Sunday, September 25, 2016

Amendment to February 2017 tour

The February 2017 tour will use the Off the Beaten Track itinerary (see October 2016 tour), and will finish in Goa. From Goa you can get a connecting flight via Mumbai or Bengaluru to Frankfurt and beyond.

New Instagram.com hashtag #focusonindiatours

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Tours for the season October 2016 to February 2017


Jean-Philipe, a Canadian expat living in Tamil Nadu, offers personalized introductory tours of south India during the season October through February. The dates and itineraries shown are suggestions, and can be adjusted and customized as desired.

India can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor, so travelling in a small group (usually maximum of five participants) with an experienced guide to look after all the logistics and minutiae allows you to enjoy the experience of India with no worries. Jean-Philipe will look after the details of where to go, how to get there, where to stay, how to get around, what to see, and what to avoid.

Jean-Philipe has been travelling and living in India for more than three decades, especially exploring the south extensively by motorcycle, car, train and bus. In his travels he has developed a network of friendships and valuable contacts, all to the advantage of the visitors he escorts each year.

All tours (except the November northern tour) begin at Chennai airport, where Jean-Philipe and his driver greet you and whisk you to our first stop, Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram), a laid-back beach area and stone-carving centre and former port city of the Pallava Dynasty a millennium ago.

We stay three nights at Hotel Mahabs Resort, an oasis of tranquillity in the centre of the town, to catch up on jet-lag and acclimatise to India. All rooms overlook the garden and swimming pool. Enjoy a breakfast buffet with both Indian and Western items, and poolside service from the restaurant and bar.

On day 3 we do a walking tour of Mamallapuram's main archaeological sites, including Arjuna's Penance, Krishna's Butterball, the Lighthouse, the Five Rathas, and the Shore Temple.

On day 4 we leave Mamallapuram at noon, and on our way to Chennai Central railway station by taxi we stop for an hour or so each at:

- Madras Crocodile Bank, one of the largest herpetology centres in the world.

- DakshinaChitra, a cross cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of south India.

- San Thome Basilica, with the tomb of St Thomas, one of only three places in the world which is the burial site of one of Jesus' apostles (the others are St. Peter in the Vatican and St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain).

- Amir Mahal, home of the Prince of Arcot and his extended family. Depending on their schedules, the Prince, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, or his Dewan (heir), Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali, may be free to greet us.

We take an overnight train to Mettupalayam, and transfer to the UNESCO World Heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railway "Toy Train" up to Ooty, Queen of the Hill Stations. Our driver and van meet us at Ooty railway station, and will be our transportation for the next ten days.

On day 6 we explore Ooty, including the Botanical Gardens and Doddabetta Peak.

On day 7 we drive from Ooty to Mysore, city of palaces.

During our three-day stay in Mysore, we sample several of the main attractions of this fascinating city. We visit Mysore Palace, one of the most visited monuments in India; Lalith Mahal Palace, now a 4-star hotel; see the Chamundeshwari Temple on Chamundi Hill, and its great stone sacred bull; explore the nearby historic walled town of Srirangapatnam, capital of Tipu Sultan; and stroll through Brindavan Gardens.

We also include a tour of the city market with our local travel partner goMowgli.

From Mysore, we have two different itineraries available.


October 2016 tour - Off the Beaten Track

Leave from Vancouver on Saturday October 8th, fly on Air Canada/ Lufthansa via Frankfurt to Chennai. Return on Sunday October 30th.

Itinerary: Mamallapuram -->Ooty --> Mysore --> Kodagu --> Bellur & Halebidu --> Chikmagalur --> Shimoga --> Jog Falls --> Sirsi --> Yana --> Dandeli --> Hubli --> Chennai

From Mysore we explore the interior of Karnataka. We start with Kodagu (Coorg), meeting friendly heffalumps at the Dubare Elephant Camp, and visiting the glorious Tibetan Golden Temple at Bylakuppe.

