Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

April 6, 2022

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 12:20 pm

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Hyderabad is the capital of southern India’s Telangana state. Its historic sites include Golconda Fort, a former diamond-trading center that was once the Qutb Shahi dynastic capital. The Charminar, a 16th-century mosque whose 4 arches support towering minarets, is an old city landmark near the long-standing Laad Bazaar. Now this city has become a major center for the technology industry.

The city of Hyderabad is known for Nizams and pearls. There were 7 Nizams who ruled Hyderabad from 18-20th Century. Hyderabad was the largest and most prosperous among all the princely states. The famous mines of Golconda were the major source of wealth for the Nizams, with the Kingdom of Hyderabad being the only supplier of diamonds for the global market in the 18th century.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad state, Mir Osman Ali Khan crowned in 1911, had been the richest man in the world in his time. The Nizams developed the railway, introduced electricity, and developed roads, airways, irrigation and reservoirs; in fact, all major public buildings in Hyderabad City were built during his reign during the period of British rule in India. He pushed education, science, and establishment of Osmania University. Since the Nizams had their origin in Persia (now its Iran) Hyderabad’s food and culture had an influence of Persia. The Hyderabad city was the first city in Southern India to be electrified.

Day 1: It was time for a short break before we both get busy with another exam and crazy work schedule. The visit to Hyderabad had been cancelled earlier pre-covid time, when Sur fell ill just a night before our travel. So this visit had been pending and when we only could spare a few days for a vacation, my first thought was to visit Hyderabad. Like most of them, Sur also had the same question – What is there in Hyderabad? Most of them cannot think beyond biryani and pearls which Sur anyway is not interested. So finally I had to dig up a little research and tell him there is lot more than Biryani and Pearls. Then we finalized the itinerary and asked our travel partner, Sailani Tours to book Sitara Hotel in Ramoji Film City and Mr. Inayath (+91 9845085649) took care of the booking part of it and he also gave some inputs to plan the itinerary. Since it was a very short trip of 2 nights we thought we will stay at the same place even though Inayath recommended to stay in a city limit while doing city tour and stay in Sitara when we needed to do a Ramoji Film city Tour. However we didn’t want to move since the trip was too short. So we booked for 2 nights in Sitara. As we were planning the itinerary we realized we needed an extra day so we asked Inayath to extend another night at Sitara.

We were planning to start early morning but we were up late night the previous day due to work, so we couldn’t open our eyes in the morning. So we decided to sleep for few more hours and started our trip only in the early afternoon. It was almost 9 hours of drive and the roads were pretty good. We saved some time as we didn’t stop for lunch as were not hungry. Only in the evening, we needed to stretch our legs for a bit so we decided to take a break as it was tea time and we stopped in Sri Priya Darshini Family Restaurant, which was in NH 44, bypass, Bangalore – Hyderabad Highway. We ordered for some onion pakoras and tea. Sur got some energy drink, they took almost half an hour to get the snacks and when it came it was over fried almost at the verge of semi burnt stage. We informed the waiter, he obliged to replace but we didn’t have another half an hour to wait as we didn’t want reach the destination late night, so had the quick tea which was drinkable. Thankfully the waiter didn’t charge for the pakoras, paid the bill and started our journey back.

It was almost 9.30 PM that we reached the hotel Sitara after a beautiful drive in Nehru outer ring road. We checked in and went to the room, we had heard quite of lot about this hotel as it’s in Ramoji Film city. But it kind of didn’t meet our expectations. First of all rooms were not well maintained, you could see dirty sockets in the room and corridors. Also we were given the room, where there was an adjoint room and there was no sound proofing done to the room. We could hear literally every conversation the guests were having in the next room. They had a kid as well and so we couldn’t sleep due to the constant noises. But the service at the hotel and the food were good. Then we also found that Friday is a holiday in Hyderabad where all the monuments are closed so we had to change our itinerary to do the visit of Ramoji Film city on Friday.

We were slightly hungry, so we decided to order a chicken sandwich and Sur ordered a paneer pakora and fresh orange and pineapple juice. I asked the in Room Dining team not to toast the sandwich bread and make the sandwich in a plain bread. When I got the sandwich, Sur started laughing as I had toasted chicken sandwich and along with it came 2 plain sandwich breads and I was not sure what to do with it. We just laughed. We needed to plan for the next day tour. We found a Full Day Sightseeing Tour of Hyderabad through Trip Advisor, we booked it and then we dozed off.

Day 2: We had to wake up early, had a quick breakfast and then we had a car picking us up  from the hotel for the tour. The driver (Mr. Sashi – +91 9701988808) picked us up and then we started our city tour. On the way, we picked up our guide for the private city tour (Mr. Srinu Arvapalli – +91 9347239648/srinu_tourism@rediffmail.com).

First we visited the Golconda Fort. This was the place for Diamond mining until diamonds in Africa were discovered. This fort has 360 steps and it is another wonder that our country has. Lot of credit goes to the last Nizam – Mir Osman Ali Khan (7th Nizam) who inspite of being a Muslim was secular and every person in the state irrespective of religion loved him. The Nizam was the highest-ranking prince in India, and was one of only five princes entitled to a 21-gun salute, held the unique title of “Nizam”, and titled “His Exalted Highness”. When he died, his funeral procession was the biggest non-religious, non-political meeting of people in the history of India till that date and it was almost 1 million people came to pay their respects and it was a day of mourning. Respect and love to the Nizams who built this city and contributed for various welfare activities and worked for the upliftment of the people.

This fort also has Jagadamba temple which is very close to the oldest mosque which was used by the Nizams for prayer. Kancharla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasu or Bhadrachala Ramadasu, was a 16th-century devotee of the Hindu god Rama, a saint-poet and a composer of Carnatic music and he was imprisoned for almost 12 years in the fort and later was released.

Then we headed to the The Qutub Shahi Tombs which is located in the Ibrahim Bagh, close to the famous Golconda Fort. They contain the tombs and mosques built by the various kings of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, some of them being renovated now. These are beautiful monuments which is a must visit.

Then it was time for a visit to Charminar, a city monument designed in the Qutub Shahi architectural style that’s known as one of the most famous sights in India. The Charminar constructed in 1591has become known globally as a symbol of Hyderabad and is listed among the most recognised structures in India. It has also been officially incorporated as the Emblem of Telangana for the state of Telangana.

Then we headed to taste the Iranian Chai at Nimrah Café & Bakery. We enjoyed the chai and the cookies which were different and were delicious. We picked up few assorted cookies and headed back to the car. There is Laad Bazaar or Choodi Bazaar is a very old market popular for bangles. It is located on one of the four main roads that branch out from the historic Charminar. Laad meaning lacquer is used to make bangles, on which artificial diamonds are studded. In this 1-kilometre (0.62 mi)-long shopping strip, most of the shops sell bangles, saris, wedding related items, and imitation jewelleries.

Our next stop was to Chowmahalla Palace (means 4 palaces) which is usually the ceremonial palace of the Nizams like coronation etc. Looking at the majestic palace gives an idea about the lifestyle of Nizams and their luxurious life.

Hyderabad is known for Biryanis and we were recommended the following places for an authentic biryani. Paradise Restaurant, Shadab Restaurant, Bahar café, Barwachi Biryani and Nayab Restaurant. Since we were not hungry during lunch or dinner hours we missed to taste from these places.

Then we headed to Ambica Pearls and Jewellers, Lower Tankbund Road for a pearl set before we got dropped back to the hotel. Since we were not hungry, we just ordered the sandwiches, had a quick bite and slept.

Day 3:  We had a good rest and delicious breakfast and started our work. We had booked Heritage Walk with HiTea at Falaknuma Palace from Trip Advisor in the afternoon. By afternoon Mr. Shashi had picked us up from the hotel and we left for Falaknuma Palace. Perched 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad is the Taj Falaknuma Palace which is a jewel amongst the clouds. Built in 1894, it is the former palace of the Nizam and richest man in the world at one time. Overlooking the twinkling City of Pearls, this enchanting palace hotel in Hyderabad exudes romance and grandeur that take one back to when the Nizam ruled Hyderabad. As you enter the palace, its all about Royalty and the historian who seems to have worked with one of the Nizams’s family, had explained about the history of the palace. We saw the place where Nizam used as an office, where you had the painting of the last Nizam. The speciality of this painting was when you look at the painting in any direction, you feel like the Nizam is looking at you. Then there is Durbar Hall where there are Belgium chandeliers which if you look at the mirror, you feel there is infinite number of chandeliers. Then we headed to the Jade Room which was a tea place for Nizams. It houses the massive 101-seater dining hall bedecked with Belgian chandeliers which is the longest dining table in the world. It has a paining of the menus from which the Nizam orders it. Then there is indoor games place, one of 2 biggest billiards table, hookah bar and beautiful gardens. It was a Royal splendour and elegance. Then we went to Celeste for high tea. Taj properties always have earned that respect for their excellent hospitality and this was the best experience and you were treated like royalty. Good that we didn’t have lunch as we were warned by our city guide the previous day, since there was lot of food. The staffs here treat you like royalty. We were served with the fresh juice and there were few varieties of mini sandwiches, one of them was pan flavoured, another had salmon and another chicken. There were tarts, muffins, macarons, mousse and cakes. Sur had the similar one with Vegetarian items. We were also served vada pav, chilli pakora, cheese balls and tava fish fry and Sur had veg cutlets. It was too much food, so we just tasted few and enjoyed the royal high tea experience. Then we realized we needed to enjoy this palace experience at least for a night so we asked Inayath to book for a night and so our stay got extended for another night. Finally we ended the high tea with a nice masala tea and Sur settled for lime soda.

