Swimming through the Gardens of Coral & Fish – The Maldives

The Maldives - Cyan Blue Paradise

The Maldives – Cyan Blue Paradise

A country with 1100 islands, ring reefs with its own sandy lagoon and the abundance of beautiful fish makes Maldives an infinite paradise. When I say it is a paradise it means this country is naturally supported and is lucky to have excellent weather conditions to be able to sustain its beauty. It  is located outside the normal cyclonic zones and thus violent storms are rarely been experienced. Not only that, since there is any absence of rivers on these islands sediments from inland sources are almost nil and hence the waters around Maldives are very clear and exhibit ideal conditions for coral growth. Hence I call it a wonderland of colours and textures!

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

Atolls of the Maldives

Atolls of the Maldives

 

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While flying over these islands, we noticed circular stretches of lagoons still submerged under the sea leaving behind an azure colour to them. I was a bit confused because they didn’t seem like islands yet they were shallower then the rest of the sea. I wondered what that was. It seems that they are atolls. They form borders along the shoreline and surrounding islands even though they may be submerged under water. When a fringing reef continues to grow upward from a volcanic island that has sunk entirely below sea level, an atoll is formed. Atolls are usually circular or oval in shape, with an open lagoon in the center. They looked so enigmatic and alluring and it was unbelievable because they are a pile of dead coral.

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

We visited the Maldives dreaming about water activities we would do, our preference for scuba over all the others. The idea of the dive thrilled us more than what we were going to see because it was beyond our imagination. These islands in the Indian Ocean are not only coral-fringed with their cyan waters but have a  rainbow-coloured coral reefs below its surface.

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Since we had snorkeled in the Hawai’i islands, we were equipped with a simple yet a very handy water camera. We tried capturing most of what we saw though the pictures still don’t do justice to its beauty.

The Reef & its life

The Reef & its life

So started our scuba dive in the shallow sea and we were further going to be taken into the Banana reef to be able to witness what gardens of the sea are. In our minds we worried about being able to handle breathing through our mouth and handling the equipment and the depths of the sea over what we would actually witness. Slowly we swam further towards the reef… slowly forgetting that breathing became less relevant than the forthcoming beauty of the sea bed. Unawares came a steep valley…the reef with the azure blue of the sea changing to the  shades of cerulean and thats when it dawned upon us that we will be going deeper and beholding an unimaginable reality.

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As we descended slowly into the deep sea,  we saw bewildering array of fish of course, with imaginable colours, shapes and sizes darting in and out of the corals.  We also saw various corals with breathtaking designs over them… some like a brain, some more like spike noses and some like ferns with pinks, magentas and oranges. It was so incredible, nothing mattered at that time. Just looking at every being under these waters and conceiving how magnificent this is, made us want to live there our whole lives!

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The Purple Pocillopora Coral

The Purple Pocillopora Coral

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

A day after we scuba dived we shifted our room from the beach villa to the water villa. Basically a room with a private deck constructed in the sea. So when you looked down, you saw corals, dainty fish, small reef sharks and the rays fly and glide through the sea. Our deck had a private staircase which lead us in to the sea and the whole two days we swam, snorkeled and covered every coral around that area. There wasn’t a single undersea garden we wanted to miss. It was a vacation which promised never-ending romance, infinite horizons of kaleidoscopic blues, hundreds pristine corals, a beautiful reef which teemed with life. This place is indeed a  real stunner.

View from our Water Villa

View from our Water Villa

 

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

 

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

Up the Tikona Fort

A small routine breaker was getting more and more essential for us. We decided to go camping for a night somewhere close to Pune yet far away from anything commercial. So camping and barbecue was decided and it happened to be at the foothill of Tikona fort overlooking the lovely backwater of the Pavna Dam. As soon as we reached the camp site and saw this strikingly triangular fort (hence called Tikona), we decided we needed a hike to the top. So… we started our climb at 6 am the next day.

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View of the Tikona Fort from Pavna Dam backwaters

A short trek up the fort was amazingly interesting because of so many esoteric odds and ends we saw on our way. Our hike didn’t seem too long for sure but we didn’t anticipate the steepness of the fort. It made it more fun because the trail was narrow and lofty, the incline was high and the view was enthralling!

