Rowing at Town Lake, Austin

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Town Lake (also called Lady Bird Lake) in Austin is one of the Top 10 rowing water bodies in US. I was lucky that my first rowing experience is in this Lake. Wait a second – is it rowing or canoeing? Well, frankly it doesn’t really matter to me and shouldn’t matter to you either if you’re an amateur. There’s a 10 miles long hiking and biking trail along the Lake as well and thus, is a perfect place to spend a couple of hours a week while you’re at Austin.

The boat/canoe rentals were on the other side of the Lake, so had to cross this bridge. Here’s its sepia look:

Bridge over Lake Austin

Bridge over Lake Austin

The mild vibrations while standing on the bridge reminded me of LakshmanJhula in Rishikesh, though the vibrations are ‘visible’ in the latter’s case. It was enjoyable, not terrifying. The cool breeze, mild sun overhead, the view of lake on either side of the bridge and the sight of Austin Downtown building on the third side is a pleasant experience.

 

Lake Austin in an Overcast

Lake Austin in an Overcast

We were 4 guys – so rented two double boats. Rent was 15 USD per boat per hour. Being a first timer, I was off to a slow start and so even my not-so-amateurish partner couldn’t move ahead. The vessel moved absolutely in direction that we didn’t want it to go. As minutes passed, my rowing skills improved. We figured out that the best strategy to move fast and straight was – the rower in the back provides direction to the boat while the rower in the front ‘rows’; and after some time, vice versa.

 

Rowers

Rowers

Ducks, and birds of other categories as well, were having a good time – swimming, playing, surfing, flying low and eating insects/fish. In some areas, people were feeding the birds too.

 

Duck Tales

Duck Tales

The sight on both sides of the Lake was majestic, though the ‘point-and-shoot’ camera couldn’t do justice to the sight due to overcast sky. Several houses, surrounded by trees, lines the Lake periphery. Imagine sitting on your backyard listening to your iPod and gazing at the Lake from atop – priceless!

 

Woods Beside the Lake

Woods Beside the Lake

General Information: If you are new (or coming) to Austin and want to plan a visit to Town Lake for rowing,  canoeing, hiking, biking etc the following links will help you:

Note: All the pictures in this post are taken by Sankar Tejaswi (my co-passenger in the boat) and have been retouched by me using picnik.

Enchanting Mount Bonnell along Lake Austin

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Watching sunset on a clear sky evening is a bliss – be it on a beach, a coffee shop overlooking a lake or a hill top. A couple of weekends back, I had a chance to see the sunset from Mt. Bonnell.

Mount Bonnell is the highest peak of Austin. And, predictably, is a popular and free hangout for Austinites and tourists alike.  I found it a perfect place to spend couple of hours just sitting atop the rocks, overlooking Lake Austin and the Downtown. Also, this is one of the most romantic places you can find in Austin. Beat this – a couple sitting on a rock atop a hill overlooking a lake watching sunset, and without spending a penny!

About: There’s a short trail of .3 mile and 190 ft high (yeah, really short but enjoyable nevertheless). The place felt more like a tourist spot than a hiker’s paradise.  The trail begins at the stairs that leadup to the summit, and is marked by the waypoint “Trailhead” on the topo map. In early 1830s, a woman named Antonette jumped from this peak when Indians killed her fiance. In her memory, the place was called Antonette’s Leap then. Later, it got its current name from George W. Bonnell. Address – 3800 Mt. Bonnell Drive, Austin, TX 78731. Locate it on Google Maps.

There are 3 parts of Mt. Bonnell each with a distinct charming view:

Meandering Lake Austin

Meandering Lake Austin

At the first spot, you can see Lake Austin and houses built on each side. Boats wheezing along the Lake’s length, leaving a trail behind, is a worthy sight. The lakeside houses look pretty similar. Their backdoor opens up to the Lake. Just imagine – wake up in the morning, grab a cup of tea or cofee and sit on the porsche viewing the lake.

Sunset from Mt. Bonnell

Sunset from Mt. Bonnell

From the second spot you can see the sunset. Beyond the lake and over the horizon.  You can also see a Bridge and several towers (probably telecom ones) in a distance.

Lake side Dwellings

Lake side Dwellings

There’s a pavillon on the third spot, standing atop which you can have amazing view of the Austin Downtown. The pavilion, though, may be crowded at times – after all, who doesn’t want to see the sckyscrapers from such a far distance that they are even difficult to spot. However, there is a house just nearby on the hill that blocks off a part of the view. It is an eyesore for the visitors. But I’m sure the people in that hoise must be having an amazing view of Austin. Lucky folks!

In short, a must see place in the evening while you are in Austin.