Then we headed to Charminar to search for the perfume place as our city guide had recommended. There is a place called Hyderabad Perfumers in Pathergatti Road in Mir Chowk close to Charminar, we had a walk a kilometre from Charminar by foot as its way too crowded so driver said, its better to walk by foot. So we found the place picked up few attars from different scents and returned back.

Finally how can I forget the delicious and spicy Andhra pickles and Kandi Podi (gun powder – dry roasted lentils with other spices to give a nice aromatic fragrance and spiciness to eat with idly and dosa) and Pappu Podi (lentils powder – this powder is mixed with ghee and eaten with Idli or rice as well), so the guide recommended to go to Swagruha stores near LB Nagar and I picked up Gongura pickle (Sorrell Leaves), Tomato pickle, Red Chilli pickle, Kandi Podi and Pappu Podi. I was so happy to get the authentic pickles and powder and we got dropped at the hotel. We hit the bed and dozed off.

Day 4: We woke up after a good sleep, went for a quick breakfast and started our Ramoji Studio Tour. Ramoji Film City is an integrated film studio complex  and spread over 1,666 acres. it is the largest integrated film city in the world and as such has been certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest studio complex in the world. It was built by Telugu film producer Ramoji Rao in 1996. It is also a popular tourism and recreation centre, containing natural and artificial attractions including an amusement park. Here there are film sets, theme parks, amusement rides, etc The film city also has 6 hotels inside it, 47 sound stages and permanent sets ranging from railway stations to temples for film shoots. This film city also has the set used for the films Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, all the statues and props used in the films can be seen here.

We had booked the star experience ticket which makes you to skip the queue for the rides and you travel in an AC car. We got picked up at 9.30 AM from the hotel lobby and got dropped near the ticket counter to pick up our tickets, star experience stickers, chocolate box, water bottle and coupons for the whole day tour. 9.45 AM is the studio opens with a beautiful welcome dance and then the team welcomes you a step further with another western dance to welcome you. Then we had a small act near cow boy set and we were given around 30 minutes to do rides. Since we were not into rides, we waited near the guide Mr. Kranthi for the day before we boarded the bus to the next destination. The guide was very helpful. Then we went to the butterfly park and birds park. First we enjoyed the butterfly park and then headed to birds park. It was so beautiful to see various birds from Crowned Cane, Waffled Crane, Hadada Ibis, Shoe bill, Ostrich, Horn Bill, Carolina Duck, Australian Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, White Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Black Necked Swan, Whooper Swan, Trumpetor Swan, Lorikeets from Yellow Bibbed Lory, Red collared Lory, Green Naped Lory, Swainson Lory, Blue Crowned Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Lady Amherst Pheasant, Golden Phesant, Shamrock Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Blue Gold Macaw, Green Winged Macaw, Blue throated Macaw, Military Macaw, Toco Toucan, Keel Billed Toucan, Channel Billed Toucan, Black Necked Aracari, Lady Ross’s Turaco, White Cheeked Turaco, Galah Cockatoo, Black Palm Cockatoo, Moluccan Cockatoo, Blue headed Pionus, Rubino Rosella, Blue Fronted Amazon, Barrabanda Parrot, Sun Parakeet, Branze Winged Parrot, Lilac Crowned Amazon and there were many more. Then we went to the cave, there were some historical artifacts of Gods were there. Then we had a shooting spot tour and Mr. Rao had such an amazing commentary as he took us through different spots used for shooting like airport, hospital, railway station, prison, European street, the spots where various movies were shot etc. It was hilarious and fun as the guide had excellent sense of humor to make us smile.  Also we got stopped near Golden Temple, Jaipur location sets etc. It was pretty interesting. Then we were taken to Bahubali Movie set. Apparently the director Mr. Rajamouli stayed in Ramoji for 600 days and the set is kept intact for the viewers. It was amazing to watch. Sur was getting bored since he doesn’t watch much of regional movies even though I was trying to explain as much as I can. Then we headed to Super Star Restaurant for a buffet and the food was really good. We always know Andhra Food/Telangana food it can’t go wrong as they are spicy which we both love. After the lunch we were supposed to have some shows but unfortunately I had a work call and had to return back to the hotel. So we informed the guide and we left. This is a perfect place for Children and also who enjoys the movies and loves to take selfies as you have enough beautiful spots for the same. So we returned back to the hotel, got back to work. We ordered some masala papads, it was good but was a little salty for our palate. Then we dozed off.

Day 5: We woke up a little late as we were free of work calls today, had a quick breakfast and were ready to check out. As we tried to open the door, some family entered the room with their key cards. Thankfully we were getting out but this was completely unacceptable as the team should not have given to other guests the room key card when the guests have not checked in. We had immediately escalated saying , it would have been worst, if a guest was in the shower or changing clothes. We informed the reception to be more careful next time and they apologized. We checked out, thanked for their hospitality and drove to Taj Falaknuma. After an hour drive we reached Taj. We parked the vehicle and from that gate we were taken in a horse carriage till the reception. That was a beautiful experience. As we entered, the staff took the picture and then there was another guard who accompanied us to the reception. It was how the Nizam’s were welcomed so they hotel tries to give a similar experience. As we climbed the stairs to the reception, there was a shower of rose petals. Then we entered the reception, they had everything ready and they just asked us to sign and we were also informed they had given us a free upgrade to Royal Suite Room. Then the staff explained the activities and then we reached the room. We were allotted Shah Jahan Suite and it was beautiful. We were prepared to get ourselves pampered for the day. Sur ordered for Dahi Kebab which was delicious. So we immediately booked their signature spa – Nawab-e-Khas (Regal Splendour) which is 2.5 hours session of steam, scrub, massage with a detox drink in between and after some fresh cut fruits and juice. It was good. By the time we finished we missed the palace tour which starts at 5 PM. Then we just roamed around the property enjoying the peacocks, there were almost 100 of them. Then we headed to the restaurant for the dinner. This time they recommended for a open door seating and we were happy to be seated there. Finally I wanted to taste the biryani which I missed it, so I ordered for the Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani and Sur ordered Chilli Garlic Naan with kofta curry. It was super delicious, ordered the tiramisu and I couldn’t have it as it was too sweet for my palate and local Rasmalai dish recommended by the staff which we both enjoyed. Then we rested in the royal suite, we were too tempted to extend then we realized we had work and we needed to be in Bangalore on Monday. So we just dozed off.

Day 6: Woke up to the noise of the birds and peacocks and then headed for the breakfast. I recommended Sur to try the Pesarattu (Dosa with Green Gram batter), even though I have tasted enough number of times while living in Andhra, here it was so thin and delicious and with 4 different chutneys (coconut, pineapple, tomato and garlic) it made all the more interesting. I wanted to try a local dish which I have not tried so the staff recommended paya and kheema paratha, even though it was good I regretted it because I am not a paratha fan so instead would have loved the dosa/idli better. As we entered the room we saw the staff brought a cake to say good bye but unfortunately we couldn’t even taste as we just came out from breakfast and we could have carried it for our journey but we didn’t have anything to carry. I did feel sorry that we couldn’t taste the chocolate cake but we completely appreciate the love and effort that went into and the gesture. While we checked out we also got a album stand with our photo with the horse carriage which they had taken the precious day. That was a sweet surprise. We just wished we had another night to spend, however if you are in Hyderabad please make sure to experience this Royal experience ad its worth every penny. We would recommend, at least minimum 2-3 nights to experience such beautiful experience.

With such beautiful experience we started our long journey back, since we didn’t stop for lunch, we could reach within 7.30 hours and during the last leg, we just stopped for a quick tea break in Apoorva Multi Cuisine Restaurant and it was good. Then we headed back home and finally we reached home sweet home after a long drive.

First credit is to our travel partner Mr. Inayath and the Sailani team for helping us with the trip

Then to the city tour guide Mr. Srinu, he was very helpful and would recommend for others. I have shared already his contact details.

Then Mr. Sashi, the driver who took us around and patiently been taking us to places wherever we needed to.

Sitara Team for their hospitality and support

Thanks to Trip Advisor through whom we booked the full day city tour and then hi tea at Taj. Everything was excellent.

Last but not the least to the Taj Falaknuma team, each time we stay in Taj, the respect and love for this group increases multifold. It was excellent in every sense, from the security, reception, F&B staff to each and everyone working there. Big kudos and thank you for giving us such a beautiful experience.

Whether its Telangana/Andhra, for me it’s always Andhra as I cannot differentiate these two, visiting this state always brings back old memories and it still is a 2nd home for me. I would always cherish the warmth and love of the people from this state always.

Love you and Keep smiling, Until we meet next time…………..

 

January 14, 2022

Thally – The Little England of Tamil Nadu

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 6:41 pm

About Thally:

Thally is a town in Denkanikottai Taluk in Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, India. It is named as “Little England” by the British during their regime mostly due to its cool weather.

It was just a speedy getaway to spend the New Year night with close friends. So when one of the friends was planning to his friend’s farm house and he asked if anyone was willing to join for the new year, we all jumped in as it was just 2 hours drive from Bangalore and it was a perfect quick getaway. So Sumathi & her son, Vinodh & Sandhya, Shilpa & her 2 kids, Sur & myself along with my friend Suresh joined for the getaway.

We had an early start as Vinodh needed to go to the farmhouse to hand over the key, to tidy it up since it was left abandoned for some time and it was unused. We thought since it was a weekend, if we liked the place, will extend for another 2 nights so we packed extra for the same. So we started our drive and stopped on our way for a quick breakfast and headed to Thally. It was a nice drive and towards Thally the place had a perfect weather and it was great to drive. As we entered we saw there were quite a lot of Brick making plants and admired the greenery all around.

As we reached the place, we were in shock to see the rooms were dirty, toilets didn’t have door and it was disgusting. Literally we wanted to run away, but some of our friends joined later, so we had to wait for them, as they reached only late evening. Now we needed to distract ourselves from this place, so we decided step out for lunch. We found a Dhaba within a kilometre from the place that we stayed. We had a decent lunch and we came back.

