter gauge tracks, railway station with water tanks to feed the steam engine are all relics worth seeing. The floating stones unique to this city could be found in a few places including temples where people worship them and consider it as a proof of the Ram Sethu built by the army of Ram to cross over to Lanka.

The French-built Pondicherry has a sea-side promenade enhanced by a stay at the Aurobindo Ashram. The uniquely coloured buildings and the straight roads resembling those of Paris are a sight to see. At Chennai, we have the world’s second-widest beach. The Marina beach is an excellent place to watch the sun rise and also to take a stroll in the evening.

Orissa

A visit to Orissa in the winter can cover Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Konark temple, Puri and Chilika lake.

Conclusion

As you can see, diversity is the main trump card played by India when it comes to tourism. Winter shows up in different colours and moods throughout the country. But we have shown you two choices in our post, one following the mountains and another, the sea. The choice is yours to pick. So just pack your bags and leave home when the leaves start to dry and fall from the trees.

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Thematic Trips: The Panch Prayag of Ganga

In Uttarakhand, the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar are the only ones that that see Ganga river in its entirety. To their east, several towns see the tributaries that go on to make up the mighty river. Several rivers make up India’s longest river that is considered a Goddess or a mother figure by Indians. But the three major rivers that play the biggest part are Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi. All of them are in the Garhwal region, the region that forms the northern half of the state of Uttarakhand. At the origin of these three rivers are three of the holy pilgrimages which are part of Char Dham (the 4 abodes) desinations: Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri. The fourth of the Char Dham is Yamnotri, which is the source of Yamuna river. The Yamuna river plays no part in the Ganga river system until much farther in Uttar Pradesh at Allahabad. So let’s ignore Yamuna for this post. We’ll come back to Her later.

Along with three of the four Dhams, there are 5 more places that are considered holy for a different purpose.  These are the places where major tributaries joins forces to form a bigger river. These places are known as Prayags or Sangams. Since there are 5 holy unions, they are collectively termed as the Panch Prayag. In relation to the Char Dham, the 5 Prayags are less well-known, but they make up extremely beautiful destinations, especially Rudraprayag. Let’s go on a beautiful and interesting journey, flowing through the tributaries of river Ganga and pause at the places where She joins other rivers and becomes a bigger river. We will have a closer look at each of the 5 Prayags.

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