We visit the archeological centres of the Hoysala Empire, Bellur and Halebidu; stay at a coffee plantation in Chikmagalur; hike (optional) to the foot of magnificent Jog Falls; marvel at the bizarre rock formations at Yana; and go white-water rafting (optional) near Dandeli.

We bid adieu to our driver at Hubli Railway Station, one of the most modern in India, and take a train back to Chennai, with an overnight stop in Bengaluru.

This tour can optionally be extended by one week, allowing us to visit the coast of Karnataka including Gokarna, Murudeshwar and Udupi. Our van drops us at Bengaluru airport, where you can either get a flight back to Canada via Frankfurt, or via Chennai and Frankfurt.


November 2016 tour - Deserts and Palaces

This year for the first time we are offering a northern India tour including Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan. However, it is already fully booked.


January and February 2017 tours - Beaches and Heritage

Leave from Vancouver on Saturday January 7th, fly on Air Canada/ Lufthansa via Frankfurt to Chennai, return on Sunday January 29th.

Or, leave from Vancouver on Saturday February 4th, return on Sunday February 26th.

Itinerary: Mamallapuram --> Ooty --> Mysore --> Hampi --> Goa --> Fort Kochi --> Varkala --> Chennai

From Mysore we drive to Hospet, our base for visiting Hampi, UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Then through the Western Ghats to Goa, former Portuguese enclave taken back by India in 1961, where we relax for a couple of days of beach time, with a day visit to Old Goa and lunch in Goa's capital Panjim. We say goodbye to our driver, who will now return to Mysore.

An overnight train takes us to Kerala's main city of Ernakulam, where we stay in historical Fort Kochi, enjoying seaside walks, local ferries, and heritage museums.

A day train takes us to our last stop, Varkala, with its beautiful beach and clifftop, catering to Western and Indian visitors alike.

We take a final taxi to Trivandrum airport, and a domestic flight back to Chennai.


Costs

All prices are in Canadian dollars.

Flights and tours can be booked through our travel partners:

- Lloyd's Travel & Cruises, Attention Lucas Sripathy. 342 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver BC.  604-872-3660 or 800-800-7252.

- Maritime Travel, Attention Frank Bolla or Hana Talimalo. 505 Bute St at Pender, Vancouver.  604-681-6212.

Airfare on the recommended connection, Air Canada/ Lufthansa via Frankfurt, is about $1500 to $2000. Lower airfares may be available with other carriers.

Pacific route via Hong Kong or China is also possible.

Airport code for Chennai is MAA.

e-Tourist Visa (eTV) (valid for 30 days)

India Tourist Visa (valid for 6 months)

Travel insurance is highly recommended.

Consult with a travel clinic for advice on vaccinations and other health issues.

Tour costs are $150 per day, twin-share basis, total $3,150 per person for a three-week tour. Single room supplement is $750.

Tour price includes:
- All ground transportation and transfers (train, taxi, van, autorickshaw)
- Semi-deluxe accommodation, twin-share basis (single room option at extra cost)
- All breakfasts and lunches; most dinners (allow $50 for additional meal costs)
- Guide fees and admission fees
- Tips and gratuities
- Domestic airfare Trivandrum to Chennai (on the January and February tours)

Not included:
- International airfare
- Travel and health insurance
- Visa
- Personal expenses (e.g. alcohol, laundry, shopping)
- 2 dinners

Grand total including everything is about $5,500.

See http://travelwonders.ca/south-india-tours

Check out my blog: indiajp.blogspot.in

Photos: instagram.com/jayaprakash2001 and search for #myindiatour

Facebook: FocusOnIndiaTours

Please contact Jean-Philipe via email at indiajp@gmail.com for further information.


Here are some testimonials from people I have escorted, both individually and in small groups.