The staffs were still not helpful as the place remained as dirty as ever. Since we knew there was no hope now, we just gave up on them and decided to enjoy the moments with the great friends around. So for some time, we killed it by walking around the property as it had lot of greenery around and for sometimes we tried playing badminton with the damaged cork as we didn’t have any other choice.

Later in the evening, we headed for the barbeque as the staffs arranged for it, thankfully that was great. As we started enjoying the food, the power went off and added to our disappointment, they didn’t even have a single candle or emergency light. We tried to use our mobile torch for some time and slowly everyone’s mobile’s battery was dying. Then we had to look for a place to sit until the midnight. Since none of the rooms were usable, we needed something to spread on the floor to sit it on it. Thankfully Sur had tarpaulin in the car, So that came in handy. We spread the tarpaulin and we all fitted ourselves in that. It was more than 3-4 hours and power still didn’t come back. Finally, Suresh had an idea, to use car lights. So he brought the car close to the hall, switched on the headlights and that helped us with some light.

We were just wishing that the power comes, at least to celebrate the new year. Thankfully just 15 minutes before midnight the light came as a ray of hope and we were overjoyed. So we wished everyone a happy new year, cut the cake and then started playing cards. We stayed till dawn as new card game taught by Vinodh was interesting. We also were waiting for the sun rise, to run away from this place as quick as possible.

Another interesting and disappointing thing was, this property had water fountains and swimming pool which looked beautiful in the night with the lights, but they were equally very dirty, filthy and full of algae. Now the staffs who were trying to add more water in the swimming pool forgot to turn off the pipe in the night, so the water started coming to the hall where we were sitting. This time Sumathi’s pet dog was unlucky as his bed became wet due to the overflow of water.

Another funny and scary incident was, there was one toilet which was near the hall for us to use for emergency, which had a rat in the room where this toilet was. Every time we needed to answer the nature call, we wished we didn’t see the rat and we tried our best to avoid going to the toilet itself.

As soon as the sun rose, we picked our things within few minutes and were ready to leave as we had not unpacked our bags in this place after seeing the situation here. So it made is easier to just get up and leave. Just before heading out, we had a quick photo session. As we were planning to leave there was a rat, getting drowned in the water fountain close to the entrance. Sandhya said it was the same rat which was in the room, even though we wished it was dead, we couldn’t see it getting drowned. She was too scared to touch the rat to help, nor Sur as he didn’t succeed as well. Finally I tried to save it with the dust pan which was lying around and am sure rat would have been overjoyed that we extended it’s life time before it was getting shortened. Then it was time to just get out from there.

After two hours of drive, finally it was a sigh of relief once we were back home. In spite of being the worst place, we had fun as we had an amazing group of friends. We knew all of us were annoyed and upset but we all together tried to forget that and created the best of memories for each other.

One hell of an adventurous New Year getaway came to an end, but it gave few biggest lessons for all of us.

  1. Whatever the shittiest situation is, you can still turn around and make it beautiful…
  2. It also matters most is whom you are with….
  3. Having good friends will make every negative emotions disappear.

We were glad that we had the best friends around and that’s all we needed to start the new year fresh and with best memories. Even though, this place was not even worth a penny but the FRIENDS made this new year every worth the visit with greatest of all memories.

Stay Safe…. Please get yourself vaccinated….

January 8, 2022

Mahabalipuram & Kanchipuram – Southern Treasures

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 10:02 pm

About Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is a town in Chengalpattu district in the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, best known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of 7th- and 8th-century Hindu Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram was one of two major port cities in the Pallva kingdom. The town was named after Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who was also known as Mahabali. Along with economic prosperity, it became the site of a group of royal monuments, many carved out of the living rock. These are dated to the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram is also known by other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. The term ‘Mahabalipuram’ means city of ‘great power’.

Day 1: This was impromptu trip as we were looking for places for a very short trip as our international trip had to be postponed due to my exams which never happened and got cancelled at the last minute. Since Sur had not travelled to Mahabalipuram, we finalized this place. We were supposed to start early morning but we were too tired to wake up so early. So we started a little late around early noon.

We stopped at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) few kms from Bangalore for a brunch, enjoyed the Ghee Dosa (Ghee Roast), had a nice filter coffee and we were energized to start the drive. It was a good drive. In the evening, in Kanchipuram we stopped for another Ghee Dosa and Tea before reaching our place of stay. By evening we entered Mahabalipuram. The city had an entry fee, which was something new. We paid and headed to Chariot Beach Resort as this was recommended by our travel partner as it’s the 2nd best property in this town, First being Radisson. Our first choice had been Radisson which had the best reviews, but they had a wedding group so the rooms were not available for the first night. So we settled for the 2nd best.

We reached the resort little after 6 PM and we were in a great shock about the way we were welcomed as it’s expected in a 4 star category. There was no welcome drink, not even a glass of water provided and there was no valet service. Sur had gone to park his car by himself. Once we checked in one of the staffs came and handed over a garland made of small sea shells in our hands. I was like what is happening at this hotel, is it a 4 star or we ended up paying a 4 star resort cost to a lodge. Then we were escorted to the room which was in the first floor. As we climbed down the stairs, I was surprised a 4 star property which had such a dirty stairs as if it had never been cleaned. We both were looking at each other and we were scared what else awaited in this place. Then we entered the room, it had dirty linens, toilets had all the fittings rusted, one of the toilet roll handles came off. The sofa cushions were so stained and dirty, that we didn’t feel of sitting in those. I was feeling disgusted and angry that we had booked this shitty place. It was too late to take it up with the management and I just didn’t want to stay in this place ever. We just decided will manage for the night and will check out first thing in the morning. I wonder, did people who reviewed this place online, did they do it a decade back or did the management deleted all the negative reviews so the property showed 2nd best in the guest reviews. Being in the travel industry myself where you are little more understanding and sensitive towards the hospitality professional this was the height of shame and an example for the worst hospitality and the dirtiest resort that I have ever stayed.

Since it was frustrating to stay in the room, we headed out for a walk. The property is huge and has lot of greenery and you also have beach, which kind of made us to forget the frustrations. We sat for some time near the beach, enjoyed the nice breeze under the moon light and then headed for dinner.

We went to the buffet, it had more than an hour for closing the buffets. Still half of the items were not refilled, some of them had the items name display but it was empty. staffs were coming and checking but no one refilled the few items that were there in the name of buffet. After looking at very few items, I went and asked how much were they charging the buffet and they quoted a 4 star price even though there was hardly any items. I settled for a soup, rice and fish curry while Sur being vegetarian didn’t have much option and he ended up having a spoon of masala peanuts which was part of the salad section. It was a clear waste of money for Sur. Since rice and fish curry were my comfort food, even though I didn’t have more options, I had no complaints as I enjoyed it which tasted great. In the coastal town, I am sure, they can’t mess up the fish curry and I was glad they didn’t mess up that. Then we were back to the room, which was a hell, we just didn’t want to think more about and spoil our sleep, so we just crashed for the night.

Day 2: Morning we woke up, thought will have an early breakfast so that we get to see the sightseeing before the sun scorches us. Unfortunately, breakfast was not ready at 7 PM which is the time communicated by the staff. They said, it will take another hour since the manager was absent. So we had to wait and we killed the time by walking around the garden which looked good.

Finally the breakfast was ready. We entered the buffet area and we see that the door to the entrance was so dirty, you also could see some finger prints, which we could notice now during the day. During covid times, when we need to be extra cautious and more hygienic, we were sure you could get covid just by visiting this place. If any health inspectors visited this place, this would have been shut by now.

Table didn’t have knife along with other cutlery, Sur was asking the staff for the knife to butter the toast and the staff was confused for a second. Then Sur has to tell him how will I butter the toast, then he got the knife. Also the serving plates had dust on it and my quarter plate had a very small dead cockroach on it. I just wiped off the plate as we had just given up on these folks at the property. Sur had a watermelon juice, bread and omelette and I settled for some idli and coffee and then headed out to the room.

As we were packing our stuffs we had another surprise, we just noticed about the bed linen which had a big stain (looked like a old blood stain), and it was so disgusting looking at it and that was ultimate that I couldn’t keep my stuffs here for another hour. It’s all the more frustrating, that we were spending more money to stay in a high end resorts keeping in mind the covid situation, so that more care is taken in terms of hygiene but here was the total opposite. I had to call my travel partner immediately, send them all the room pictures and asked them to book us to Radisson as this was not worth for a penny to continue to stay here. By then F&B manager had got the cake which was a surprise from Sur who had ordered it the previous night as it was my birthday. I was in no mood to celebrate anything as I just felt of throwing that cake in the dustbin. We showed the F&B manager the broken fittings, rusting in the room, dirty linen, dirty sofa cushions etc and feedback about the buffet. He apologized and informed us that he will make sure the service will be improved. Then we realized he didn’t bring the knife to cut the cake, since I myself was no mood for the cake, I just took a little to taste with the fork that was there and we returned back the cake. Thankfully cake which had a straw berry flavour, tasted good. Then we headed out for sightseeing. This town is very small and we realized most of the sightseeing are close by and can be completed in a day if you have a good guide.

