Sankranthi vacation and a road trip thru coastal Andhra

January 20, 2009

 

The much awaited Sankranthi vacation has come and gone, and I am back in Hyderabad and back to the normal routine. As mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to this Sankranthi vacation because of the planned road trip to friends’ places in Prakasham and West Godavari districts. And, everything went according to the plan and I had a gala time.

Two of my close friends joined me for this road trip that began on Jan 11 morning. Our first stop was at Brahmana Nidamanuru near Ongole in Prakasham district where a colleague-and-friend of mine has arranged to host us for the day.

enroute-to-nidamanuru

NH-5:  On the way to Nidamanuru from Guntur

The venue for lunch get together was a chavidi or koshtam (a rugged farm house) next to a tobacco barn. The floor was covered with taurpaulin sheets and a make shift gas stove was set up in a corner. So the food was truly oven fresh. The menu was chicken pakoda, pomphret fry, mutton curry, biryani rice and rasam. We reached the place with adequate supplies. A good number of the host’s cousins and friends too joined the party. By 4 PM everyone was reasonably stuffed with food and drinks, and a table was set up for playing cards. I don’t play cards, but this time I had my share of fun by watching these guys play till late into the evening.

tobacco-barn-in-the-background

The venue

men-at-work

Men at work 🙂

We then went to the host’s house and freshened up with a hot water bath. Afterwards we went out for dinner at a near by dhaba on NH-5. Next day morning I woke up early to enjoy the sights of rural Andhra. We resumed our road trip after a heavy breakfast of idlys and egg dosa (my first experience. Not bad). Our next destination is chinchinada in west godavari district. I visited this place on last Sankranthi too (please refer to my travelogue in the archives). But the big difference this time is the route I chose for reaching this place and the fact that I plan to spend slightly larger amount of time there this year. The route was Ongole-Chirala-Bapatla-Repalle-Avanigadda-Pamarru-Gudivada-Kaikaluru-Bhimavaram-Palakollu-Chinchinada. The key aspects of this route are the new bridge across river Krishna between Repalle-Avanigadda, and the drive through villages and towns that are far removed from the highway (NH-5) and the rail line connecting Chennai and Kolkata.

breathtaking-view-from-the-bridge

Breathtaking view from the bridge connecting Repalle-Avanigadda

the-other-side-of-bridge

The view on the other side

I expected to complete the drive in 4.5-5 Hrs but eventually did in 9.5 Hrs primarily because we some how missed the bypass road near chirala and were caught up in the slow traffic in Chirala town (cement roads are being laid almost every where, thus slowing down the traffic). So we reached Gudivada close to lunch time and we took an unplanned break. We waited for 30 minutes to be seated in an apparently-popular restaurant. We ordered veg meals that was surprisingly very good. So it is not for nothing that Gudivada counts among major cultural centers in coastal Andhra. We started after that heavy lunch and did not stop till we reached Chinchinada at 7 PM.

entrance-of-famous-kuchipudi-dance-academy

We passed by the entrance to famous kuchipudi dance academy

fields-readied-for-rabi-season

p1010076

 

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chinchinada-house

Chinchinada, at last..

colourful-backyard

colourful backyard

After yet another round of hot water bath, we settled in for a long night. The menu was chicken pakoda (for some reason our hosts on this trip seemed to prefer this as snack), country chicken curry, fish curry and sambar. Next day was Bhogi, so we dedicated the morning hours to visit some famous temples near by. First up is Kshiraramam (one of 5 pancharamams – shiva temples) in Palakollu. The next visit was to Someshwararamam (another pancharamam) in Bhimavaram. We have also visited famous Mavullamma temple in Bhimavaram. On the way back to Chinchinada we stopped near the outskirts of Bhimavaram to watch kodi pandelu (bettings on cock fights). These bettings run into hundreds of crores during these 3 days of Sankranthi near Bhimavaram region alone.

cock-fight-in-porgress

cock fight in progress

We then returned to Chinchinada for lunch. Our host picked up an exotic venue for pre-lunch drinks. It was a coconut grove overlooking lush green paddy fields. We added a bit of exotic to the drinks too – we replaced water and soda with coconut water.

paddy-fields-overlooking-coconut-grove

paddy fields overlooking coconut grove

For once we were relieved that the lunch was pure vegetarian – mudda pappu (dal), avakaya (pickle), vankaya iguru (brinjal fry), egg keema, and pesara pappu charu (a variant of sambar). After a brief nap, we moved to larger house where card games are in full swing. Sankranthi season in Andhra is notorious for male folks losing more than their shirt in playing cards. I, as usual, slipped away to a small group busily discussing state politics. The dinner was mind blowing – crab curry, country chicken pulao and sambar. Next morning we woke up a little late, so we hit the road without taking breakfast. We drove non stop for 5 hours before reaching Guntur. We only stopped at Challapalli to pick up punukulu for a late breakfast.