"The time I spent in south India with Jean-Philipe as my guide was one of the best experiences of my life. He handled everything so competently, hotel reservations, train travel, money exchange, and so on. This was very important to me because I was in my 81st year. I was always positive that whatever emergency arose, he could handle it. Thank you JP for wonderful memories!"
Mary B, Kemptville ON

"JP will organize your trip to the last detail and you will not need to worry about transportation, accommodation or anything else. Just relax and enjoy your ride. However, make sure to discuss in detail your travel preferences (i.e. visit  beaches or temples, travel by train or airplane, etc.)"
Jan K, Vancouver

"Please accept my confirmation and approval of Jean-Philipe as an excellent tour guide. During my six-weeks in southern India I found him to be very knowledgeable, well organized and efficient – just what you need when travelling in India. I highly recommend Jean-Philipe as an experienced, pleasant and intelligent tour guide!"
Sheila F, Vancouver

"I traveled with JP in India in 2010 for a month. He made my India experience completely seamless so that all I had to do was enjoy getting to know some of the many new things and experiences India has to offer. His local knowledge is extensive and his wide acquaintance of people in the travel industry in India made his help really valuable. Please consider this my warmest recommendation to take advantage of his personable and thorough approach to travel planning."            
Alex G, Burnaby BC

"Thank you JP for a lovely tour. It was way more than I expected. I look forward to travelling with you or your assistant at another time."
Amelia C, Surrey BC
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See also this great article:

10 Best Places to Go in India
https://www.smartertravel.com/2016/05/24/10-best-places-go-india/

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Goan Goan Gone -- the Ultimate India Travel Adventure

I will be giving a talk on India travel on Thursday June 23rd, 7 to 9pm, at a Meetup group event, at The Cranium Group, 308 East Fifth Ave, Vancouver.

Goan Goan Gone -- the Ultimate India Travel Adventure
http://www.meetup.com/Focus-on-India-Adventure-Travel-Vancouver/events/231812547/

Three Reasons You MUST Visit India
http://www.meetup.com/YVR-Travellers/events/231778962/

(It's the same event, promoted by two different Meetup groups.)

Hope you can join us.

See also:

10 Best Places to Go in India
https://www.smartertravel.com/2016/05/24/10-best-places-go-india/


Facebook

http://travelwonders.ca/south-india-tours/

Sunday, August 30, 2015

This season's tours

Post deleted. Contained outdated information.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Spaniard in the Works

... wrote John Lennon (In His Own Write).

That's what the FRO (Foreigners' Registration Office) has handed me.

The new DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) was very polite, very friendly (even invited me to lunch in the senior officers' canteen), and very firm.

"I'm sorry, sir, I have discussed your situation thoroughly with my superior officer, and we cannot extend your visa any more. You have already had eight years, and the maximum is supposed to be five years. You must leave India by June 22 {my annual renewal date}, get a fresh visa abroad, and we will welcome you back."

Basically that leaves me with two options:

1. Go to a nearby country such as Sri Lanka or Singapore for a visa. However, I know that they would only issue me a 6-month tourist visa, and in December I would have to leave India again. I'm not sure how easy it is to get back-to-back tourist visas abroad.

2. Travel to Canada for a while, get a fresh visa, and return to India. At least there would be a (very slight) possibility they would issue me another long-term renewable visa instead of just a 6-monther. But that could ONLY happen in Canada.

I think it makes more sense for me to go to Canada for the summer, and return to India in the autumn, when the weather is best here.

So I leave India on Sunday 22nd June, arrive in Toronto, stay with friends there overnight, visit with my Mom in Grimsby for a few days, then fly to Vancouver, for a summer of music and film festivals, great weather, and visiting many friends after so long. Maybe do a little part-time work tutoring to provide some extra cash.

What I do from there will depend on whether I can get another long-term renewable visa, or just a 6-month Tourist visa. A long-term visa will let me continue to live in India. If I can only get a Tourist visa, I'll have to go back to Canada every year.

I have only booked a one-way ticket to Vancouver. It was not much cheaper (less than $100) to buy a return ticket instead of two one-ways, and this keeps my options much more flexible, both in terms of when I leave Canada and the route I take to return to India.