We headed to Five Rathas (Pancha Rathas) which is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram which was hardly 10 minutes drive from the resort. We were looking for a guide since these are historic places and we needed a professional guide. Mr. Balakrishna (+91 9176858037) came voluntarily asking us if we needed a guide and we were glad we found one. In Mahabalipuram, there were no physical entry tickets, we had to go to the Tamil Nadu Tourism website to purchase tickets online and had to show the QR code to the security, it was followed everywhere, which was impressive. We entered Five Rathas complex, Mr. Bala guided us inside the complex to explain the history behind it. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture dating late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith of granite. Though sometimes mistakenly referred to as temples, the structures were never consecrated because they were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I (630-680 AD, he is also called Mamalla meaning great warrior). The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame. In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha. The first ratha that is located right by the entrance gate is Draupadi’s Ratha. It is shaped like a hut and is dedicated to the goddess Durga. Next comes Arjuna’s Ratha. This one has a small portico and carved pillar stones and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are no carvings inside this temple, but many are on the outside. Directly in front of Arjuna’s Ratha is the Nakula Sahadev Ratha. This ratha has some huge elephant sculptures included that are a huge draw for the Five Rathas. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra. The Bhima Ratha is huge. The pillars there do contain lion carvings even though the rathas as a whole is incomplete. The largest of the Five Rathas is the Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Ratha and it’s dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Then we headed to Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, this place has an Indias’s oldest lighthouse. It was built around 640 AD by Pallava king Mahendravarman I and it also has Olakaneeswara Temple which is dedicated to lord Siva. A granite roof was constructed atop the temple to keep the light from 1887 to 1900. Mahabalipuram was a busy port under the Pallavas as early as the 7th century AD. Bonfires were lit on rocks even at that time to aid the mariners. The British first used the temple atop the Mahishasuramardini cave as a light. When you climb the stairs to go to the cave, it has an amazing view of the Mahabalipuram town.

There is a modern lighthouse which is adjacent to the old one and is functional.  This was commissioned here in 1887. The lighthouse, with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone, became fully functional in 1904. There were also enough monkeys around the complex and as we exited out, we saw lot of stone carvings and we stopped at Manjula Art Gallery. The gentleman there who owns the gallery is also a professor there teaching Sculpture in Government College of Architecture and Sculpture. So he was explaining the stone carvings and sculptures done by interns and experts like him. There was a beautiful cobra carving done on a black stone, but we didn’t have space to buy that and that was a carving which doesn’t get out of my memory as it was so beautiful. In and around Mahabalipuram, you will see lot of stone sculptures from small ones to huge ones and that itself is a sight to behold and I thanked the gentleman for keeping the tradition alive and teaching the younger generation the old craft which is slowly dying out. We also saw few students sitting outside who were working on and we wished them luck. We picked out few souvenirs and stepped out from there.

We headed next to Arjuna’s penance. It is an enormous rock-cut relief, one of the largest in the whole world. It is also known by the name Descent of the Ganges, it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site. The sculptures carved in the natural fissure that divides the cliff not only depict a cosmic event of Ganges descending to earth (a popular narration and depiction in the iconography of Shiva) at the command of Shiva but also shows the event being watched by scores of gods, goddesses, mythical figurines of Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also wild and domestic animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene. The total number of carvings are probably about 146.

Another prominent scene is that of a temple to the right of the cleft at the lower end of the panel. This temple is simple and small and has Vishnu as the deity carved within it. The temple roof is patterned on the style of Draupadi Ratha. A sage is seen sitting in front of the temple giving sermons to his students. In the seat below this scene, a lion in his den and below this a pair of deer are carved. A tortoise is shown next to the temple indicative of water in the near vicinity.

Then we headed to Krishna’s Butterball (Vaan Irai Kal meaning Stone of Sky God) which is a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE) also made a failed attempt to move the boulder. The Indian Tamil king Raja Raja Chola (985 and 1014 CE) was inspired by the balance of this massive stone boulder and it led to the creation of never-falling mud dolls called Tanjavur Bommai (Tanjore Dolls)  which having a half-spherical base tends to come back to its original position every time one tries to make it fall. In 1908, then-governor of the city Arthur Havelock made an attempt to use seven elephants to move the boulder from its position due to safety concerns, but with no success. This boulder seems to float and barely stand on a slope on top of 1.2-meter (4 ft) high plinth which is a naturally eroded hill and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years. There is also a small temple enroute this boulder. We sought God’s blessings and headed out.

We headed to Shore temple (c. 725 AD) which is a complex of temples and shrines that overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. It is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India. Marco Polo and the European merchants who came to Asia after him called the site Seven Pagodas. One of these is believed to be the Shore Temple and other six temples remain submerged in the sea. The tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. The shore temple is one of the most popular temples in Mahabalipuram. Excavations in early 2000s have revealed new structures here under the sand. The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva, as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is dedicated to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The temple walls are surrounded by sculptures of Nandi.

Then we had to head back to the hotel to check out, by then our travel partner had escalated the issues to the management with the resort and they upgraded to the pool view cottage and they insisted they will ensure we get a better service. So we decided to stay and moved our things to the cottage and then we headed out for lunch. My favourite place for food was The Moonrakers, which is the best place for Seafood, this was the only reason I used to travel with friends to come to Mahabalipuram a decade back while working in Chennai. Since Sur cannot take the smell of sea food and smoke, I had to skip it which was a greatest disappointment. So we thought to try the lunch at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay. We had an amazing time and now we know why this is one of the best resorts in Mahabalipuram for their excellent hospitality and service.

Then we headed back to our sightseeing to Tiger Cave, which is a rock-cut Hindu temple complex. It gets its name from the carvings of tiger heads on the mouth of a cave which forms a part of the complex and it also has a temple. We admired the carvings and then said a prayer and headed out to The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, which is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station. Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday so we had to skip that.

Then we headed to Dakshina Chitra (Picture of the South). It is a living-history museum dedicated to South Indian heritage and culture. It opened to the public on 14 December 1996, the museum was founded and is being managed by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The MCF was established in 1984. Deborah Thiagarajan, an Indian art historian of American origin, governs the museum. The museum is built on 10 acres of land. Developed as a heritage village, Dakshina Chitra has an array of displays and relocated originals of dwellings depicting the life pattern of people in the states of southern India. The exhibits portray the architecture, art, folk performing-arts and craft of South Indian traditions. The amenities include a research unit, crafts bazaar, playground, an area to hold religious functions, stone workshop, and souvenir kiosks. This needs an entire day to go through each exhibits, since we reached an hour before closing, we had to quickly go through the place, picked up few local souvenirs and then headed out as everyone was shutting down the place.

Then we headed to India Sea Shell Museum which is open till 8 PM. Mr. Raja Mohammed, the brain behind this museum, devoted 33 years of his life and his hard earned money in accumulating sea shells from small to large and from the ordinary to the exotic and established this exclusive sea shell museum. It is the largest seashell museum in India and It houses over 40,000 specimens of rare and unique seashells and Minerals which offers visitors an amazing visual treat and a unique perspective on conchology. His idea was to unearth marine treasure of the world and share the knowledge so gained with the rest of the world. Hats off to him for his efforts and huge respect for his hard work and passion.

Then we headed back to the resort, this pool view cottage looked good, ordered room service for the dinner and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, went for the breakfast. This time the staffs were extra hospitable as the F&B manager was there personally to make sure we got the better service. I ordered for Poori and Sur had a bread and Omelette. Finally ended the meal with nice filter coffee which was good and then headed to Kanchipuram which was a close by town famous for its temples. Our guide had recommended it the day before as we had an extra day for sightseeing. Kanchipuram, also known as Kanchi. It also called a city of Thousand Temples, is an ancient city in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Considered a holy pilgrimage site by Hindus, it is home to many temples. Our guide wanted us to visit the 5 famous temples here as that would take a whole day by itself.

First we headed to Varadharaja Perumal Temple which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu completed in 3rd Century. It is one of the Divya Desams, the 108 temples of Vishnu believed to have been visited by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars. This is one of the most sacred places for Vaishnavites. It seems to have taken almost 65 years to bult this.

This temple is also called Golden lizard temple. As per one of the legends, the disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become lizards. They resided in the temple and were relieved of the curse by the divine grace of Vishnu. Two gold-silver plated lizards are seen in the ceiling of the temple, which has the auspicious power to lift all the lizard related doshas (curses) or any other doshas, as curses can cause negative impacts in one’s life. So on touching these lizards from head to tail, it is believed that all the doshas that you might have will be relieved.

As we entered the temple complex, On the left hand side, there is 100 pillars Mandapam which has sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. It had taken almost 32 years to build, and each pillar is a masterpiece of art. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single tone. It is a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture.

You also have a temple tank which is called Anantha Theertham in the temple complex. Atthi Varadaraja Perumal (Atthi Varadar), the 10 feet deity image, is made of the Atthi or the fig tree, and is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank which is called the Anantha Sarovaram/ Anantha Saras. It is brought out to worship for 48 days after every 40 years. It is worshipped in the Vasantha Mantapam, which located in the south-west corner of the temple. The Aththi Varadar is worshipped in sleeping posture (Kidantha Thirukkolam or Sayana Kolam) in the first 24 days, followed by standing position (Nindra Thirukkolam) in the next 24 days. The icon, which was the presiding deity earlier, was hidden in the 16th century to protect from invaders; however replaced by the current stone central icon when the wooden icon could not be traced. In 1709, the icon was accidentally rediscovered when the temple tank was emptied; thereafter the tradition of worshipping the deity once in 40 years was established.

Our 2nd temple visit to Ekambareswarar (Lord of Mango Tree) Temple (Ekambaranathar Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Shiva. This vast temple is one of the most ancient in India having been in existence since at least 600 CE and was built during Chola Dynasty. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas (Five Shiva Temples), and specifically the element of earth, or Prithvi. Shiva is worshiped as Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar, and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Prithvi lingam. It has 108 lingas in different sizes. The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 192 ft, making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.

It also has the Sacred mango tree which is 3500 years old where Parvati, consort of Shiva did penance under this tree. At present the main trunk had been destroyed due to flood and after that four branches started growing from within. The mango fruit from each branch seems to taste different and devotees are not supposed to pluck the fruit or leaves from this tree unless it has fallen down as the tree is considered very sacred. Locals believe that if anyone whose marriage is not getting materialised or any couple who are childless, when they come and pray to this temple, their wish is granted within few months.

