Sunday, December 17, 2017

Coastal waterfalls

If you travel along the coastal road in Karnataka, at the place where the western ghats run near the coast, two majestic waterfalls makes their appearance. I had earlier seen them from the top of the ghats and walked along the river to see one of them. Recently, I got an opportunity to visit the other waterfalls when I visited Mangaluru for Kambala with Subbu and Girish.

From the National Highway, we took an auto to reach the starting point of the trek. It was about 10 kms from the highway with last four km was on jeep track. On the way, the falls made its appearance few times!!

After reaching the last house of the village, we kept all our luggages in the house and filled our water bottles. The auto guy departed asking us to call from the top of the falls (only place where the signal is available) so that he can come back to pick us up!!

Few years ago, one had to trek along the stream for 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the base of the falls. Today, there is a path made by forest department to the falls. This makes the trek relatively easy but still one had to walk for an hour to reach the base of the falls. It is mostly uphill journey.

6th step of the falls
The walk was uneventful. After walking for about 45 minutes, we reached the waterfall. A six step waterfall, it looked majestic. From the end of the trail, we could see the fifth and sixth step clearly. To climb to the fifth step, we had to cross the stream and climb up the boulders. This was an easy climb. The falls looked beautiful. The first level of the falls was also visible a bit. It was a good place to rest our bodies under the waterfall. That was a sooting experience!!

5th step
We tried to climb up to reach upper parts of the waterfall but it looked risky to do so. It was above our risk quotient and hence we decided to enjoy at the 5th step itself. It requires some serious effort to climb up further. The board at the start of the trail mentioned about four people who died in the waterfall. Most likely they tried to climb higher.

Unfortunately, this falls has attracted lot of drunkards who cannot think anything outside drinking as means of enjoyment. And they traces they leave in the form of broken bottles is a shame to any civilization. And others have contributed their part by throwing plastic and papers everywhere. Very sad state of affairs in India (especially in Karnataka).

After spending a long time at the waterfalls, we headed back to the village. The auto had already arrived. We had our late lunch at a small hotel on the highway. The prime attraction was a big bull that was trying to get into the hotel. But it was a sad state to see it eating plastic and papers.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dark forest waterfalls

This area is known for dense evergreen forest. The king cobras caught near our villages are sent to this forest!! The name “Dark forest” gives an enigmatic feeling. But it is aptly named as the sunlight struggles to reach the ground!!

Whenever I passed though the road, the name of this place always intrigued me. So was the small path that went into the forest next to the sign board. Recently, I came to know about a small waterfall inside the forest. But there was only a small window of opportunity to visit the falls. Rainy season was ruled out due to leeches and multiple stream crossings. Summer would not hold much water. It meant that only the months of November and December was the right time to visit this place.

During my recent visit to my native place, I along with my uncle and cousin visited this place. Having parked our car next to the sign board, we entered into the forest. Very soon we where in for a surprise. Leeches welcomed us with full energy which we responded with liberal application of salt on our legs!! If this was the case in the month of December, you can imagine how it would be during monsoon. 

The forest was dense, sunlight was a rare commodity here and the walk involved numerous stream crossing. We were also bit careful about the snakes that were common here. One of the previous group had encountered a king cobra that had raised its hood. They had promptly returned back!! All this was in our mind as we made our way into the forest.

The path which was clear in the beginning started to fade out as we entered deeper into the forest. We walked along the stream to reach to the top of the waterfall. It was bit tricky to get down as the forest was thick to navigate and all the trees had thorns!! Somehow, we managed to find the way through rocks.

This was the falls undisturbed by human interference. We spent a long time appreciating the beauty of the place. One should not come here expecting a huge waterfall. The experience of dense evergreen forest is something priceless. 

While it had taken an hour to reach the waterfall, the return was quick and we reached the main road in thirty minutes. Before getting into the car, we counted the number of leech bites and ensured that we do not carry those creatures back home!! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kambala, the buffalo race!!

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers
Kambala is a traditional buffalo race in the district of South Canara. This is a very old tradition where the two pairs of buffaloes controlled by a person is made to run on paddy fields. This was seen as a form of entertainment for rural people after harvesting season. Today, it is an organized event in the form of contest under the banner of “Kambala Samiti”. The race is normally held between the months of November and March at many places in South Canara. 

While Kambala was running for long time, I got interested only recently thanks to the “advertisement” from PETA!! Subbu was able to get schedule of Kamabal and we planned to visit on December 3rd, at Kottara, Mangaluru city. This was the newly formed Kambala ground. 

Kambala track

Normally Kambala starts at 8AM and could run for more than 24 hours depending on the number of buffalo pairs. When we reached the place at 9AM, the inauguration was just happening. While people were busy at the stage and at ground, we went around the place to have a feel of the place. Many buffalo pairs had arived and were resting at designated places. Most of them looked very strong and sturdy. It takes lot of effort and money to raise the buffaloes for the sport. Had Kambala not been there, they would have been sent to slaughter house long back. 