At this point my plan is to stay in Vancouver until the end of September, then come back to India in October. I'll spend a week or so at home in Chennai, then hit the road for my annual trip to the west coast of Karnataka.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Visitor from Canada

While I was in Canada last summer, my friend Alex that I was staying with in Vancouver introduced me to Sheila, a retired lady who lives in his building. Sheila had been planning her first visit to India, but unfortunately the friend she was going to travel with had to cancel due to her parents' ill health. Sheila didn't want to do the trip on her own, nor did she want to join an organized tour group, so when she heard from Alex that I offer personalized orientation and introduction tours of south India, she asked to meet me. We had a cup of tea together, and I told her what I can offer and sketched out a possible itinerary.

We hit it off right from the get-go, figured out the dates that suited both our schedules (mid-December 2013 to mid-January 2014), and booked her flights that same morning. Over the next few days, I polished up our itinerary, and we both did some reading and research to make sure it suited her expectations.

When I returned to India in September, I started making our lodge reservations, and booked our trains as soon as the 60-day window opened. Goa for Christmas was a real challenge -- all the reasonably priced places I knew about were already booked months in advance, and I had to go through a travel agent in Mamallapuram that I had been dealing with for years to get us a relatively expensive but very nice facility for four days for the holiday period.

Our final itinerary, with two to three days each in most of the places we stayed, was as follows: Mamallapuram; Ooty; Mysore; Belur; Hospet/Hampi; Goa; Ratnagiri; Gokarna; Murudeshwar; Anandashram; Fort Kochi; Varkala; Kovalam Beach; Kanniyakumari; Rameswaram; Madurai; Trichy; Pondy; Mamallapuram.

Sheila enjoyed the trip very much, except for getting a bout of Delhi belly in Trichy, which meant that during our time in Pondy she spent the time recuperating in our lodge rather than being able to visit the town and Auroville as we had originally planned.

FYI for prospective visitors who may want a personally escorted tour -- I don't charge anything for advice and planning assistance. If you want me to travel with you as your escort and guide, I just ask that you pick up the tab for our accommodation, meals and travel. For a budget tour, that would be about $100/day total for the two of us. For a mid-range comfort zone, with an occasional splurge, count on about $125 (which is what the trip with Sheila cost). If you want A/C and first class all the way, plan for $150 to $200.

I've been averaging one or two visitors a year for the last several years, and can provide references if you like.

Canada Summer 2013

I retired from the University of British Columbia in 2003, and have been living in India ever since. My last trip to Canada was in 2006, so I was overdue for a visit to see my ageing Mom (she's 94 now) and my Godmother, and to see friends that I had been out of touch with for too long.

Because I have been in India so long (on an Entry Visa with annual extensions through the local Foreigners Registration Office), the bureaucracy did a pretty thorough investigation on my reasons for staying here so long, and I had to reschedule my flight to Canada a couple of times until I finally got the necessary clearance to leave and return. As it turned out, it's just as well it took so long, because I had mistakenly been asking for an Exit Visa. What I eventually got was a Return Visa, valid for three months stay outside India, which didn't automatically cancel my Entry Visa, which an Exit Visa would have done.

When I was in Vancouver, I went to the Indian High Commission to ask about getting a fresh Entry Visa, and found that the eligibility requirements have been changed since I was last issued one in 2006, and I wouldn't qualify to apply under the new rules. I would only have been eligible for a six-month Tourist Visa, which would have meant a serious disruption of my long-term goal of spending the rest of my life in India. As it is, I will be eligible to apply for Indian citizenship in September this year, at which point I will have been here long enough to satisfy the residency requirements.

I had a great three weeks in Vancouver in August (the best time of year in that beautiful city), staying with a friend in the heart of the West End, and getting my fill of concerts, film festivals, cycling, visiting, and some beach time. Although it's still my favourite city in Canada, it isn't home any more, and I have no regrets about leaving there a decade ago to follow my heart to my adopted home in India.

Then I flew to Toronto, and rented a car for a week, which was the only practical way to get all my visiting done. First stop was Grimsby, where my Mom is living in a very nice retirement home. My brother and sister-in-law live nearby, so they phone and visit her frequently. I spent three days there, and we said our goodbyes knowing that it might be for the last time. Then I headed up to Kemptville to see my Godmother, and stayed with her son and his family just a couple of blocks from her retirement home. Last stop was Kingston to visit with a friend for a couple of days, then back to Toronto to drop off my rental car and head for the airport for my flight home to India.