The ride via NH-5 would have been faster by at least 30 minutes, but I wanted to explore the interior Krishna and Guntur districts one more time so we chose the same route for our return trip too, with one exception – we had mistakenly taken a different route from Bhimavaram to Gudivada (via juvvalapalem) that was actually much better (i.e. less traffic) than the route via kaikaluru. So the return route was Palakollu-Bhimavaram-Gudivada-Avanigadda-Repalle-Ponnur-Guntur.

near-gudivada

one-more-for-the-road

bridge-to-repalle

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Overall 3.5 days of great fun in the lap of rural Andhra that I love so much.

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Holiday season

January 10, 2009

 

Firstly, Happy New Year, Happy Sankranthi/Pongal/Baisakhi, Happy holidays to every one.

 

I am yet to settle down into a steady blogging mode. So if any one is coming back frequently to see a new post from me, my apologies. I am assuming that there are at least a couple of visitors like that J, based on the fact that my blog now has registered more than 10,000 hits. Thanks dudes for that JJJ

 

My blogging was also affected by the work pressures accentuated by the recession in global markets. Today I am leaving on a short vacation to my home town. I will spend the next 3 days in doing a road trip across south coastal Andhra. Watch out for a travelogue and pictures on that trip soon.

 

As mentioned in my last post, I toured USA in Nov-08 for a short business trip. Though it was a really short trip of just 14 days, I visited 9 cities in USANew York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Miami and Pittsburg. Sadly I could not do much sight seeing in any of these places because it was all business in the day and quiet dinners in the nights, and packing & unpacking suitcases every day. Of course, I have visited some of these cities in my previous trips to USANew York, Atlanta and Chicago.

Gateway Arch

“Gateway Arch” in St. Loius

 

More of St. Louis

More of St. Louis

 

CNN center @ Atlanta

CNN center @ Atlanta

 

From outside the CNN Center

Outside the CNN Center

 

Images from the tradeshow I attended

Images from the tradeshow I attended

 

Images from the tradeshow I attended

Images from the tradeshow I attended

 

I always enjoyed touring in USA for its friendly people, the sights, and the food (global cuisine, and the steaks). From whatever little first hand experience I had in European countries, USA is a much better tourist-friendly place. But, from the 2nd day itself I would start missing the hustle and bustle, smells, heat and dust of India. There is nothing like India.


Vacation in Dandeli and Goa

December 19, 2008

 

As mentioned in my previous post, I was very busy in the last couple of months with traveling. In October I took a short vacation to Dandeli and Goa with my family. In November I was on a 3-week business trip to USA.

 

Firstly about my vacation in Dandeli and Goa. Dandeli is in North Karnataka, about 130 KM from Goa. Our plan was to travel to Dandeli by train (it’s just a little more than overnight journey from Hyderabad), spend a couple of days there and then travel to Goa by road, and finally return to Hyderabad by flight.

 

We started from Kacheguda station for Dandeli. This was first long distance train journey I took with my wife and kid after a long time, so I enjoyed it thoroughly. We alighted at Londa Jn, from where “Hornbill resort” people received us for a 40 KM drive. On the first day we stayed in a picturesque and exotic tree-top cottage and the next day we moved to a rockhouse cottage, as we originally planned. I was glad that I made that arrangement. Though the idea of a tree-top cottage overlooking the river Kali was very romantic, I could not sleep peacefully thru the night because the windows do not have shutters (they just have curtains) and you can feel and hear small creatures/insects crawling under the cabin floor. Spent the next morning looking at the Mist-laden river Kali in full flow. Dandeli’s USP is river rafting. The rapids in river Kali are not very dangerous and that makes Dandeli ideal location for clubbing river rafting with a 2-day stay with mother nature. I saw a lot of young tourists preferring to stay in tent houses in the resort. Except for river rafting we tried every thing else  on offer – trekking in the forest, paddle boating, natural Jacuzzi (i.e. squatting in the way of rapids amongst the rocks) and fishing. The food served in buffet style in the resort was good. The down side of the resort was that there is no TV and no group activities were organized by the resort people. It can get boring after you are done with your trekking, fishing, lazing in the sun, etc. The Ilayaraja songs loaded into my mobile phone helped me kill some time though. Overall, I would strongly recommend a trip to Dandeli if you love nature.

