Exploring My City: Dodda Aalada Mara, the Big Banyan Tree

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to go on a mini bike trip. A simple Google search for places to visit in Bangalore led me to a tourist attraction I never knew my city had. The Dodda Aalada Mara, a banyan tree located 28 km outside the city – perfect for a one-day bike trip.

Big Banyan Tree
All this is a single tree!

We set off on a Saturday morning – three girls on two bikes. I’m not particularly amazing with routes and directions, but I was lucky enough to be born in the era of smart phones. Google Maps led us there through NICE road, and the journey took us a little more than an hour. Although I’m told that this route was unnecessarily long, I do not regret taking it the least bit. It was one of the most pleasant and scenic rides I’ve ever enjoyed within Bangalore. Especially since we started relatively early on a Saturday morning (Okay, it was about 10 AM – I said relatively early!) we did not see too much traffic either.

Information Board about Dodda Alada Mara
Information Board @BBT

The Dodda Aalada Mara was actually quite easy to find and reach. Dodda Aalada Mara in Kannada means ‘Big Banyan Tree’. One of the four oldest Banyan trees in the world, it is a single tree covering about 3 acres of land. I guess my sense of measurement is a little wanting, because I was slightly disappointed with the actual area that the tree covered – three acres did not look as vast as I expected. It felt about as large as one of our ubiquitous Bengaluru neighborhood parks.

Dodda Aalada Mara - Adventitious Roots
Adventitious Roots of the Big Banyan Tree

The tree is fenced in and there are neat little walkways and benches around it, that make it an ideal spot to hangout at. There were no charges for entering the vicinity, but it was well maintained nonetheless. Probably because there is a small temple in the middle of the tree.

Big Banyan Tree - Walkways
The walkways around the tree

We had a fun time exploring the various corners of the tree, and spent a fair amount of time just enjoying the shade and each other’s company. There was a restaurant and bar adjacent to the tree where we had our lunch. The food was very average with only the Chicken Kebabs passing muster. But the seating was in individual cottages which afforded us privacy and made for a really relaxed afternoon spent catching up on the latest gossip with my friends.

Nooks and Crannies @BBT
Trying to pose in the nooks and crannies – if only I could stop laughing. 😛 😂

The Big Banyan tree actually made for a great place to spend the day. The atmosphere was very laidback and chilled out, and it was a fun and inexpensive option for a day out. We started our return trip in the late afternoon, around 4:30 PM. Bengaluru Traffic was not quite as kind to us on the way back and it took us well over 2 hours to get back home.
If you’re looking to getaway from the city on a tight budget and with only a day to spare, this is a fairly decent option.

The correct way to pose
Showing me how it’s done. 😐

How to get there

We chose to ride, and the roads are decent enough. NICE road is a tolled highway, and cost us ₹25 per bike from PES college exit to the Mysore Road exit one-way. Word of Caution while using NICE road though – despite how nice this road is, it is also notorious for some really fast/rash driving. So if you’re riding a bike, stick to the left, and stay alert and careful. Also, there appears to be a fair amount of Construction in progress along Mysore road which makes the area quite dusty. Nothing that bothered my nostrils too much (I suppose I might just be used to it, thanks to the city I live in) but there was a significant coat of dust on my bike by evening.
In case riding or driving is not the option for you, there are BMTC buses that will drop you right in front of the Dodda Aalada Mara. You can catch one from K R Market. Which bus? What route? Ask Google. Google maps also offers information on bus routes. 😊

Best Friend @BBT
Sneaking up on the Best Friend as she checks out the tree.. 😛

Food

If good food is a pre-requisite for a good time, then I would advice you to carry a picnic hamper. In case you don’t, and if you are feeling a little adventurous, then there are a couple of places to eat (and drink!) around the tree, that you could check out.
One important Warning: Beware of Monkeys. This is a warning that I saw on multiple sites, but when we went there, I didn’t see the place swarming with Monkeys. We grew lax, and guess what? A monkey almost made off with my friend’s bag. It was not scared of us, and refused to relinquish the bag to us despite our attempts to shoo it away. Instead it was starting to look quite aggressive and menacing. It took the help of a few gentlemen who happened to be in the vicinity to help us retrieve the bag. The monkey actually attempted to follow us. We fled, and I’m just grateful that it was one lone monkey and not an entire troop.

Chilling out @BBT
Looking for Monkeys? 😛

At the end of the day, the Dodda Aalada Mara is an interesting attraction, neither too far from the city, nor too close. If you’re bored of spending your weekends at the same old pubs and bars, and are looking for a small change in scenery to spend an afternoon with friends, it’s worth giving the Big Banyan Tree a shot.

BFFs @BBT
All in all, a day well spent, goofing around with my girls! ❤

Shout-out to my girls Likita and Deena for clicking these lovely pictures!
Have you visited this place already? If yes, what did you think of it? And if not, are you interested in checking it out? Do you have any suggestions about other places near Bangalore I could visit? Let me know in the comments.

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A Trip to Hampi: Planned or Unplanned?

Happy in Hampi

About a month ago, I woke up one morning, and as I usually do, (gasp!) I checked my phone. A friend of mine had posted about a Football match in the city the next evening. I saw a chance to break out of the monotonous Home – Office – Home routine I had gotten into, and figured it would be fun to catch the game. I got onto BookMyShow looking for tickets for the match. And that’s when I stumbled upon this trip organized by Plan the Unplanned. I called them up that afternoon and 2 days later, my friend and I were all booked for a trip to Hampi.