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Tikona Fort at Dusk

While climbing and admiring the early summer morning, we suddenly came to the first interesting facet of the fort. The first entryway called the Bhuyari Darwaza.  A cave which served as an entrance to this fort is very commonly seen among all forts in Maharashtra. It  further led to the watch tower from which the view of the valley was spectacular. This was called the Vetal Darwaza.

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After this point we came across some very serendipitous things. It started with a huge stone wheel. Beautifully cut and enormous  it was, that we wondered who would have moved this. Later we found out that this was used to grind lime to build this fort and was moved with the help of bulls by the Maratha leaders.

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It wasn’t too long before the statue of “Chapat Maruti” (chapat meaning flat in Marathi language) arrived. It was a rock craved into the statue of Hanuman and painted bright orange. It was big and is said to protect all the people who climb this fort.

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While we were getting over the odds on our way, we came across to set of caves. There was a large cave which had a few smaller ones buried into it. These small caves were Taljai Goddess Temple and Ram Dhyan Mandir. In front of these temples was a small mysterious pond wreathed with thicket of trees and roots seeping into the green waters. In this profoundly mysterious setting was a hermit and when we asked him some questions, he just looked through us. Enchanting as it was, we were looking forward to what we would see next!

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A few minutes from the temples we realized we would not only see but feel the steepness of the this fort. The tall steps through the various gates made the climb fun. Looking down made us a bit dizzy but couldn’t help noticing the panoramic view of the valley. By the time we reached the 3rd gate, the climb was tough and gradient sharp. This gate was almost a narrow duct guarded with watch towers and water tanks and then came a view so spectacular that we decided to come back here again in the monsoons!

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We wondered if there was more in store for us. After admiring the view, we continues our climb to the summit. Like all other forts in Maharashtra, this one had a lovely Mahadev (Shiva) Temple on top. The Shivling was ancient and appealing.

 

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The last little climb took us to the flag post where we couldn’t take our eyes off the backdrop. We overlooked the Tung fort which stood tall reaching below to the Pavna Dam backwaters and how the Tikona was standing tall, all strategically located in the middle of the other Sahyadri mountains. We stood there gazing dreamily in to the panorama……And then we knew we had to go back. The sun was getting harsh and we were getting hungry yet leaving this place was difficult. We walked back to our campsite leaving behind the mighty Tikona.

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The Walk into the Deep Wild Amazon

From Iquitos, we took a boat ride through the Amazon river spread wide and long. In an hour or more, we were asked to get off without much explanation. It felt a bit odd to expect what we didn’t quite expect! So begin here, are few days in the most dense and diverse jungles of the world – The Amazon!

The Amazon River

So off we got from our boats. We were told that we would have to walk through the jungle to get to our lodge.  The morning sunlight streaming through the dense canopy of the jungle felt warm and mysterious. Leaving the Amazon river behind, we started walking through tall tress embraced with ferns, creepers, dew captured by cobwebs all accompanied by a chorus of unusual birds. It was a beautiful warm day and it all began well. Our eyes tried to see everything around and our ears hearing the calls of the wild.

Walk through the dense Amazon

I am not sure how long we walked but perhaps we did for sometime. The fellow who guided us, brought us to this unusual town, which didn’t really seem like one. We walked into a circle of huts which stood tall, almost 12 feet from the ground. When we climbed up to peer into these homes, it surprised me how basic people can live with! This house had a thatched roof with walls that ran only 4 feet tall. There was no furniture, just 2 hammocks, some pots and clay stove. For a moment, it didn’t look like a home! I asked the guide what sort of lifestyle is this. He explained that the houses were always above the ground to protect them from snakes, rodents and other animals. Due to its warm humid climate all through the year, these houses did not have walls. The flowing breeze keeps them cool. They hunted, farmed, bred animals, cooked and lived simple!

The unusual houses if the tribals

A peek-a-boo into an Amazonian home!