 

Tree-houseinside tree-houseroom with a viewroom with a view

 with mother naturerock house 

Rapids- River Kali

river raftingideal for natural-jacuzzi

 

The resort people arranged a cab to drive us to Goa from Dandeli, for a fee of Rs. 2500, phew.. We booked in to a 2* property near Baga beach. The hotel has a small swimming pool that I and my 5-year old son used every morning and evening J

 

This was my first trip to Goa, and I was not exactly impressed. In spite of reading a lot of reviews – I felt – I could have prepared better in choosing the right location among numerous beaches in Goa, and in choosing the company J And, I should have planned for a longer stay than 2 days.

 

Baga beach is one of the dirtier beaches I have ever seen. Sadly I assumed that Calangute beach next door would be equally bad, and hence did not visit that. We killed time in the hotel or in restaurants for most of those 2 days. I liked the easy-going crowd and the restaurants – Baga beach thankfully has a lot of good restaurants. I had also planned to experience the famous discos in the neighborhood, but the action always starts after 10.30 PM and my son fell asleep before 10 PM on both days. We did, however, enjoy the scooter rides thru paddy fields to the nearby markets.

 )

Goa, I shall be back soon with my friends and for at least 3-day vacation.


Chicago

November 14, 2008

Been very busy last few weeks, with work and vacationing  🙂

Thought I will post a detailed notes on my travels when I get some time for myself. No luck, until today – Marooned in Chicago, result of a cancelled appointment. Looking out of window from my room in Hilton @ O Hare airport, I wonder why the winters here so grey and gloomy. I do miss the lazy winter mornings (and afternoons) in Hyderabad. Any ways, I should be back to the base on Nov 25. Looking forward to it.


A tribute to “evergreen” ANR

September 22, 2008

 

Last week Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR) turned 85, an occasion to celebrate the longevity of the “evergreen hero” of Indian Cinema (Dev Anand, one of the other so called evergreen heroes, is really a caricature in the last few decades, whereas Dileep Kumar has stopped acting in films 15 years ago).

 

It is also a sad reminder that ANR is perhaps the last man standing among the golden oldies of those great Telugu movies of 1950’s and 60’s. To my knowledge, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao is the only other person who is chugging along. And, who would believe that Gummadi is 3 years younger than ANR. My father is great fan of ANR. So its natural that from a very young age I was made aware of many aspects of ANR’s films and his persona. Though I had a great liking and love for films in general and Telugu films in particular, in my younger days ANR’s films did not appeal to me as much as NTR’s or “Superstar” Krishna’s. In those years ANR’s films were also pretty formulaic (Dasari was director of most of those movies) and are not among his best.

 

In the later years when I had a chance to watch ANR’s great work in the 50’s and 60’s, I started admiring his acting prowess. It was then I started realizing the gigantic nature his achievements in the years when the Indian film industry itself was blessed with “one in a generation” actors such as NTR, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Rajkumar (Kannada), Prem Nazir (Malayalam), Uttam Kumar (Bengali), and Dileep Kumar (Hindi), to name a few. A case in point was his show in Devdas and Batasaari that apparently prompted the likes of Dileep Kumar, Uttam Kumar and Sivaji Ganesan to say “only ANR can better those performances”.

 

Still, it is only in the last 2-3 years that I have made acquaintance with many lesser known gems of ANR (thanks to my home theater system), when I started collecting Ghantasala’s songs in MP3 format. That exercize made me realize the sheer prolificity with which ANR delivered musical hits that had style as well as substance. There was a program in ETV-2 on September 20 (ANR’s birthday) in which the anchor recalled all major hits of ANR in chronological order. Between 1955 and 1970, ANR delivered 70+ major hits (needless to say, most of them are musical hits). Seventy-odd hits in 16 years in no mean achievement. Ask any of ANR’s contemporaries in Indian Cinema. Rajendra Kumar, considered as most successful hero in Hindi films, has 50-odd hits from 87 films. ANR acted in 140-odd films during 1946-1977 and delivered 92 hits, most of them with ANR in the kind of roles that Rajendra Kumars of this world can only dream about.