Spring Tour 2013

Now that I'm on a roll, I'll publish a couple more travel updates to bring this blog more up to date.

After ending Grand Tour 2012 in Chennai in early January 2013, I spent only a couple of weeks at home, until just after the mid-January Pongal festival, then headed out again for Spring Tour 2013. This was very much a "visit friends and familiar places" ride, with only one new destination, as noted below. I won't go into very much detail since it was very similar to my standard Karnataka circuit that I have done about half a dozen times.

First stop was a bit of a detour, going to Mamallapuram to see a couple of friends before heading towards Karnataka, so I only made it as far as Vellore for my first night stop. Second day was an easy ride, bypassing Bangalore on the NICE Ring Road, and on to Sri Adi Chunchanagiri Mutt for a couple of days in the Ashram guest house. Then an overnight stop in Shimoga, and on to Gokarna, where I spent an entire month.

Gokarna is definitely my favourite place in India. It has just the right proportion of everything I like -- reasonable prices for food and accommodation, a great beach in town and several others nearby, several bookstores and email shops, my regular yoga class with Ganesh, small enough to get around easily, big enough to have almost everything I need, and an interesting mix of visitors since it is on both the Westerner and Indian tourist circuits. A very "Goldilocks" destination.

I retraced my inbound route for the return journey, via Shimoga to Chunchanagiri for a couple of days, then via Mysore bypass, Ooty Road, Nanjangud, Sulthan Battery to Kalpetta for the Kovai Thumpers Motorcycle Club 7A meet at Banasura Seagot Resort in Wayanad. As usual KTMC put on a great event, with comfortable tents for accommodation and excellent food.

Rode out Sunday morning, stopped in Mysore for a couple of days to get my bike serviced and visit friends, stayed a few days again at Chunchanagiri, stopped overnight in Bangalore, and headed home mid-March, for exactly two months on the road and about 2,700 km.

It was on the final stretch to home, between Bangalore and Chennai, that I came to the realization that I had had enough long-distance biking. It wasn't due to an accident or a near-miss. I just suddenly knew that my touring days were done. I had been telling myself for the last several years that the time would come when I had had enough, so I made sure to do lots of riding while I still enjoyed it.

When I got home I did a lot of serious thinking about my decision, and knew that it was right for me. As a sort of test run, over the next couple of months I did a couple of short one-week tours to visit friends in Karnataka by bus and train. Although not as convenient as having my own wheels, it was a lot more relaxing (and cheaper too!). So I put my bike up for sale, and closed the deal a month later.

Best of all, I sold it to my cousin, so it's still in the family, and our agreement is that I can borrow it at any time if I decide to go for another bike tour. But that was a year ago now, and I have no regrets, and no desire to go thumping (Bullet riding) again.

Grand Tour 2012, Stage 3, Anandashram to Chennai

Yes, I know, it's been over a year since I last updated this blog. It's been on my to-do list for ages, and has finally percolated up to the top. Thanks to several of my faithful readers who keep prodding me to publish an update.

From Anandashram I took the Panathur road, crossing into Karnataka in Kodagu, and spent a few days at Palace Estate homestay, one of my all-time favourite places. Road conditions up to the border are very good, and the newly resurfaced highway to Madekeri is excellent, but the local road via Napoklu to Palace Estate is in great need of repaving.

I would have liked to have stayed at Palace Estate for Christmas, but they were already booked solid for the holiday period, so I headed to Mysore, stayed a few days, got my bike serviced, and then moved on to Sri Adi Chunchanagiri Mutt, where I stayed at the Ashram guest house for the week of Christmas to New Years. Of course Christmas is nothing special at a Hindu ashram, but it was packed for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Very festive.

Then back to Chennai in early January, completing Grand Tour 2012 in two months and 3,200 kilometers.