Along the way, we walked listening to the flame-back woodpeckers hammering tree trunks unperturbed by us. Slowly we walked into a denser part of the jungle where the squirming insects and mosquitoes found us. Every now and then, we flapped our hands and thumped our feet to avoid bites. Several times during our walk, our guide rubbed his palms on tree trunks which seemed to be a nest of some insect. These mud nests had holes drilled through them and these insects crawled out after he rubbed his hands over them. After he did it a couple of times, Bipin asked him what was he up to. He casually replied saying that these were white termites and when rubbed against your skin, they keep insects off. We were shocked to know that termites could keep other insects off! Then he showed us the difference between white and red termites, red termites being dangerous. This worked, it was miraculous! We strutted along the way…less bitten and comfortable!

Bipin cautiously rubbing his hands against the termites

Deeper we went, the denser it got yet we came across another house in the middle of nowhere.  There was an old man lying in his hammock and a woman sitting on the ground washing something. Suddenly, between to two, something moved. Something large, yet flat and very slow. I almost jumped because it somewhat camouflaged into the pale white soil. And then it seemed clearer, it was the sloth! Wow…I loved it the moment I saw it. I was scared to touch it though somehow I knew it was friendly! Suddenly the woman grabbed it by its collar which was made with palm leaves and dragged him closer to her. It must have been its fastest walk ever! 🙂

The tribal & her pet – Sloth

Got my hands around the little fella – baby sloth of the Amazon

When we started towards our lodge, we came across a man lying right behind the hut. He looked drunk and wasted. The guide and the old man exchanged some conversation. Curious as much Bipin is, he asked what was wrong with him. The guide explained to us that the night before, there was some occasion because of which all villagers from villages around had gathered and partied hard. They decide such gatherings and prepare ahead of time. They pluck this fruit which looks much like the passion fruit. They all sit and chew it  together, collect it in a large pot and ferment it. Then later, it is guzzled down on occasions. The alcohol content in this is so high that apparently the next day, there is no activity in the villages. And yes,it seemed evident! 🙂

The fruit which is chewed, spat out & fermented & then drunk to celebrate occasions!

So along we went, reached our lodge with so much to share already.  The next few days went on riding through the eerie ponds full of weeds, excursions through the forest at midnight, a hunt for piranhas into the Amazon river and eating & drinking yucca fries, wild boars and coconut water. Loved it and above all experienced it!

Our guide who passionately tried to make us experience the Amazon to its fullest

Shallow Waters & Mangroves – The Land of Crocodiles & Alligators

Everglades – Swamps of Kissimme River

In 2005, for the first time, I had a chance to see crocodiles and alligators swimming together in the shallow waters of Everglades. This swampy land is situated in Florida in the United States. Everglades hosts over 350 bird and over 1,000 plant and tree species. A place swarmed with reptiles, is an experience which excites and frightens you at the same time.

So now the question begins from what is the difference between an alligator and crocodile? Alligators are in fresh water and crocodiles are in salt water. Did you know that? I didn’t!  However in Florida, in the zone where the salt water meets the fresh water, both can be found. Another distinct feature is that the alligator has a wide U shaped snout and the crocodile has a pointed V shaped snout. So now we are clear about the difference, right? Lets move on to the Everglades swamps and my experience.

Baby Alligator with a U shaped snout

The V shaped snout of a crocodile

Standing on a bridge over looking the thick mangroves and a sea of these reptiles was an inexplicable sight! Overlooking this flimsy bridge was a tributary of Kissimme River with innumerable crocodiles and alligators swimming, lazing and hiding the the eerie mangroves. Since they seemed undisturbed by the presence of a few people watching and fishing at the same time, we got a good view of them. There is this one alligator that intrigued me…he lay like a rock on the bank very close to a guy fishing. And then suddenly slid into the grassy river scaring me! That moment, I was sure that the fisherman was its lunch! I should say that these men who find fish in these dodgy areas are certainly brave!