Links

Websites: AustinExplorer, Austin City Guide,

Kite Festival 2009, Zilker Park, Austin

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The word ‘Kite’ brings several images with separate connotations to my mind.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Kite Runner – ‘Kite’ reminds me of the book ‘The Kite Runner‘ by Khaled Hosseini (also adapted into a film of the same name). It is a story of a boy born into a rich family in Afghanistan in 70s who now lives in USA. He let a terrible thing happen to his best friends during childhood. Several years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself and in the process, visits war-ravaged Afghanistan. Kite Running forms an integral part of the story and several pages of the story are woven around Kite festival, children and adults flying kites, kite flying competition and running for the kites that befall during the competition. The protagonist gets a second chance, but the story almost makes you wonder, will Afghanistan get another chance.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Makar Sankranti – ‘Kite’ also reminds me of the festival of Makar Sankranti in India. The festival signifies the beginning of the harvest season in India and is called by various names in different parts of the country – Makara Sankranthi, Pongal, Tilgul, Yellu-Bella, Lohri, Maghi, Uttarayan etc. During pre teens, I used to stand on rooftops with a couple of friends (in fact every male tween in the neighborhood) and practice flying kites just as the New Year arrived. On weekdays, we used to practice after coming back from school – 3:30 to 5pm. And on the weekends, the entire day, probably just after ‘Shri Krishna’ on TV. Flying a kite was particularly difficult on cloudy days – January being the coldest time of the year no sun overhead meant a temperature of 12/13 degrees.

A day before Makar Sankranti, which is usually around 14th January, we used to buy several kites, long threads and ‘Manjha’ (pronounced Mun-jhaa and means glass lining some part of the thread) materials. Manjha is an art and is necessary for executing the kite cutting techniques – pull and release. Don’t know whether the art (of buying, sharpening the thread and flying kites) has changed these days – I know kites are even available online these days, but buying kites from the shops is an experience to cherish. Note to self: Write a full post on ‘Kite Flying in India‘ soon.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to witness Austin Kite Festival (I missed Mardi Gras!).

Zilker Kite Festival

Zilker Kite Festival

Austinites celebrate Kite Festival on the first Sunday of March every year at Zilker Park, thus called Zilker Kite Festival. Well, it’s a coincidence that Austin Kite Festival started on the same year as Oscars, in 1929. It is organized by The Exchange Club, which is an ‘all-volunteer, national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community, develop leadership skills and enjoy new friendships’. It seemed that the festival is immensely popular among Austin families – and also among tourists since it is open to all and free.

People: Several hundreds of people – families, singles, couples, young and old, gathered in an open ground. Kites of plenty of shapes, sizes and colors could be seen on the sky. It was an amazing sight to see kids not even 10 years of age flying huge kites. A few guys looked pro – their sleek kites were flying the highest. What amazed me was that no one tried to cut the flying kite of others. The Kite competition was a test of high-fly skill rather than a combat. And this was such a huge difference from the way kite flying is done in India. Even a no gooder like me could fly even lame kites pretty high and cut the thread of another high flier. Sigh!

An army of Kites

An army of Kites

Everyone wasn’t flying kites though. Those who weren’t, engaged in a variety of activities. Some watched other fly kites. Some others were busy in wall climbing, rotating rings around their waists (don’t know the term for this) or getting tattoo/mehndi/henna applied on their bodies – some on palm, others on the pelvic or tailbone area. Few spread out sheets on the ground and were eating or just lying around. Others were busy checking out different food stalls. I checked out a chicken kebab from a Turkish stall – kebabilicious. And it was delicious.

If you happen to be around Austin at this time of the year, do visit Zilker Park on the first Sunday of March for the Kite Festival. And a must see is the mass kite ascension at 3pm.

More Links

Skywatch Friday # 2: Austin morning

Austin mornings are refreshing. A walk down the lane, a little jogging, that sweat tickling down the neck, the splendid view – all make a great start for the day. during one such walks, I happen to shoot this near my hotel.

Its winter in Austin

Its winter in Austin

I’m submitting this picture for Skywatch Friday. Go check out the site for more Skies all around the globe.

Beaches in Gokarna

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This post has been published in Club Mahindra blog. This is my 3rd post on Gokarna. Here’s my 2nd post and 1st post.

About Gokarna: An ancient beach town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, Gokarna has great religious significance as well. The town has 5 beaches – Gokarna, Kudle, OM, Half Moon and Paradise – in that order and with hills between the beaches. As such, it offers extremely good opportunity for beach treks. None of these beach treks surpass 30 minutes duration and provide exotic views of the sea from the hillocks. World seems to have stopped when you are here – beach hop, lay on the beach, jog, walk, eat at beach cafes, buy, drink, dance, write – do whatever but don’t rush. This is a place that rewards laziness. All these make Gokarna a great two day weekend getaway from Bangalore, Goa, Mumbai and Pune during Oct-Apr.

 

Carefool at OM Beach

Carefool at OM Beach

 

Each beach in Gokarna is a lazy man’s paradise. Stay and eat at a beach side hack/cafe/hotel/resort. Lie on the  beach – on a bed-sheet with a hat over your face to avoid sun/eye-contact, or with the sun scorching your back. Or, read a book lying on a towel and in your bare minimum. And the best part, wear almost anything that you want (just that you have to wear something) – barmudas with sleepers, Alibaba pants and top, or a skirt of any shape and size.