The temple celebrates dozens of festivals throughout the year. The most important of these is the Panguni (or Phalguni in devanagari) Brahmotsavam that lasts ten days during the Tamil month of Panguni, between March and April, concluding with the celebration of Kalyanotsavam. The festival is the most popular of all the temple festivals in Kanchipuram. On the concluding day, Kalyanotsavam (marriage festival) is held when the marriage of Ekambareswarar is enacted. During the day, many unmarried people get married irrespective of their caste along with the deity. The event is witnessed by thousands of people every year.

Our 3rd stop was The Kailasanathar temple (Lord of Kailasha), also referred to as the Kailasanatha temple, is a Pallava-era historic Hindu temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is one of the oldest surviving monuments in Kanchipuram and also is in one of three “Kanchis”, the Shiva Kanchi; the other two Kanchis are, Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.

Temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities under Hinduism. The temple was built around 700 CE with additions in the 8th- and restorations in later centuries. It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II (Rajasimha), and who is also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the gopuram (tower). According to local belief, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible. It is believed that Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE) visited the temple and drew inspiration from this temple to build the Brihadeeswara Temple. Unlike most other Dravidian temples, the Kailasanathar temple is constructed out of sand stone and slowly it is eroding which is sad. There is also small meditation cells around the inner complex walls which was used by Alwars to sit and meditate.

By then it was almost lunch time and temple shuts and opens only by 4 PM, hence we headed for the lunch. The guide recommended Star Biryani, I was not very eager to visit this place as this chain is known for Ambur Biryani which had been a disappointment when we visited Ambur. But guide insisted that this is the best place for lunch in Kanchipuram where we get the Non-Veg food so we went in. It was a great surprise as the food was too good. Even Sur enjoyed his Butter Naan and mushroom gravy. Our guide and myself enjoyed the chicken and mutton biryani with Mutton Sukka and fish fry. The Ambur biryani is usually very bland, so it had an accompaniment of brinjal (eggplant) semi gravy with raita (curd, onion and green chilies). That combo was super delicious and I overate. After a heavy lunch we needed to kill the time, so we had asked our guide to recommend good place to purchase Kanchivaram Silk Sarees as this place is famous for that as well.

These sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk thread. The pure mulberry silk and the Zari used in the making of Kanchipuram saris comes from South India. The mulberry silk is procured from Karnataka and woven in Kanchipuram. In a genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saris tear, the border will not detach. That differentiates the kanchivaram silk saris from the others. Here the Saris are distinguished by their wide contrast borders. Temple borders, checks, stripes and floral (buttas) are traditional designs found on a Kanchipuram saris. The patterns and designs in the kanchipuram saris were inspired with images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals. These are saris with rich woven mundhi showing paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kanchipuram saris vary widely in cost depending upon the intricacy of work, colours, pattern, material used like zari (gold thread) etc. The silk is also known for its quality and craftsmanship, which has helped earn its name and its usually worn during special occasions like marriage etc…

Hand woven ones takes time as one saree takes 15 days to complete by hand. Due to huge demand, for commercial purposes its also  machine woven now. Since we wanted to get a hand woven one, our guide took us to Sri Varadha Silk House, they had hand weavers in house and the gentleman showed us where people were hand weaving the sarees. We picked up few and left for the next temple visit.

Our 4th temple stop was The Kamakshi Amman Temple which is an ancient Hindu Temple dedicated to Kamakshi, the ultimate Goddess Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari. The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the Akilandeswari temple in Thiruvanaikaval near Tiruchirappalli and this Kamakshi temple are the important centers of worship of Goddess, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Temple was most probably built by Karikala Cholan and it took almost 65 years to build this temple.

The Image of the main Deity, Kamakshi, is seated in a majestic Padmasana, a yogic posture signifying peace and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose. Goddess holds a sugarcane bow and bunch of five flowers in the lower two of her arms and has a pasha (lasso), an ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. There is also a parrot perched near the flower bunch. There are no other Goddess temples in the city of Kanchipuram, apart from this temple, which is unusual in a traditional city that has hundreds of traditional temples. Shakti Peethas are divine temples of Adiparashakti. The cause of the presence of Devi’s presence is due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi. The naval part of Sati Devi’s body is believed to have fallen here. There are 51 Shakti Peeth linking to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Our 5th temple stop was The Vaikunta Perumal Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. Vishnu is worshipped as Vaikunta Perumal and his consort Lakshmi as Anandavalli. The temple was originally built by Pallavan, with later additions from the Chola. The temple is known for the inscriptions indicating the democratic practises of electing representatives for the village bodies during the regime of Parantaka Chola (907–955 CE).

Vaikunta Perumal temple covers an area of about 0.5 acres. The sanctum houses the image of Vaikuntanatha in seated posture with Sridevi and Bhudevi on his either sides. There is an assembly hall 2,500 sq ft. The roof of the temple rests on the walls and there are no pillars. The inscriptions from the Chola period are made on the walls of the assembly hall. Kulothunga Chola is believed to have built the roof of the assembly hall that made it an assembly hall along with the temple. As per another view, the entire structure was originally an assembly hall and it collapsed during the regime of Kulothunga Chola. He rebuilt the assembly hall along with the temple housing the image of Vaikunta Perumal in it. Some of the inscriptions also read that the village was planned as per Agamic texts with the assembly hall in the centre of the village and the temples of the village built around it. The inscriptions of the temple indicate that the villagers requested the rulers to allow them to choose their own representatives. Parantaka Chola readily acceded to their demand and instituted the Kudavolai system (ballot) of democratically electing the village representatives. The rules of electing and the eligibility of the representatives and voters are described in detail in the inscriptions. The villagers assembled at a common place and wrote the name of their preferred representative in a palm leaf and put it in a pot. kudam in Tamil is pot and volai means the palm leaf, leading to the name of Kudavolai. Only people in pilgrimage or senescence were exempt from voting. The eligibility of the candidates were prescribed with minimum age, educational qualifications and property. There were strictures for the candidates should have built their house in their own property, should not be part of any other committee and be between 35 and 70 years of age. The voters had the right to call back their candidate for failing their duties. The inscriptions also specified strict punishments for the corrupt like disallowing their next seven generations to contest if found guilty. The institution was dismembered along with the ending of Chola regime during the 13th century. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was inspired by the system after paying a visit to the temple and insisted on improving Panchayat Raj, India’s system of local bodies in villages. This temple is also a place where people come to pray for long life.

That came to the end of our temple visits in Kanchipuram, I asked for a place to stop for a nice tea and we ended up back in the Sri Varadha Silk House, as they volunteered that they will make the best tea, so went again, picked up some samosas near by and we all along with their staffs and us enjoyed the tea. Then I found some sarees similar to Kerala saris which is made by the local women from a nearby town in Elampillai and they were selling it. We picked up one and thanked the staffs and we left.  We reached the resort, ordered some food and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We got up late and it was almost close to the buffet closing time for breakfast. So as usual most of the items were empty, somehow they got some pooris which I requested for, but it was cold and over fried, probably the left overs from their kitchen. Sur didn’t feel of having anything for breakfast. We checked out from the resort finally. On the way for lunch we stopped at Junior Kuppana, Sur settled for Ghee dosa with mushroom gravy and I ordered Non-Veg thali. It was great. We then headed back home with great memories and lots of lots of blessings from temple visits….

Meghalaya & Assam – The North-Eastern Beauties

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 7:21 am

About Meghalaya & Assam:

Meghalaya & Assam are states in north-eastern India. Meghalaya (It means abode of the clouds) was formed by carving out two districts from the state of Assam: the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and the Garo Hills. This is also known as Scotland of the East.

Assam is known for Assam tea and Assam silk. The state was the first site for oil drilling in Asia. Assam is home to one-horned Indian rhinoceros, along with the wild water buffalo, pygmy hog, tiger and various species of Asiatic birds, and provides one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant.

Day 1: We six of us (Ayush, Akanksha, Shahrukh, Himanshi, Sur & myself) went for the trip organized by Santhosh from Exotic Expeditions. This was my first trip to North East which I have been wanting to do for a long time and I was glad we could do that. So we began our flight journey to Guwahati.  We reached the airport, the local officials checked for our vaccination certificate and then we were allowed to exit the airport. We met Santhosh near exit gate who was waiting to receive us and we met the other four members (Karthik, Denesh, Leena and Deepti) who joined this trip along with us.

We got in two different cars and started our journey to Meghalaya. We were hungry by now and we didn’t find any decent place for lunch. We were too hungry to wait, so we just stopped in one of the roadside restaurants Tit Bit Hotel in Jorabat for a quick lunch. Vegetarian Thali (set meal) was available which had rice, dal and potato along with Non-Veg items like Chicken and Fish. Some of them ordered curd, we ended up getting a sweet curd which was equally sour so no one enjoyed that and we realized that’s how the curd was served here, so people stopped ordering post that. The food was average and then we headed to Meghalaya.

We reached the Meghalaya check post. We had to get the pass from the officials there before we could enter the state. We wasted a bit of time there since we were not informed about this process. One by one we had to install Meghalaya Tourism App, upload the Aadhar copy (front and back), fill up the stay details in Meghalaya, Vehicle Details, Number of days that we are staying here in Meghalaya and the vaccination certificate. Once we submitted, we had to show the acknowledgement, then they verified and then we were handed the pass for each vehicle.

On the way we stopped at Umiam lake which is a manmade lake which had an amazing view. By now it was getting darker and cold. So we just spent half an hour and then drove to our homestay Latei Ville Inn, Shillong. The weather here confused us. We thought it was around 9 PM when we reached the property, but when we saw the time it was only 6 PM. Since we had some time to explore the city, we freshened up and headed out for drinks and dinner.