Lazy Crocodiles

Another very interesting feature of this place were the eerie, dense and mysterious mangroves. I noticed that they were twined thickly into each other and penetrated into the murky water where the fresh and salt water mixed. It seemed that it was almost like a playground or a recreational place for birds and insects. Despite the eeriness, it was strangely lively. I was told that in the dry months birds and smaller animals congregate here to feed and nest since the larger animals cannot break in through. They also protect during the common storm surge of hurricanes. Apart from that, I didn’t know if there were different species of mangroves or just one. It looked like it had a few other colours mixed in them, colours like red, light brown, black and white. I asked the guide and he said that there were two types. The red mangroves identified by their stilt-like roots, and the black and white mangroves which thrive in tidal waters, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Bipin & I gliding through the eerie swamps of Everglades ( The white & red mangroves are seen here)

White Iron Wood Tree seen in Everglade swamps

A tourist attraction which actually lost value in my eyes were alligator farms. I wondered what they did with alligators since their leather was banned in the country. I was curious and wanted to find out more. So, basically, these  farms are simple an exhibition of Florida reptiles and has became a quintessential Florida attraction. It simply  functions as a modern zoo serving the public and the scientific community with educational shows, research and exhibits. The eggs produced by these animals are exchanged or sold to other farms to increase the number of alligators on their property! The concept of alligator farming didn’t please me but certainly educated me.

Alligator Farm

Just for an experience

The stories of the Everglades kept pouring in until we left Florida. What amused me were stories of alligator trespassing and crossing highways. People told us stories like an alligator was found swimming in their swimming pools. Alligators chilling in their backyards. There is special team of people who catch this wild reptile and release it in their natural habitat. Also, all the way through this swampy land, on roads, are signs of alligator crossing. I found the whole caution signs hilarious yet perilous.

This world of reptiles is some experience. It is a sea of knowledge about these creatures who have a tag of being dangerous and a menace to the society. As a rule, you should exercise caution around any of these reptiles. But quite unlike the impression, these creatures if unprovoked are well-behaved and laze, swim and hunt what is available in the marsh.

Along the winding, rocky terrain of Hampi……

Ruins & Rocks of Hampi

Along a winding, rocky path to the Achyutaraya Temple, stories of marks of Sita’s saree falling over the rocks when Ravana abducted her in his Pushpak viman (airplane). A little cave which was believed to be Sugriva’s (the monkey warrior) home and so on, was narrated to us. All made into a fine story and located to convince that it’s all true. Every rock, boulder and stone in Hampi has a story to tell. The ruins of Hampi speaks of it’s glory and imperial majesty. 

Rocky terrain of Hampi with its numerous ruins

Story of every rock & ruin of Hampi

Located in Karnataka, Hampi is a place of its own. Huge rocks, ruins carved out of boulders, red soil makes this place inexplicable. Vijayanagara was its name, had an expanse of diamond and jewel markets, enormous mint area, the scandalous concubine trade, the prosperous temples and splurging palace was its character. It saddens to see this place ransacked by the Deccan Sultans and left to perish in the solid soil. They reduced the city to ruins and yet it shows the glimpses of its glorious past.

Pushkarni - Water source near the Krishna Temple

Apart from its man-made splendor, what impressed me were its natural rock formations created by the evolution of mother Earth. Huge and heavy boulders stand unaffected by gravity. It often makes me wonder that how did the people of Vijaynagara accomplish such a mammoth task of using these natural creations to build the city. 

The Palace & Mint Area

Locals tell us stories about existence of almost no boulders in this region. It is believed the the wind and rain swept away the soft soil exposing the hard rocky outcrops. The erosion has transformed these boulder into bizarre shapes. This continued for many thousands of years, crafting the landscape of Hampi. It looks like some one has emptied a gunny bag of rounded pebbles over Hampi resulting into the mysterious looking landscape. 

Shower of Pebbles over Hampi

These ancient people had some fascinating ways to cut rock to suit their needs. If a rock had to be cut straight, a series of holes, all in line were made on its surface. Dry wood was pegged into the plane and then water was poured over to soak the wood. Once it soaked water and its size increased, the tiny pegs made the rock crack perfectly in a straight line.

Art & technique of cutting rocks

During our visit to the ruins, I came across rock formations, thinking this one is better than the last! These rocks seemed like they float on each other or sometimes I felt they have been placed on top of each other…so humanized and yet impossible for a human to even think of! 

Natural placement of Rocks

Grand, majestic and extraordinary is the terrain of Hampi. Kudos to its riches, architecture and of course the magnificent existence of this dusty solid land. 

Me on the Rocks!