Hampi UNESCO Site
Across the Tunga River.. (Well… Some of it!)

And so it was, that I boarded a bus with 30 odd strangers, and only a very vague idea of what I had signed up for.

So here’s the cool thing about travelling with an Organized Tour (gasp again! 😛 )

  • I booked my tickets on a Thursday, and I showed up at the pick-up point three Fridays later to begin my trip. Apart from the actual booking of the trip (online, and super easy with this particular group!) and packing my bag a few hours before the trip started- I had to put in zero effort. No research about the destination, no worry about planning an itinerary, no million bookings to take care of. At the end of a mind-numbingly exhausting work-week, that’s totally a win for me.
The Hampi Gang! :D
Climbing hills with new friends and old.. 🙂
  • Although I did have my best friend tow along with me for the trip (because what are best friends for- if not to drag along with you on your wild adventures? 😉 😛 ) but travelling with this group made socializing really really easy. As soon as all of us were on board the bus, the trek leads had this super fun “Introduction” activity. By the next afternoon, I didn’t even remember that I was travelling with a bunch of strangers. And when we parted the evening after that, I was actually sad, because I felt I was saying goodbye to some really old friends.
dav
Camping Scenes. 😎
  • The More, the Merrier might not always hold true, but when it does- oh boy! It can be the most unique experience of your life. Traveling with friends is great- but now that school is over, the largest group of friends I have been able to convince for a trip is about 5 people. And here we were – a group of 30 – with ages ranging from 16-57 years old! If meeting new and different people gives you a kick, then this was certainly a super easy and fun way of doing that. There’s never a dearth of conversation or company.
Bonfire
‘cuz Bonfire toh banta hai.. 😉
  • Bonfires and Dancing are just so much more fun when you have a bunch of fun people around. But the highlight of the trip for me? MAFIA. So I first heard about this game from my (other) best friend, back when I was still doing my undergrad. And ever since, I’ve just been itching to play it. 5 years later, I can finally celebrate the loss of my Mafia virginity. 😛 I guess the more generic takeaway is – there’s all this super cool stuff that you can do when you have a larger group of people. (And yes, this is just a continuation of the previous ‘The More, The Merrier” point. The previous bullet point was growing a little long, so I just started a new one. Because I can. 😛 )
Bouldering
Climbing Boulders. Cuz they’re there, you know..?
  • I tried bouldering for the first time on this trip (nothing fancy – just clambering up these big old boulders – using pretty much only our hands and feet. 😉 ) We rented some Lunas (a brand of prehistoric mopeds) and the first day was all about exploring the Hippie side of town on our shaahi sawaaris. Imagine a group of 30- roaring through those bumpy roads in twos and threes. It’s the kind of crazy caper that makes you feel like a child again. And then, because we still hadn’t had enough, we went for a coracle ride at the Sanapur Lake. There was also a short trek to the top of a small hill to catch the sunset, and then back to camp for dinner and dancing by the bonfire. The point I’m coming to is that – all of these activities happened in the span of one day. Now, before you go all “Oh! I hate those kind of harried holidays!” on me, let me clarify. At no point did I feel rushed or hurried. Nobody was on our case trying to get us moving (except perhaps from camp in the morning. But our sleepy heads probably needed that prodding. 😅) But because these organizers already knew what activities could be arranged, where we could rent the mopeds from, where to go, what to do- we didn’t waste any time figuring things out, or making arrangements. For someone like me, who tries to fit most of my trips into the weekends, optimizing the time I have, to fit in as many experiences as I can into those 2 days- is a big deal.
Coracle Ride
Coracles on Lakes go round and round.. XD
  • We spent the second day of our trip exploring the heritage site in Hampi. Now, personally for me, this was not really the highlight of my trip. But if it were an important part of my travel, then I sure would have found it convenient to have my own personal story teller along with me- who could give me all the little scoops of info on what to look out for (like the inverted shadow of the Gopuram at the Virupaksha temple – pretty cool stuff!), and fill me in on all the dirt about the kings who ruled that place. 😉
Elephant Stables
The Royal Elephant Stables

So this trip was the first time I traveled with a group as a part of an organized tour package. To be honest, for the longest time, I’ve had this impression on my mind that organized tours are all about super strict itineraries and being herded from one must-see attraction to the next, with no care for whether or not I was actually interested in them. But this particular trip that I took with Plan the Unplanned catered more to my tastes in how I like to travel. And since then, I’ve realized that this is an option that offers what I want with a huge dollop of convenience.

(A little aside: they did plan a completely unplanned trip for me, so I think the name is rather apt, don’t you?)

Sanapur Lake
Sanapur Lake ❤

In closing, I should probably clarify- this certainly isn’t the only way to travel- I mean, there’s a different kind of fun to be had in planning your own itinerary, and getting lost, and figuring things out by yourself, and all the adventures to be had in the process of that figuring out. But every once in a while, when you just want to get away from all the stress and do something fun, this is an easy option to try.

Hampi Gang again
Here’s the gang, signing off.

So here’s to me for having scratched yet another destination off the list, adding another experience into my bucket, and hoping for several more adventures to come!

Cheers!

PS: Thank you Likita and Mithun for the lovely pictures!