Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auli Skiing -- Take the doctor along

I just came back from three days of snowboarding in Auli. This was my first time snowboarding in India, and I feel like kicking myself for not doing it more often. Just about everything about Auli was perfect -- and had it not been for an accident on the slopes, the vacation would have been perfect.

For those who don't know where Auli is, here is some basic information. Auli is in the Garhwal region of the Uttaranchal state in India. I flew from Bangalore to Delhi. There I met up with SP, Gagan and Amit. We took Mussoorie express, an overnight train, to Hardwar. I had reserved a taxi through the GMVNL PRO ( from Hardwar to Joshimath. The taxi met us at the train station. It was a pretty spacious Toyota Qualis, and cost us roughly Rs.1200 a day, including petrol, driver, taxes etc. The driver was pretty cool, and managed to get us to Joshimath in roughly 8 hours from Hardwar. The last cable car from Joshimath to Auli left at 4:20, and we took that to the Clifftop Club hotel.

From then on, for four days it was a pretty relaxing time on the slopes. Snowboarding was pretty laid back, food was great, and weather couldn't have been better. We landed at the hotel in the middle of a huge snowstorm. The storm subsided by the next morning and the Sun shone on clear sky for the three days we were in Auli. Soft, dry, virgin snow around us was better than what I have ever seen before. The only problem was that there was just too much of it. As a result, the areas off the groomed runs were a nightmare on the snowboard. I couldn't hike out of the skiing area either. Nevertheless, the groomed runs offered a ton of fun and I took in as much of it as I could.

Auli has one chair-lift and one tow-rope. The runs are not huge -- the total length of the run from the top to the bottom is probably under 1.5km. What Auli lacked in size, it made up in views, snow and weather. The might Nanda Devi loomed in fron of us along with other tall snow covered mountains that were much closer.

The downsides were that due to a small number of people on the slopes, the chair lift was only partly operational. The operators took lunch breaks, and the lifts stopped working during that time. After skiing is done, there is little to do in the resort. We spent our time playing games indoors and feasting on some good food served at the Clifftop.

On the last day of skiing, SP fell on the upper slope while skiing. That's when we found out about the real lack of infrastructure in Auli. They had no stretcher to transport him to the resort. One of the instructors -- Rakesh -- carried him down on his back (quite an amazing feat -- I saw him ski down with SP on his back!). At the resort, there was no medical help available, not even basic first aid. We called up a doctor in Joshimath, and took the cable car down to the town. The doctor, Dr. Bhandari, was of limited help. He sent us for an x-ray, which required us to carry SP up and down some 50 stairs. Quite a ridiculous setup! It turned out that SP had a fracture in the lower right leg. We didn't feel comfortable getting treated by the doctor -- who in any case left for home at 6:30 despite us still there in his clinic -- so we headed back towards Delhi.

If it hadn't been for the incident, the trip was one of the best skiing trips I have been on. I plan to go back there (but after I've taken a basic first-aid course, or if I have a doctor with me :) and check out some of the backcountry skiing there. From what people told me, it sounded quite inviting.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The IKEA hangover in Bangalore

I have been looking around Bangalore for furniture and other stuff to furnish my apartment. There are furniture stores of all kinds and variety -- from small carpenter shops with low prices and matching quality to high end furniture shops with very niche clientele. In the middle somewhere are some interesting stores with decent prices and fairly innovative designs. I haven't seen any website cover the furtniture stores online, so I thought I'll put up what I've discovered so far. (Which reminds me of another thing about Bangalore -- maybe India in general -- that I wish we could fix: most of the information about the city isn't available anywhere to find out, you have to ask the people who know.)

So, first the major areas that I know of so far. I live pretty close to Infantry road. We ordered a bed from one of the shops there -- they made it to order from a design. Rubberwood, decent finish, delivered on time -- worked out well. This was from a shop called the The Woods. Infantry road itself is infused with lots of shops that sell very similar furniture, and can put something together from a design you show them. The only problem is that the end product looks close to what shows in the picture, but is almost surely going to differ slightly. The difference is mostly going to be in the final look. These folks are probably good carpenters but optimize to save time and cost, and in the process eliminate some of the interesting aspects of the design that in the first place made them attractive. The advice, therefore, is to stick to simpler designs as much as possible, and be very clear about the nuances you want correct. And yes, almost all shops carry stuff that looks somewhat similar to what you would find in those shops around the world with a blue and yellow sign.

Besides Infantry road there are quite a few stores on the 100 ft road in Indiranagar. Most of these shops carry furntiture similar to what you can pick up in a Walmart or Target stores in the US. Most of the furniture is particle-board stuff and a unreasonably expensive. Some of the stores carry a little bit (or even more) ornate furniture -- something I don't think I could see myself buying.

Then there are some interesting stores with designs more to my liking. There is the Design store on 100 ft road in Koramangala. I ordered a bed and a simple entertainment center from there. I found it a little bit expensive, but good stuff. There is another store off of 100 ft road in Indiranagar, whose name I forget now. It is close to the Cafe Coffee Day there, on a road perpendicular to the 100 ft road. These stores have more innovative designs that go easy on the eyes and are very functional.

One of the rental agents I was working with when hunting my apartment had pointed me to an interesting furnishing store in Ulsoor. I tried looking for it again by myself and couldn't find it. Still determined to find it, I went back and circled the lake looking for it. I finally managed to locate it. It is called Yamini, and sells some really nice fabric, cushions, mats and more.