So we went to Tango RestoBar and Lounge which is in the basement of OB Shopping Mall, Shillong. This place had good drinks and food and we had an amazing time. We spent quite some time and then we left around late night, reached the homestay and then crashed for the night.

Day 2: Woke up to the beautiful sight of orange trees with the fruits, had our breakfast which was bread and omelette. We got to know there is no separate breakfast items as people eat the same meal of rice and pork/chicken curry for breakfast as well. For guests, they ended up serving bread and omelette for breakfast in most of the places. We had our breakfast, checked out and drove again. On the way our first stop was Elephant Falls. This is 2 tier waterfall and on the way there was a small cave sized area where we could take some pictures. While we returned back, we had a place to wear Khasi tribe costume for photographs. Sur and myself immediately went and changed and got the lovely pictures, after that Ayush and Shahrukh joined us. After taking those beautiful pictures and a hot cup of tea there, we started our drive back to Sohra (Cherrapunji). Enroute we saw a place for bunjee jumping, some of them wanted to do that and they headed to do it and we chilled in a small local shop and we enjoyed the soupy maggi noodles and omelettes. However they had to return without doing it as there was a long queue. SInce we were delayed already, we had to skip that and started back our journey.

Then we stopped for Arwah Caves. This is a Sunken chamber leading to caverns known for limestone walls with fossils of fish & crustaceans. We had to walk a kilometre or two to reach there. We went and enjoyed the caves and then rushed back as it was getting foggy and cold. Then we started back our journey, we then stopped for lunch. Had our usual thalis for a meal as that’s the staple food there and then we were supposed to go to Noahkali waterfalls but it was too foggy to see anything so we decided to do that later. Then we stopped near the local market where we saw a huge football statue, which we got to know later, that was used as on observatory place and not allowed for visitors.

Then headed to Sohra Plaza for our stay for the next 2 nights. We checked in and Sur and myself got a separate cottage which was little outside the property, so we used that extra space in the room to catch up with the group to chill out. Then we had ordered for our dinner. Everything was great and the staffs were so friendly and nice. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up after a good rest, it was way too cold here as this town is in high altitude. For a change we had Aloo Paratha along with bread and omelette for breakfast. This was the day of trek and we headed to see the living root bridges which this town is famous for. We had an hour of drive before we reached the place to start our trek, then we realized the weather was pleasant and then we started our trek to the living root bridge which are made from rubber trees. Be prepared to climb down 2000 stairs for the same. All of our knees started wobbling after some time, but its good to not to stop midway as there is a chance that you can fall down so just keep going until you see a little plain terrain, so that your legs gets stabilised a little. While we were climbing down the stairs with much difficult we also saw people climbing down with cement bags, children carrying groceries etc. Respect to the local people there, as this is how the hard life they have to ensure everyday, they have to climb this place multiple times in order to get the essential items. We stopped at the Single root bridge, respect and full credit to the locals because of whom we could see this. We also saw closeby, locals are making another single root bridge, which is yet to get ready for us to walk as it’s new.

Then we headed to Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge” is located in the village of Nongriat. For which another 1500 stairs to be taken up and down. Sur decided not to come as his knees were too shaky to take those stairs again. We quickly stopped there in a local shop for fresh lime juice which was very tangy. So Sur took a break there and we headed to the double decker. On the way we crossed a bridge and saw the blue lagoon. It was a sight to behold to see the blue colored water. Then we started our climb to the village. On the way, our guide Richard and myself were in the front who happened to see the black cobra. As per the guide, it was on the stairs and he just pushed it with the chappal that he was wearing. Luckily it ended up on the right side where there was a rock and I had that beautiful sight of that cobra. Thankfully it was small but it looked like a black stone statue with a drawing of the hood as the head was turned opposite to us so we saw the beautiful hood. I had never seen one in person and guide asked us to wait till it leaves as it’s very poisonous. Once we lost sight of the black cobra, we started climbing to the village for the double decker root bridge. There were lot of children around and their beautiful smiles and the hard life of the locals made us forget all the pain that we endured to reach those 3500 steps. We then enjoyed the double decker root bridge and there was a small fall nearby, so we sat for the natural fish pedicure as there were lot of fish and tadpoles. Then we had a quick lunch of Maggi and Omelette. Further there was also rainbow falls. But we didn’t have time to do that as we were already late and we needed to climb those 3500 steps back which looked like a marathon. We headed out to start the hard climb back and I didn’t have much energy left. Karthik was so kind enough to give his bamboo stick to help me climb and Ayush lend his hand to carry my backpack. Then we reached the half way near the single root bridge, met Sur and had a short break and then with much difficult climbed the remaining 2000 stairs back, this time Sur was there to help me around, even though his knee also was giving him trouble. Thankfully climbing up didn’t pose much problem for him so he was there as usual the rock support to pull me through. Almost when we reached back, we stopped for a quick break for another tangy local fresh lime juice and I also ended up seeing a cup cake with vanilla cream inside. It was really good and something new, got for everyone, enjoyed that and reached back to the parking lot to head back to Sohra Plaza. I have no idea how I climbed up and down those 7000 steps, but my love and respect to the people who live there and for them this is way of life. Looking at the way how hard their life is we forgot the pain that we had to climb those 7000 steps.

Then we headed back to the hotel. We reached the hotel, had tea and snacks and then some of the friends decided to light the bonfire inside the cottage as there was chimney, but they didn’t realize the opening was closed. By the time I informed there was chimney, the smoke already had engulfed the room. We all had a laugh, then we doused the fire. After few minutes the smoke disappeared. Then we headed for our delicious dinner and just crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had a quick breakfast and we headed to watch the Nohkalikai Falls which is the tallest plunge waterfall in India. They also had good places for shopping and we picked up the pickled Bhut Jolokia also known as Ghost Pepper which is the hottest chilli peppers in the world.

We picked up some of the local souvenirs and then headed to the Mawlynnong which is cleanest village in Asia. We stopped there for quick lunch and walked around the village to admire the locals efforts to keep the village clean and then we headed to Dawki and drove close the Indian-Bangladesh Border.

Since it was too late to go to the border as they have time limit we decided to go the next day and headed to Umngot River, which is the cleanest rivers in India. This river flows through Bangladesh and boat in the river looks it’s floating on glass crystal surface. We went for a 45 minutes boat ride, enjoyed every minute of it and also we saw that here, people didn’t need refrigerator to cool the soft drinks, it was kept near the river bank, for a natural coolant. Then we ended up snacking on dried Indian Jujube fruit which the vendors were selling there and then headed to our tent for the night.

Our guide forgot to let us know that car cannot reach the place where the tents were as it was close to the same river, so we had to carry all our luggage in the night in the suspension bridge and we were really not happy about. It made it worse, since it was late night and we couldn’t see anything as it was dark, somehow we managed to go to the river bank where our tents were. We had a delicious dinner of rice, dal, chicken curry, okra, chilli chutney and potato fries. We enjoyed the food and crashed for the night.

Day 5: I had to get up early in the morning for a cold water bath before others wake up as we didn’t have separate rooms to freshen up. We had a quick breakfast, we walked back to the parking lot by crossing the suspension bridge. Now we were enjoying the view as the river below the bridge was beautiful and the view was too good.

Then we headed to the Bangladesh border area in Dawki, we went to the border area, took some pictures and then started our drive back to Kaziranga which was a long drive. On the way we stopped for late lunch in Santoshi Dhaba in Nagaon and we enjoyed the Thalis with chicken, pork, duck and Small Fish Fry (Xaru Maas Vaji).

After a long drive of more than 10 hours we reached the Kodom Bari Retreat, Kaziranga, which was our stay for the night. This property looked amazing, and the rooms had a glamping set up. We freshened up and had our dinner. Unfortunately, the non-veg dishes were let down specially the Pork dishes and we finally managed with chicken which no one could go wrong. Then we enjoyed the bonfire for some time and crashed for the night.

Day 6: Woke up to the beautiful morning with a great garden around. Had a change of breakfast here, they had Puri/Poori and whole yellow peas curry which was good, Sur ordered bread and omelette as he didn’t want to eat Poori. Then we walked around nearby temple and spent some time around watching the dogs, goats, turkeys and Guinea Fowls.

Then in the afternoon we went for the Kaziranga National Park for the safari. That was amazing 2 hours of trip as they had picked us up from the hotel. We saw the famous one horned rhinos, elephants, swamp deer, hog deer, sambar deer, Indian Muntjac and water buffaloes. Also there were lot of birds like black necked stork, White-fronted Goose and Asian Openbill stork. Most of the park was filled with Tall elephant grass which made a great place for the animals movement and also lots of Indian jujube trees with fruits. I wished it was outside the park, so we could have enjoyed few from the tree.

After enjoying the great safari we stopped for lunch at Maihang Ethnic Restaurant in Kohora, Kaziranga. We ordered our usual thali and we did see the menu card of pigeon meat, however since we were late, we couldn’t get it, so we settled the usual pork, chicken, and fish. There was a special Assamese fish curry with the tangy taste (Masor Tenga) which was really good.

Then we headed in the evening for the cultural program in Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park.  This is a must visit as this promotes various dance forms of North Eastern states. For example, there was Bihu dance which is a folk dance of Assam (Harvest dance), Cheraw Dance (Bamboo dance) – which is a folk dance of Mizoram, Baguramba Dance which is a folk dance of Bodo tribe in Assam, Chalo Dance (Harvest dance) which is a folk dance from Arunachal Pradesh and there were other dance forms too which was from different tribes of North East. Most of us from other parts of India are ignorant of their culture, hence I would recommend this place and this is a must visit. My respect and love to all the people who are ensuring to retain the local culture and all my wishes for their efforts to ensure we get to see these and starts appreciating the beautiful cultures of our own brethren from this part of our country. After enjoying the lovely performances we left for the hotel, had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After a good day rest and a quick breakfast it was time to check out. We started our journey and on the way we stopped at Maha Mrityunjay Temple. It has world’s largest 126 foot tall Shivalinga which is a newly constructed temple. Then we went to Santoshi Dhaba again for the lunch and then drove to Guwahati.