Spring Tour 2013 is next!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grand Tour 2012, Stage 2, Goa to Anandashram, Kerala

Royal Enfield's Rider Mania 2012 in Goa was a bit of a disappointment. I've been to all four, starting in 2009, and this was probably my last one. There was very much a feeling of same-old, same-old. It was nice to connect with some fellow bikers that I may only meet once or twice a year, but the event itself was uninspiring. First some good points:

- Reasonable cost.  Only Rs 500 for registration, which includes the event T-shirt. But of course no food or accommodation is included at that price. There are some fast-food stalls at the venue, but the prices are high for the portion size. I had all my meals outside or took take-out to my lodge.

- Cheap beer. A new sponsor this year: 500ml Foster's can for Rs 20, a real bargain. Last year, Kingfisher pints were 2 for Rs 30. Barcardi alco-pop also a bargain at Rs 30.

- Dirt bike race. One of the highlights from last year.

Some drawbacks:

- The new Thunderbird 500 was on display, but no opportunity to take a test ride.

- The event calendar was a work of imaginative fiction, bearing little resemblance to the actual event timings. I can understand that they can't update the printed schedules, but why not at least update the chalkboard version?

- Some events were cancelled or rescheduled without any notice. For instance, one of my favourites, the "destroy your bike broken field obstacle course". And one of the highlights from last year, the group ride, was a damp squib. With over 1,000 participants at the event, about 2 dozen bikes did the group ride. There was a very brief announcement about it, but when I looked at the parking lot about five minutes after the scheduled start time, it was still packed, so I concluded that the ride had been postponed. But in fact it just wasn't encouraged or publicized. By that time, Sunday afternoon, no-one believed the event schedule meant anything.

- Vagator is getting expensive. Lodge and food prices are up 25-50% from last year.

From Vagator I took a brief ride south, and stopped for a couple of days to visit a friend in Vasco. Then I continued on to Gokarna, got my same room back at my guest house, started my yoga classes again, and spent a pleasant nine days there.

I would gladly have stayed longer -- Gokarna is one of my favourite places -- but I had already registered for the Bulls of Shimoga 2A event near Koppa on 8th December, so I left Gokarna on the 7th, stayed overnight in Shimoga, and headed for the venue on Saturday morning.

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm not a fast rider, and I really am noticing that I'm slowing down even more. I took the Sirsi route instead of Gersoppa, and the ghat section is under construction, which slowed me down a bit, but the 228km route took me seven hours, with lunch and two or three chai stops. Even for me that's a pretty leisurely pace.

Now for a couple more gripes. Kenith and the Shimoga guys, please take these comments in the right spirit -- I really want to help you to improve your future events. Please pass the relevant comments on to the venue management. If no one tells them about problems, they won't know that they need to be fixed.

The directions to the venue were unhelpful. The BoS event flyer just gave a link to the venue's website, which had a Google map reference which was completely incorrect. The Google map said to take the Koppa-Jayapura road about 20km, to just before Jayapura, then turn back north-east. In fact, the correction directions were to proceed 2.5km south from Koppa on the Jayapura road, and turn left. An excellent schematic map was distributed at the venue -- if that map had been posted on the website, it would have saved me quite a few unnecessary kilometers. Directions to the venue: one star out of five.

Sorry, I don't have 10K to 30K to spend on a GPS unit -- I rely on printed maps, road atlases, and online research on Google maps and MapMyIndia, all of which can be riddled with errors and inconsistencies.

There should have been someone at the turnoff vigorously waving down passing Bulleteers, instead of just a tiny sign where it wasn't expected.

After about 10km of challenging dirt-road riding, I reached the venue, Kalgreen Valley Resort.

The welcome at the venue was warm and friendly, the T-shirt design was great, and everyone was most helpful showing me to my digs. The accommodations were excellent -- comfortable beds, hot water in the morning, lots of space to put one's gear, and almost all the electricals worked -- only one small bulb was burned out. Five stars out of five for accommodations and camaraderie.