I am sure there are many more stores that would be worth checking out. Do drop me a note if you have a recommendation.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


I finally managed to get away from work and Bangalore and the surrounding noise, and drove to Coorg. During my first week here, I picked up the Outlook Traveler book called "52 Weekend Getaways from Bangalore." All in all, it has a wealth of information about the region around Bangalore and makes a lot of things seem easier to access than otherwise. In short, it was the perfect thing for an ignoramus like me. The book lists several options in Coorg as possibilities -- Dubare, Madikeri, Siddapur and so on. I made reservations at the last possible minute and though Kabini was my first choice, I opted to go for Dubare. It seemed equally nice, and -- more importantly -- had available accomodation not too far.

I tried booking something through the Jungle Lodges, but they didn't have anything around Dubare. They instead pointed me to homestays around Dubare, and hooked me up with Anoop, a guy who manages some of these. Anoop confirmed he had a place for me abou 20 km from Dubare. I had no idea what kind of a place it would be, but after having called dozens of numbers, I couldn't let it go. So, Saturday morning we were on our way to Coorg, with our cameras, minimal backpacks and anything else we needed for the five-hour drive. And yes, did I mention Dubare has an elephant camp where you get to interact with these huge mammals and even get to scrub and wash them in the river?

The drive itself was long. In general getting into and out of Bangalore (especially on Mysore Road) is a pain. We opted to take the South End road from Hosur Road and connect to Mysore Road close to Kangeri. BIG mistake. South End Road sounds pretty upscale and looks pretty nice on the map. We drove at aboud 20kph on probably one of the worst maintained roads of the city. Not to forget the crowds and the deadly traffic. But then, this is Bangalore. Mysore Road itself is under a lot of construction. So we had to drive for most part on single lane roads, with no shoulders. We ran into lots of diversions along the route. The traffic on the way was not too bad. Soon after Sri Rangapatna, we started seeing signs for Coorg. There is an obscure turn off the road that has a board saying Coorg to the right. We missed it initially, but we suspected so and confirmed it from someone down the wrong road.

The road to Coorg is one of those older highways (the newer ones are still being constructed) that have tall shady trees lining the roads and barely-in-shape roads interspersed with potholes and nasty speed-breakers. I loved the drive. There was hardly any traffic all through the route, the views were green and occasionally quite scenic, and all along the route we found small towns and villages. I wouldn't say all these villages were particularly charming, but within Coorg, these even smaller places are quite picturesque.

We met Anoop in Kushalnagar, picked up our vouchers for the stay and the elephant camp and were soon on our way. We were going to stay at a coffee estate, in a small cottage in a valley. It sounded great. It turned out to be quite like what Anoop described. About 5.5km before Madikeri, we turned onto the coffee estate's pebbled road. The cottage was indeed nesteld in the middle of the forest, about 200 meters from the main estate quarters. The estate quarters themselves had some 3-4 rooms that were occupied by some families visiting from Calicut. The place was quiet, clean and fairly spacious. In hindsight, I wish I had carried some simple stuff with me (a toilet paper roll, soap, nicer blanket or sleeping bag, slippers). But I really didn't miss them. In the evening, after dinner, the guys running the estate lit a small campfire for us. The electricity kept coming and going, and we were for most part in the dark except for the campfire. There were hardly any mosquitoes -- something a bit surprising to me -- and the weather was pleasant enough to enjoy the campfire and not feel cold at all.

The next day began early. We had to be at the Dubare camp by 8:45. We rushed through the not-so-great breakfast at the estate and drove back towards Kushalnagar. I always find driving in the hills a lot more pleasant in early morning than any other time. Not to get too poetic, but sunlight filtering through the trees, mildly cold air and soft colours almost naturally bring a smile...sigh.

Dubare itself was a beautiful place across the Cauvery river. There is a huge eddy and the current itself is pretty weak here. A boat ferried us across to the elephant camp. When we got there, there wasn't anyone around except for the manager for the Jungle Lodges resort, Mr Sivaram, who turned out was Anoop's dad. Soon, an elephant came down to the river and gladly lay down for us to scrub and wash him. These elephants seemed to drink in the water, urinate and shit there before lying down. Ugh. I enjoyed giving the thick-skinned tusker a scrub on the nose and back. She seemed to enjoy it too. I say she, because the other two elephants who came down were pretty evidently male. Maybe it was the mating season, or maybe it was just water. In any case, the elephants seemed to enjoy being bathed and scrubbed.

We spent a couple of hours more over there, hanging out, listening to interesting info-session about Asian elephants (very interesting stuff about how the elephant herds function). Usually I find this stuff somewhat boring, but for some reason the characteristics about Asian elephants -- like visiting the grave of a deceased ancestor, protecting the newbord and welcoming him with trumpeting noises -- were fascinating.

In the afternoon we drove up to Madikeri. I was trying to get to Orange County resort, a place I hd heard a lot about. I didn't have clear directions and decided to give up in the end. It turned out, it is closer to Siddapur, which in turn is very close to Dubare. We tried finding a place in Madikeri to get akki roti, but had to settle for some regular south indian fare at a hotel near the bus stand -- Capital Hotel. Bad food, poor service. We had stopped for a moment at the East End Hotel and the Raj Darshan, and those places looked much nicer.

On the way back, we took at detour at Bylkuppe to check out the Buddhist monasteries. It was almost surreal to find a huge Tibetan settlement in the middle of South India. Imagine seeing an old Tibetan woman herding sheep by the side of the road, and sprawling hills on both sides. It felt like we were somewhere in Himachal or Garhwal, not Karnataka. The "golden temple" monaastery itself was quite ornate and beautiful. We tried finding veg momos in the settlement, but no luck.

We started back around 4, and despite losing our way once and almost reaching Mysore we managed to hit the Bangalore city traffic by 9. Night driving in India, if you haven't had the joy of experiencing, is something only for the nasty. Avoid it if you can. It is not fun at all, and unnecessarily risky.

It then took us another hour to navigate the Bangalore traffic to get home. By the time I got home, Coorg already seemed very far. :(