We reached Riverview Guest House in the night, the property was disappointing, not well maintained, bedcovers and blankets were so dirty, we didn’t even feel of sleeping there. Since it’s just one night somehow we just managed. We had some time in the evening, so we stepped out and went to Fancy bazaar. This is a good place for shopping and street food. Since we reached late, we just had chicken roll and pani puri. It was good and then we returned to the guest house. We waited for the midnight to wish Himanshi birthday and then we crashed for the night.

Day 8: We woke up and we were served with the usual bread and omelette. Then we headed off to the Guwahati airport. We checked in and then went to the lounge, it was disappointing to go there as it was not worth, so we just picked up a water bottle and then went to the gate for boarding. We flew back to Bangalore with great memories and looking forward to explore other North Eastern states as well.

Few things to note: Since these are in the hilly terrain, be prepared to sit in the car longer than your sightseeing hours and if you have motion sickness be prepared to carry the medicines. These are simple people, living a hard life and they do not have the luxury that we enjoy in the big cities. The stable food is Thali which has rice, dal, potato dry and non-vegetarians can enjoy the pork, chicken and fish. Meghalaya is known for pork dishes and Assam for fish. Local people eat the same rice meal for breakfast as well. So for guests they serve bread and omelette. Maggi also is available in most of the small shops. If you are lucky you might find some restaurants which might serve roti etc but most of the smaller places may not find. So be patient and adapt to the local situation so that you don’t stay cranky and make others in the group miserable too.

This trip was an eye-opener that we take lot of things and luxuries in the city for granted after seeing such hard life of locals in the hills. I fell in love with their simplicity, happy faces and simple living that just made me fall in love all over again to North East.

See you soon in another North Eastern State….Please stay Safe……….

October 10, 2021

Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) – The Forgotten Town

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 9:49 am

About Tranquebar:

Tharangambadi, formerly Tranquebar, is a town in the Mayiladuthurai district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on the Coromandel Coast. Tranquebar was established on 19 November 1620 as the first Danish trading post in India.

I came across an article which brought to our attention of a town named Tranquebar, now it’s known as Tharangambadi (means – Place of the singing waves), which was a Danish colony for sometime. We have always heard about Pondicherry which had French influence. The sad part of it was not many knew about this small town and when I enquire, most of them were never heard of this town. Sur and myself decided to explore least known places of our country, visit and then write about so that others also can travel to such places. So we were glad that we found this town. Multiple times, we were trying to book for a weekend trip. Unfortunately the only good hotel recommended was The Bungalow on the beach – 17th Century, managed by Neemrana Hotels and it was always fully booked. So once Covid situation improved and we were fully vaccinated and ready to explore, first thing came in our mind was Tranquebar and thankfully this time it was available. We also had Kiran and kids (Kaavya and Vihaan) joined with us that made all the more fun.

Day 1: As usual we started our trip by 5 AM to avoid the traffic. On the way we stopped for a breakfast in Aananda Bhavan Delight which is in Bangalore Salem Highway, Omalur, Tamil Nadu. We had stopped earlier at the same place for lunch and had their vegetarian meals which was really great but the breakfast didn’t meet the same expectations of that but was ok. They also have cleaner rest rooms which makes it the ideal stop for a break.

Then we headed straight to the property, as we enter the main street of Tranquebar, there is a Town Gate and then we reached The Bungalow on the beach after 8 hours of drive. We had to wait for an hour since the rooms were still not available as the guests were just checking out. So they gave us a room on the ground floor to freshen up. So we decided to do the lunch first instead of waiting for an hour. For the lunch table was set in an open area near the garden. The property seems to be in an ideal location as all the sightseeings are around the property and also it’s very close to the beach. Only concern was there were too many house flies and it was a little annoying for all of us while having food. We ordered local Tranquebar fish curry, rice and white penne pasta. The fish curry all that I could taste was just the tamarind, rice was very sticky and pasta was just average. Everything went wrong with the food. Finally Kiran asked for curd and somehow they managed to eat a little curd rice. So we didn’t have the best of first impression and we were like how are we going to spend 3 nights here.

Post lunch, our rooms were ready and we headed to our rooms Prince Christian and Princess Louise. It’s a heritage property but not well maintained. The beds were shaky and the bed bars were lose etc. The staffs tried to fix it but it was not at all worth for the money the property charges for. Since not many properties around, didn’t have much choice as well. We freshened up and took siesta since all of us were tired after a long drive. We woke up in the evening, ordered for tea, coffee and snacks. They had French Fries and Onion Pakoda and it was good. We were little scared to try dinner after a disastrous lunch, so we decided to skip dinner as we didn’t have energy to venture out and look for options outside the property. Kids managed with the snacks that we carried for our journey for their dinner and then we crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a good rest we went for breakfast. They had bread, omelettes, dosa and Upma. So we ordered bread, masala omelette and Dosa. Had a cup of coffee and then we headed for our sightseeing. We thought we can see the local sightseeings later as they were all close by and decided to visit the nearby places which are worth visiting. So we chose to travel to Velankanni which was just 1.5 hours from Tranquebar. We enjoyed the lush green fields, palm trees, coconut trees and cotton fields on the way. We reached the Velankanni Church, which is the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Sanctuary of Our Lady of Velankanni, is a Marian shrine located at the small town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, South India. The Roman Catholic Latin Rite Basilica is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health. Devotion to Our Lady of Good Health of Velankanni can be traced back to the mid-16th century, and is attributed to three separate miracles at the sites surrounding the Basilica: The apparition of Blessed Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the healing of a handicapped buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a deadly sea storm. Initially, only a simple and modest chapel was built by the Portuguese sailors who washed ashore safely. More than 500 years later, the nine-day festival and celebration is still observed and draws nearly 5 million pilgrims each year. The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni is also known as “the Lourdes of the East” because it is one of the most frequented pilgrimage centres in India.

Since this is based near coastal area, the weather was really humid and hot. As usual except myself no one was enjoying the weather. This is a huge area with multiple chapels, churches and grottos. We went to the chapel which is built on the spot, where the handicapped buttermilk boy was healed, and then visited the adjacent grotto, old main church and then headed to the church which was built in memory of the golden jubilee of the old church. Then we stopped for an ice cream break and then headed to the main church which was under construction and it was on the opposite direction. Be prepared to walk in the scorching sun, but visiting the church was surreal and divine. Then we headed to main church, the ground floor was under renovation and the mass (prayer) was going on in the first floor. So we couldn’t go inside, we stood outside, prayed and left the place. There is also a beach close by but others didn’t have my enthusiasm to visit due to the heat as they all wanted to get inside the AC car. So we walked back to the parking lot, got in the car and drove back to the hotel. Since none of us were hungry, we skipped lunch, had siesta and then woke up to order some tea, coffee and snacks. They had sandwiches which had both veg and chicken option. The chicken sandwich was really yummy and we enjoyed the snacks and then went around actually to see the Tranquebar sightseeings that were closeby.

We went to see the Danish fort which was right across the hotel that we stayed in. We had to rush since it closes by 5:30 PM. Fort Dansborg called Danish Fort, is a Danish fort located in the shores of Bay of Bengal in Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Fort Dansborg was built in the land ceded by Thanjavur king Ragunatha Nayak in an agreement with Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde in 1620 and acted as the base for Danish settlement in the region during the early 17th century. The fort is the second largest Danish fort after Kronborg. The fort was sold to the British in 1845 and along with Tranquebar, the fort lost its significance as the town was not an active trading post for the British. After India’s independence in 1947, the fort was used as an inspection bungalow by the state government till 1978 when the Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu took over the control of the fort. The fort is now used as a museum where the major artifacts of the fort and the Danish empire are displayed.

There is also The Zieganbalg Museum Complex which is a private museum opposite to the fort, however it was closed since we got delayed. This seems to have many interesting articles, the most important one being the first printing press of India. The first book, a bible printed in Tamil was printed here.

Then there was The Masilamani Nathar Temple which is an interesting piece of architecture, the Masilamani Nathar temple is a mix of Chinese and Tamil architecture, built possibly to attract Chinese traders to Tranquebar and it is 700 years old. This was closed when we reached there, so went to another new temple closeby and we were right on time for the evening Aarti and we took the blessings and came back.

At the entrance of Town Gate we also The New Jersalem Church which houses tombs date back to 18th Century. We didn’t stop over as we were crossing this multiple times and also there is another church named Zion Church, which was the first protestant church in Tranquebar and one of the oldest as well.

Then we headed to the beach, The beach in Tharangambadi has been identified as the one of the most Ozone-rich beaches in the world by various studies conducted by the Danes in 1960s and Indian researchers. The ozone content in air is said to be high between April and July. The presence of rich Ozone (O3) content helps in absorbing the hazardous ultraviolet rays coming from the sun which remains an unknown fact for most of the locals. We cannot get into the water since this area is dangerous due to high tides and there were lot of cops to watch over to ensure people comply with the instructions for their own safety.