There are five beaches in Gokarna – Gokarna, Kudle, Om, Half Moon and Paradise, in that order.

 

Gokarna Beach at Dusk

Gokarna Beach at Dusk

 

Gokarna Beach – It lies close to the town and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. The beach is close to the Mahabaleshwar Temple, a very old Lord Shiva temple that has an associated legend as well. At the beach, you can spot families, young and elderly couples, single and group travellers. It goes without saying – several fast food joints and the groundnut/balloon sellers adorn the shoreline. In the vicinity, you will find plenty of hotels, food joints and garments/puja shops. A word of caution here for tourists:  Avoid wearing skimpy clothes in the area. Since the ancient temple is nearby, this part of Gokarna is more of a pilgrim town than a beach town. You wouldn’t want to be an eye-sore for the locals just for your choice of clothes.

 

Kudle Beach

Kudle Beach

Kudle Beach – Is mostly frequented by foreigners and is almost a kilometer long, pretty wide as well. This gives you ample space to engage in the usual beach games, bonfires etc. Rocks, and plenty of them, adorn the sea shore. You’d find foreign tourists (mostly, but some Indians as well) staying in the shacks – sleeping, eating, drinking and reading.  I spotted the “Shantaram” being read atleast atleast thrice! King Fish delicacies are very tasty and are reasonably priced, in fact cheaper than most restaurants in Bangalore. The eateries play continental/Israeli music all the time. You could also beach trek from Kudle to Mahabaleshwar Temple.

OM Beach

OM Beach

OM Beach – This beach is around 20 minutes of an auto ride from the Gokarna bus stand. Certainly the best of the five Gokarna beaches, the beach derives its name from the Hindu religious symbol – OM, since its shape resembles that of the symbol. The ‘OM’ shape is pretty evident when you see the beach from the hillocks on the either side. However, the right side gives a better view than the left. Consequently, the picture you take would be mirror image of the OM symbol. The beach is the longest among the five beaches and is frequented by Indian and foreign tourists alike. You can stay at the Namaste Café which overlooks the OM Beach, or at any of the several shacks that are scattered around the beach. There is also the Swaswara resort as well, a hundred odd meters away from Om beach. There are three equidistant rocky patches at the beach. Two things you shouldn’t miss at OM – sitting atop each rock patch and the morning jog.

Half Moon Beach - Panorama

Half Moon Beach - Panorama

Half Moon Beach – It’s a tiny beach and can be reached by beach trekking from Om, or by paying INR 200 on a ferry boat. But the ferry ride wouldn’t allow you to spend much time at the beach. The beach has huge rocks as well. There’s a hut and you may as well get some food there. Once here lose yourself and merge with the tranquil surroundings.

Paradise Beach – The fifth and the last beach in the series, and it befits its name. You have to beach trek for about 20 min from Half Moon beach to reach Paradise beach. There are a couple of beach cafes as well.

Tips…

  1. Be careful while swimming, as the sea is shallow at some places and there are several cases of death due to drowning reported every year here.
  2. As usual, bargain hard with the sellers – beads sellers, clothes and accessories sellers, musical instruments sellers etc.
  3. Take mosquito repellent and a bed-sheet with you.
  4. Try beach trek – there are at least four options. If you can’t beach trek at all, you can see the beaches on a ferry boat – at INR 200 per head.
  5. Take your swimwear with you – there aren’t too many beaches in India where you can wear them without being ogled. So, don’t miss this opportunity.
  6. Don’t wear bikini at the Gokarna Beach – this may offend the local people and the police. But you may wear them at the other four beaches.
  7. Don’t miss the morning jog at OM beach.

Skywatch Friday – Karwar

I went to Goa last September, from Bangalore via sleeper bus. It is an overnight jouney and usually takes 14 odd hours. Predictably, you would sleep at night and in the morning, you would pass through coastal Karnataka. En route, the most beautiful place I believe is Karwar. The town is in Uttara Kannada district and is 15 km south of Karnataka-Goa border. Interestingly, a spot here has Rabindra Nath Tagore’s name. I didn’t stay there so if you want to pay this place a visit, the links below will help you.

This picture is headed for Skywatch Friday. Thanks Vamsee for the idea. So, here you go.

 

Karwar Skyline

Karwar Skyline

Further Reading

TGIF # 4: Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Victoria Memorial is one of the most famous landmarks of Kolkata. Erected as a memorial for Queen Victoria, the monument is now a popular hang out for local and tourists alike. And like almost everything in Kolkata, it is an excellent value for money. Stroll in the premises, sit and talk, ride on a tanga outside and grap a few Phuchkas (Golgappa/ Panipuri). Here’s a shot taken during my visit to the place more than a year back.

 

Victoria Photoshoot - Panorama View

Victoria Photoshoot - Panorama View

Further Reading:

Official website