The rules of the game are simple. Two buffalo pairs controlled by a person run on a muddy track. Whoever comes first gets into the next level. Most likely, it is run on knockout fashion. The winner gets the money.

Photographing Kambala is quite an activity. Most of my shots were taken from the front and at ground level. This is also the difficult place to take photographs. The buffaloes are let free at the end of the race and they charge the people who are standing in the line!! So, it is important to run aside when the buffaloes finish the race. Though volunteers  are there to control the buffaloes, one need to be alert if he is standing at the ending point. 

How fast is the race? It is comparable to 100 meter race in athletics. It gets over in less than 15 seconds. That is quote commendable as the buffaloes and the person have to run on muddy water. Both buffaloes and the person look very strong!!

Will the person always be able to match the speed of the buffaloes? Not always. Sometimes he loses control!!

A zoom lens is required to get close up shots. The zoom of my lens was not good enough and I had to wait to buffaloes to come near me to get the shot!! So, I had to be agile and jump to the side before the buffaloes come. It does not look bad as it sounds!! But my wife was not very happy when I told about it. “You are getting crazy”, she told.

Very close!!
To get water droplets, the shots were taken above the shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. A good zoom lens (around 200mm) helps to take close up shots.

We underestimated the energy in Kambala race. We went there only for photography and had allocated few hours. But at the time progressed, we found ourselves fully engrossed in the game. It would have been an amazing experience if we there for the complete race.

The Kambala schedule for 2017-18 is pasted below. Might be useful if you are planning.

Last point
Kambala got embroiled into controversy when Peta claimed that the animals were tortured. My observation in Kambala was otherwise. Animals were very well treated by the owners. It is not a fight but a race. No violence at all.

Friday, December 01, 2017

My thoughts on car navigation

When you rent a car, it usually comes with bare essentials and you need to buy additional stuff. (Ex: Car navigator, baby seats, Insurance etc.) This post is mainly interned to look at whether renting the navigational equipment is worth or not. My experience from renting car comes only from foreign locations as I have not yet rented any vehicles in India.

Whenever I rented cars, I preferred to have navigational equipment from the rental company itself. There were few reasons for doing so.
  • They work in offline conditions. There are times when network is not available. Alternate sources like Google maps worked only on online mode earlier. And other maps were paid or I need to get a hacked version which I was not sure of its reliability.
  • Considered more reliable.  This is just based on my experience. The chances of the inbuilt GPS guiding towards dead end or into the fields were much less.
  • As a backup, if mobile conks off.

But my recent experiences have made me to re-think about it. 

  • When renting the car in New Zealand, I was provided with GPS equipment. When I started it in the car, it was having troubles to catch satellites. I had to go back to the rental agency and get a new one. Luckily I tested it at the airport. Else, it would have been more painful to get it changed later. 
  • In Mauritius, the GPS was completely non usable. The user interface was very user unfriendly and I could not search the destination I wanted to drive. Since the rental agency had already warned about its use, I had no option to return it back. It remained useless throughout the journey and I relied on Google Maps.
  • During my recent trip to Boston, I rented through Hertz. Until now, they were providing an inbuilt navigation equipment in car which functioned well. But this time, they provided a phone tuned for navigation with charger. When I gave the address that was about 30 miles from Airport, it asked me to drive to a state that was 600 miles away!! I rechecked the address and it was correct. Since I had an important Office meeting to attend, I did not bother about it and switched to Google Maps. While returning back to airport, I used it again as I felt that “Return to Hertz” would be more reliable than Google Maps (which could take me to Hertz but not the return area). It seemed that it worked as it correctly guided me towards the return area but it did not!! It could not differentiate between the first and the ground floor and ended up taking me to different place!! Google Maps again saved me that day.

These experiences and with the advancement of mobile technology, it does not make sense to buy GPS equipment along with rental cars.
  • Google Maps work in offline mode. Before traveling, I just select the area that I need to go and save it locally on phone. It works without issue in offline mode. Of course, you cannot get traffic information in offline mode.
  • Data connection is not a problem these days. Prepaid SIM with decent data and free calls is available at most airports for a very nominal rates. It works out much cheaper than renting GPS.
  • Google Maps comes with traffic input that is very useful. 
  • Usability options in Google Maps is much better than inbuilt GPS. While most inbuilt GPS requires proper address to be entered, no such hassles in Google Maps.
  • Near real time updates about road closures and blockades in Google Maps.

I have not used other map providers so I do not have data to compare against them. I have had many experiences where Google Maps led me to a dead end, fields and wrong address; those experiences itself warrants for a separate post, I consider them as part of travel experience!!

Let me know your views.