 

Even NTR, for all his talent and charisma, could not match ANR’s strike rate for most of his career (NTR’s golden patch, in terms of regular hits, began only with Adavi Ramudu).  The reasons are two-fold: 1) ANR is a great actor and was even better in choosing the right kind of production houses to work with, 2) NTR has not been so smart. ANR has always managed to be the first choice for leading production houses of that time, except Vijaya productions who had a multi-year contract with NTR. That’s why ANR is the hero in most of the films made by Bharani pictures (of Bhanumathi), Anjali Pictures (of Anjali devi), Prasad Art Pictures, Annapurna Pictures (ANR’s own production house in partnership with Dukkipati Madhusudhana Rao), Jagapathi Pictures, etc.

 

In contrast, NTR’s best was manifested only in films made by Vijaya Productions (Pathala Bharavi, Missamma, Gundamma Katha, Jagadeka Veeruni Katha, etc.) and his own productions (NAT productions) – Panduranga Mahathyam, DVS Karna, etc., or the films made by Pundareekakshaiah (his brother-in-law) such as Pandava Vanavaasam. Most of NTR’s films in 60’s and 70’s were made by new producers, and the results were disastrous. That’s why among NTR’s 320-odd films, one can not recall more than 30-odd good films (here I am not counting post-Adavi Ramudu hits that were height of gaudiness and overacting).

 

Since late 70’s, as mentioned previously, ANR’s films were more formulaic and thereafter ANR started acting in roles that befitted his age. A shrewd man he is, ANR had slowly eased himself out of films and was last seen in “Sri Ramadasu” in a small but important role of “Kabir Das”. ANR’s greatest achievement must be that he was able to hold his own position in spite of being no match for NTR in looks or physique or voice.

 

Finally, if I were to choose Top 10 of ANR’s best, the list would be:

 

1.       Devadas (need say any thing?)

2.       Moogamanasulu (ANR, Jamuna, Savitri, Godavari theeram, who is best?)

3.       Tenali Ramakrishna (I found ANR quite good looking in this film in spite of him sporting a pilaka; the movie overall is quite good any way)

4.       Vipranarayana (who says an atheist cann’t portray this role)

5.       Aradhana (ANR, Savitri, Songs, who is best?)

6.       Sudi Gundalu (a truly good off-beat movie, well ahead of its times)

7.       Dasarabullodu (ANR in a bubbly character, great songs)

8.       Prem Nagar (a wonderful depiction of  a great heart behind a Casanova life style)

9.       Premabhishekam (its not for nothing this movie was one of the biggest hits in the history of telugu films)

10.   Sitaramayyagari Manavaralu (again, ANR vies with Godavari theeram for the top spot)

 

P.S: There some better entertainers among ANR’s films (such as Iddaru Mitrulu), but the films listed above have showcased various hues of ANR’s talent.


Inexpensive bars and dhabas in Hyderabad

September 13, 2008

 

This post is exclusively for the benefit of Hyderabadis who love their malt or pint. In the past 4-5 years I could not help but notice the steep rise in the liquor rates in all the Bars and Pubs in Hyderabad, and more so in so called “Cyberabad” area of Ameerpet, Panjagutta, Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur and Gachibowli. Agreed that the cost of living in general has increased steeply in Hyderabad in last few years. That still does not justify 3 to 20 times premium that these bars and pubs charge over wine shop prices. A.P. government apparently makes Rs. 30,000 crores per year from the license fees, excise tax and sales tax collections from the wine shops and bars in the state. The bars and pubs in Hyderabad are also doing their bit to complete this loot of poor drinkers.

 

Any ways, I for one never liked to spend large sums on drinking, especially if that means shelling out a few thousands of rupees for a night’s drinks.  I would rather spend that money on my family or on charity. For this reason I have stayed away from the up-market pubs or bars in the last 4 years (thank god I visited all those pubs in B’Hills and Green Lands before they became expensive). Because I drink at least 3 days per week, I have identified a few inexpensive places in the areas I or my friends live in.  Of course, nothing beats “binge drinking” at your home with your friends, when your wife is out of town J

 

Before I list out the inexpensive bars and dhabas that I frequent, time for some trivia. Do you know the name of bar at the Army Golf course in Bollarum? It is called 19th hole (because it is the watering hole you go to after finishing with the 18-hole golf course)

 

Ameerpet Area:

 

Bar One – clean and decent ambience, quick service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs Rs. 80, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 75

 

Pujitha Bar near Sanath Nagar Bus stand – simple ambience, reasonable service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs ~Rs. 85, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 75

 

Kukatpally/Miyapur Area:

 

Temptations Bar – simple ambience, reasonable service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs ~Rs. 80, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 70

 

Sarovar bhaba located on Miyapur-Bachupally road. Simple ambience and good food. Non veg snacks/curries cost Rs. 80-90 per plate, the veg ones Rs. 40-50 per plate. You, of course, bring your own booze.