The food was the biggest disappointment. After reading the blurb on the website, I was expecting something of pretty good quality. The veg dishes at lunch were Ok, if limited, but the one non-veg dish, their "special chicken masala", consisted of a watery broth and chicken bones with some tiny snippets of chicken meat. The chef obviously had instructions to keep the cost of this dish as low as possible.

Dinner consisted of chips and snacks at the dance party, plus some excellent Chicken 65, the only top-notch food item at the entire event. If there was a sit-down dinner in the dining hall, it wasn't announced, and when I drifted away from the party, the dining hall was locked up tight.

Breakfast was the usual idli-vadai with a sweet side-dish, and India's worst import from the West -- sliced white bread with the consistency, taste and nutritional value of processed cardboard. India has so many great domestic bread types -- puri, chapati, roti, parotta -- why oh why take the worst that the West has to offer? I asked about getting an omelet, but the staff said no way. When breakfast was nearly finished, they brought out a bucket of hard-boiled eggs, so at least I got a bit of protein. Food: one star out of five.

Libations: beer was available at Rs100/bottle, but most of the guys came well provisioned with their own supplies, and poured them out generously to everyone within range. Booze - six stars out of five.

The dirt bike race was fun to watch, but I like my bike too much to inflict that sort of treatment on it. As a spectator sport, five out of five.

Dance party and entertainment. The DJ obviously subscribed to the theory that playing the sound system at maximum intensity and haranguing the crowd was an adequate substitute for good music selection. Granted, taste in music is a very personal thing, but there wasn't anything played that inspired me to get up and boogie. Two stars out of five, but only because I met and chatted with a couple of new acquaintances.

Overall event rating: 4 stars out of 5. Would I go next year? Hell, yes.

Just a side note, not directly related to the event itself. Due to the Cauvery River water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the border road crossing between Sathyamanagalam and Chamrajanagar was closed to all vehicle traffic. Our fellow bikers from Coimbatore had to go via Palghat and Mangalore (i.e. through Kerala) to get to Karnataka. Doubled their journey distance to attend the meet, so they rented vans instead of riding their bikes.

Since Koppa is quite close to Sringeri, I decided to spend a couple of days there. It's a beautiful, peaceful place nestled in the mountains, and very easy on the budget -- a room at the ashram's most basic lodging is Rs 60/night, with a fabulous view if you get the right room (TTD 18, 19, or 20). A nice veg lunch or dinner is about Rs 60 at my favourite, Hotel Guruprasad opposite the entrance to the temple. You can even get a free lunch or dinner at the ashram, if you're satisfied with plain rice and thin sambar. It's enough to survive on, I suppose. I like something a little more tasty and substantial.

From Sringeri I headed south-west on SH13, the most direct route to Mangalore, a beautiful ride through Kudremukh National Forest. The road has been resurfaced since I last rode it about three years ago, and the entire route to Mangalore, via K.S. Border (the south-west corner of the park), Karkal, and Moodabidri is now in great shape all the way to where you join NH48 just east of Mangalore.

It's only when you hit the Mangalore bypass that road conditions start to deteriorate. It's still under construction, and the road surface is not great. If you are heading south to Kerala, as I was, the only possible problem is just south of the city where there's a four-exit roundabout. Just make sure you get on the Kerala road. It's clearly marked, but the traffic at the circle is a bit chaotic.

Then it's bump bump bump all the way to the border. When you cross into Kerala, the road is great, with only a couple of slow-you-down bad patches. There is some road work being done just south of Kasargod, but only for 2 or 3 km, then it's smooth riding all the way. Much better than it was a couple of years ago. (I wound up taking NH17 from Kasargod instead of my original plan of the coast road via Bekal, because the latter was being repaved and thus single-lane with alternating traffic. I turned back to NH17 right away.)

When you get to Kanhangad, there's a turnoff to the right to the town, then about 200 metres later, just after the Indian Oil petrol bunk, there is a left turn clearly marked Panathur. This is a great route to Kodagu. After a couple of kilometres you arrive at Anandashram, my next destination.

I'm now at Anandashram. I'll report on the road conditions up to Panathur and beyond after I reach Kodagu and then Mysore.