Temple built around and over the rock

Bed of Rocks

An Experience in the Fairy Land – Turkey

Cappadocia, central Turkey, has a fairy land, a whole lot similar to what we read in classic tales. This fairy land is so breathtaking and yet so realistic that I did pinch myself a few times to make sure, I am in it and a part of it!

Fairyland

The terrain in Cappadocia is very unique, a place where nature and history have created one of the most spectacular panorama of the world. Due to volcanic eruptions in the region a large tableland of tufa rock was formed. Together with the erosion from the Kizilirmak river and wind over ten thousands of years there appeared the chimney rocks or the fairy chimneys. These chimneys were marked by signs of thousand-years-old civilizations by carving houses and churches within these earth pillars and decorating them with frescoes.

Terrain of Cappadocia

The Dark Church of the Geröme Caves

The first time we actually saw them was on a dark dawn of a Tuesday morning. A bunch of us were all geared up in a hot air balloon for a tour in to the clouds overlooking these beautiful rock formations. We had no idea about its exquisiteness until we floated in to the sky, the sun rose, and we witnessed the vast landscape!

Gearing up to fly

The Fairy Chimneys

The pilot of hot air balloon said that the traditional Cappadocian houses, churches, monasteries, mosques and dovecotes were carved into the stone. The soft quarried rock, which is the only construction material of the region, was easily processed and would harden after contact with air resulting in to this natural fairy land.

Orthisar Castle of Cappadocia

Vivid colours of the Rocks & its strange formations

While flying high and also ducking low in to the crevices of these rocks, we noticed a large number of dovecotes. We were told that these pigeon is a symbol of peace and devotion to family in Islam whereas regarded as a symbol of the “Holy Spirit” in Christianity. The reason behind hollowing out dove-cotes was not to catch and eat pigeons but to use their excrement as fertilizer. Some dovecotes are decorated with rich inscriptions and adornments by regional artists.

In the Fairy Chimneys

Dovecotes and Frescoes

We sailed on in the air for about an hour and a half. It seemed like a dream or something much beyond that because I don’t remember ever visiting a wonderland in my dream as well. It was so awe-inspiring and so colourful to be true that the biting cold didn’t bother us even one bit. We just went up to 800 metres, almost felt like I would touch the rising sun and then ducked as low as a few feet from the earth to see if I could peep into the window of the chimney!

Fairyland part II

Touching the rising Sun

Land of the fairy chimneys, unforgettable, unbelievable and so vivid, tops high on my list. Its a place to experience what a true fairyland might be!

Beauty of little things – Karde

Karde in the monsoons

Monsoons makes Maharashtra heaven on Earth! The pleasing velvet tones of greens, the clear streams, the rush of the tides in the Arabian Sea, the sprinkle of the rains and the wholesome waterfalls…..the list can go on…

View from the rolling green hills

A few weeks back, we set off to this little hamlet called Karde. A place with black sand, rolling hills, partially rocky beaches, and above all, not commercial. The sea was just a minute away from our cottages, hence off we strolled to the beach and into the raging sea. While we walked on beaches and hiked the hills, I came across such beautiful things, made and built by nature. Those things we fail to see in our mundane lives, those things which bring ideas to your mind and things which makes you feel so rich within. So this post is going to be all about those little things I enjoyed being around profoundly.

Collection of beautiful sea shells with spiral patterns & colours

My walk through the fringes of the sea made me notice these beautiful sea shells. The rich colours and patterns on them was so stunning that it I wanted to have with me, in my home, in my memory…always!

Eroded rocks

What nature does and how intricately it carves even the toughest rocks, makes you think about the force and yet the daintiness of the natural world.

The Button Nose Flower

I don’t know what sort of tree this is, it was just a plain beautiful one with the lush colours contrasting each other!

The patterned black Sand

The patterned black sand of Karde garnished the extensive beach. Again, how intricate yet bold!

The splashing sea

From the sandy beach, we hopped on to the rocky raging sea. The energy and vigour of the ocean made my blood rush faster through my veins. I kept thinking, how can such rage carve rocks so delicately, how can the green have so many shades and each pleasing to the eye, how can the silky grain of sand make such long beaches…. Salute to the mother nature is all I concluded…

A perfect clear water pothole

Heaven...it was

Scribble on the black sand