 

Hamsafar Dhaba – near Bahadurpally junction on Nizamabad/bodhan road, very close to Satyam Technology Center (STC). Simple ambience, large seating area and good food. Non veg snacks/curries cost Rs. 80-90 per plate, the veg ones Rs. 40-50 per plate. Their biryani is yummy. You, of course, bring your own booze.

 

Secunderabad/ Bowenpally Area:

 

Palate Tulips Bar near Apollo-Vikrampuri – decent ambience, reasonable service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs ~Rs. 85, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 75

Gurmeet Bar, Diamond point – simple ambience, reasonable service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs ~Rs. 85, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 70

 

Bar One, at Tadbund and Suchitra Jn. (off Medchal Road) – clean and decent ambience, quick service and large seating area. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs Rs. 80, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 75

 

Basera Dhaba and Classic Bhaba, Medchal highway – Among the best on Medchal highway for quick service. I found the bigger ones (such as Sony Dhaba) to be very slow on service. The food and the prices, in my view, are similar in all dhabas located on Medchal highway. Non veg snacks/curries cost Rs. 140-160 per plate, the veg ones Rs. 80-90 per plate. You, of course, bring your own booze.

 

A.S.Rao Nagar

 

Regale bar – Though the pricing is similar to other bars in the area, this one is by far the best in terms of food and ambience. A large peg of Blenders Pride costs Rs. 100, a regular sized KF beer costs Rs. 80

 

Suraj Biryani point, in Moula-Ali Housing Board Colony – Try this out when you have a few friends with you: order for a jumbo mutton biryani here, and while he prepares the table for you (which takes 15-20 minutes) hop over to the wine shop next door, buy some beers, finish them in a large seating area behind the wine shop, and return to Suraj to dig into piping hot mutton biryani. Trust me this is a good package..

 

The list looks smaller than what I expected when I started this blog post. May be I should drink more often and visit more places J

 

Update:

Few more additions to the list, coutesy www.team-bhp.com

  • Blue King Bar, Sudarshan theater complex, RTC X Rd
    Maharaja Bar,  
    Paradise center, Sec’bad
  • Madhushala, next to haiking in Hyderguda : King of cheap and great food. Blenders Pride 1 Peg is 100 Bucks and you order 2, third is free. So effectively it is Rs.66/Peg
  • Little Hearts,  a Punjabi run bar which is bang opposite to Haiking in Hyderguda. Good Food and cheap booze
  • Gokul, Kacheguda, opp to old prabhat theatre
  • Host, at Daimond point, Sikh village, not very cheap, but amazing food and “Best Biryani in a Bar”.
  • Golden Deer , Ranigunj: before the bridge after crossing the tank bund road. Great Biryani and second best sambhar rice ( next to only Mega City, Basheerbagh)
  • Sudharshan Bar & Resturant, Naryanguda Crossroads. Great food and booze. 

Unsung heroes of Indian Army

August 30, 2008

 

As mentioned in my previous post, my new job is keeping me very busy. That my current company works 6 days a week is just the icing on the cake I neededJ

 

Watched just a couple of movies on home theater in the entire month. “Jaane Tu…”, that I heard so much about, did not disappoint. But some how Genelia managed to look old and worn out in this movie. Though the story and screenplay were positively formulaic, such themes usually go down well with any type of audience. But the movie I liked more was “1971” which I missed watching last year. Though the 1st hour was little slow, it picked up momentum post-interval and finally left me moved with deep emotions. Apart from the fact that there are still so many Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails (which speaks a lot about the apathy of Indian administration), this film is a grim reminder about the tough conditions soldiers live through, with nothing more than a modest salary and possibly a medal to show for their sacrifices. The locales in which the climax of the film was shot reminded me about the inhuman conditions in which India and Pakistan armies have been waging a conflict in Siachen. The Siachen Conflict is over the disputed Siachen Glacier region in Kashmir. It began in 1984, and more than 4000 soldiers (from both sides) allegedly died in this inhospitable terrain, mostly due to weather extremities and the natural hazards of mountain warfare.

 

 

Back to the film, it reminded me about a family get together I attended some months ago in an ex-colleague’s house in Vayupuri, Secunderabad. This ex-colleague of mine was a Doctor who previously served in Indian Airforce. Hence, the party was attended by lot of Ex-Airforce and Ex-Army folks. That night I had the privilege of listening to the war stories of the officers who were part of 1965 and 1971 wars. Truly a memorable experience!