After enjoying the beach, as we were returning back, we saw a local vendor selling Sukku Coffee (pronounced locally as Chukku which means dry ginger) or Sukku Malli Coffee (Malli means coriander seeds), but there is no caffeine in it and not sure why is it called coffee, but this dry ginger concoction is one of the best home remedies used commonly in Tamil households. It aids in digestion, helps reduce cough, cold and headache and as Dry ginger is supposed to have a lot of medicinal properties as well. This drink is best for the winter/rainy season as it helps with cold and cough. (Preparation: 100 gm of Coriander seeds, 50 gm of dry ginger, 1 teaspoon of pepper corn, 5 pieces of Cardamom and 2 small pieces of Cinnamon Sticks. All of them are roasted and grounded and this powder can be stored for a longer duration. When you are ready to prepare the drink, you have to just boil 400 ml of water and put 4 teaspoons of this powder and add Palm Candy to sweeten and your drink is ready. (Palm Candy/ Panakarkandu in Tamil) is produced from the sweet “Neera” from Palmyra. Palm Candy is a nutrient rich, Low Glycemic Crystalline sweetener; it is completely natural. Palm Candy It has a number of minerals, vitamins, calcium, iron& phyto nutrients including zinc and potassium.

After enjoying the healthy drink, we walked back to the hotel and kids and Sur were tired so they all skipped dinner and crashed for the night. Kiran and myself used this private time to catch up with each other in the balcony area. We ordered some starters like tawa fried fish and chicken fry. The staffs were very helpful and they ensured this time the fish was made well. The chicken was little over fried and rubbery. But we forgot about that since the fried fish was so good. Finally we had something best and we ended up ordering thrice. We had one of the best evening with the sound of wave, great food and some music which Kiran played. After few hours, we called it a day since we had another long drive next day and we crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, had our usual breakfast, then headed to Pondicherry. Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry) is the capital and the most-populous city of the Union Territory of Puducherry in India. The city is in the Puducherry district on the southeast coast of India and is surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu, with which it shares most of its culture, heritage and language. Since Kiran and kids had not been there, we thought we will drive down as it’s jusy 3 hours from Tranquebar.

We enjoyed the scenic view enroute. Kiran didn’t feel great that day, so we were scouting for Patanjali store for Kutajarishta which helps with upset stomach. We had to take a detour and found a shop near Cuddalore (pronounced as Kadalur) which was near the railway track. Once we reached, we found it was closed permanently and was not updated online.

We found few ladies chatting nearby along with a gentleman whom I asked for other Patanjali stores close by. They suggested one near the temple a km away. Then the gentleman volunteered to take us through in person. So proud to meet another such kind hearted soul, helping us out. May God bless him and his family. Then we reached the store and they informed that medicines are not available in Cuddalore and we might find only Pondicherry. So we had to come out of that small roads and finally hit the road back to Pondicherry.

Somehow we couldn’t locate the Patanjali store in Pondicherry which was close to Aurobindo Ashram. We took 2-3 turns in the car but there was no luck. So we decided to go to the Himalaya Pharmacy which was on the main road to buy the tablets. Kiran and myself wanted to check for one last time, if the pharmacy person could help with Patanjali store before we purchase the tablets. He guided us which was in the next lane. It was not available there as well as this particular product had to be pre ordered. So we returned back to the pharmacy, purchased the tablets and left from there.

Next door we saw the ice cream parlor, so we took a break from the scorching sun for an overload of ice creams and we got to taste new flavour rose petal ice cream and which we all enjoyed.

Then we hit our roads to reach Auroville, that was the place we needed to visit if we had just a day. So we reached the Auroville. Auroville (City of Dawn) has it’s origins in the French language Aurore (Dawn) and Ville (City) is an experimental township in Viluppuram district, mostly in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, with some parts in the Union Territory of Pondicherry in India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as “the Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity. We parked the car and went to the reception area, saw a small video about Matrimandir and then got our free passes to go to Matrimandir. It’s shaded area for a Km to walk in order to see the Matrimandir.  This was conceived by Alfassa as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection”. Silence is maintained inside the Matrimandir to ensure the tranquility of the space, and the entire area surrounding the Matrimandir is called the Peace area. Inside the Matrimandir, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred to as “a place to find one’s consciousness”. But visitors are not allowed to go inside, so we have to see from a distance from the view point. Matrimandir is equipped with a solar power plant and is surrounded by manicured gardens. The firangipani trees, polished rocks, varieties of butterflies and banyan trees, makes the walk very interesting to Matrimandir.  Then we came back to the reception and there are few places for shopping and food. We had snacks and then thought will go to the beach. As we were close to the beach, the kid wanted pizza, so we stopped at Celine’s Kitchen and ordered pizza. They had the best pizzas specially the Indiana Pizzas. It was already dark and we didn’t have time to go to beach by now, so we drove back for 3 hours to reach the hotel. As it was drizzling, there was traffic and we reached the hotel, pretty late. While others went and crashed, I caught up on my work and then caught up on my sleep.

Day 4: We had our usual breakfast and then checked out. We were in a shock to see the bills. They had charged for water which was given in the room, for the bad lunch and snacks which was supposed to be complimentary. When we brought to their notice, management immediately rectified and charged only for our dinner and waived off others. Even though the room rate is unreasonable and overly priced, the staffs were very helpful and went out of their way to help.

We checked out of the hotel and then headed to Bangalore for another 8 hours drive. As soon as we started it was drizzling and then started pouring, it took few hours for us to get out of that heavy rain. As we hit Salem, it was just drizzling and was better. So we stopped at Radisson, Salem for lunch. This is the place, we end up visiting often while on this highway. For some or the other reason we miss their lunch buffet. Last time, due to covid, we didn’t want to try as it was so crowded. This time we reached after 15 minutes of buffet closure. So we ordered the chicken dishes, biryani, and burgers. First the chicken gravy was served without chicken and when we informed the staff, we got those chicken pieces back in the gravy. We loved their chocolate dessert and were back to the road. Almost after 9.5 hours of drive we reached Bangalore and it was worth the drive and a good break for all of us.

The good news is that all of us are fully vaccinated, and I do hear few are reluctant to get vaccinated. I request all of you please get yourself vaccinated at the earliest and stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

July 30, 2021

Hampi – The Forgotten History

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 2:32 pm

About Hampi:

Hampi is an ancient village in the south Indian state of Karnataka. It’s dotted with numerous ruined temple complexes from the Vijayanagara Empire.

After 3rd Covid lockdown ended, we needed another quick break and we booked Evolve Back, Hampi to explore the historic monuments and ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire.

We had to postpone the stay for a week as the resort was still in lock down and then finally when we got a go ahead, we prepared for our historical trip to Hampi.

Another USP of Evolve back was it’s Vaidyashala, which makes us to visit Evolve Back again and again. However the sales person who confirmed our booking forgot to inform us that Vaidyashala was yet to be opened. So we had a disappointment when we asked Ms. Gayana (our local contact at the property) to pre book the slots. Then she informed us, it was not functional during our stay there. However she informed us that  inspite of that set back, she would try her best to ensure that we will have a great memorable experience. Yes, she did her best to make our stay memorable and kudos to her.

Day 1: We started by 7 AM and headed straight to Hampi without a break due to Covid and reached by afternoon after our GPS decided to take us to the forest office close by instead of Evolve back. Then the officers asked us to go little further and then we saw the stone which had the Evolve back name and we entered. As you enter, you will also see a similar palace themed building, which seems to be staff quarters and then as we went further we saw the beautiful Evolve back looking majestically like a royal palace as per their theme. So finally we were at Evolve Back, Hampi.

Ms. Gayana and other staffs welcomed us with a warm smile, refreshing towel and a welcome drink Pancharasa, which is made with Basil leaf, Mint leaf, Curry leaf, Lemon juice, Jaggery syrup and garnished with Chiya seeds. Our check in was smooth and we were checked into our beautiful Zenana room. We could see from the day one, that Ms. Gayana went extra mile to ensure we had a memorable experience. We got the best room and with a best view. This room had jacuzzi in the middle of the room and when you go to the balcony it had an amazing view and a nice breeze which just makes you to stay there for ever and ever without tiring you. We ended up chilling out in the balcony enjoying that cool breeze and the view and we never got tired of it and enjoyed the architectural beauty of the property which is palace themed. We had to give a miss to Jacuzzi as we had our day packed with outdoor activities and didn’t have time to enjoy the jacuzzi as we know we might doze off in the water which we didn’t want to do that.

We were hungry, so we refreshed quickly and went for lunch to Tuluva – Multi Cuisine Restaurant. Sur ordered the Pottagodugu Kura (Fried mushrooms tossed with chilly, onion and curry leaves) and Farmer’s Pie (Layered seasonal vegetables with tomato compote and mashed potato) and I ordered Vijayanagara Non Veg Thali (based on the spirit of north Karnataka’s regional cuisine). We both didn’t enjoy so much the food as it was too bland for our palette. But the chef later ensured from the next meal that it was customized as per our taste and we did have the best of food experience. We had also ordered their signature cocktails (Jewel of South, Matanga Hills & Pushkarni), somehow the alcohol overpowered the drink so we didn’t enjoy that as well, so we stopped ordering the cocktails and settled it with good red wine and fresh lime juice later part of our stay.

Then we went to plan our outdoor activities for the next few days that we were staying, so met the guide Mr. Santhosh to take us to the history trails since we were left only with two more nights of stay, we booked all the four historical trails and did two trails in a day one in the morning at 8.30 AM and one in the late afternoon at 4 PM as every trail takes approximately four hours to complete.  Once we finalized we had our tea which was not great but the French fries were good and Sur enjoyed his watermelon juice. After a mini walk around, we went for a quick dinner to Tuluva restaurant. Sur ordered Greek Salad and I went for Paya Shorba (Infused with Indian spices lamb trotter soup) which was satisfactory. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great sleep, went for a quick breakfast. I enjoyed their Idly and various chutneys which are too good and Sur went for a toast and an omelette.  Don’t forget to order a filter coffee which is good and then we rushed for our first historical trail with Mr. Santhosh. I had been to Hampi earlier and I did visit but if you love history, you need to do it with Mr. Santhosh and the Evolve team here. We started our trip with Vitthalapura Walk. Hampi had many suburbs or puras. They were self-sufficient settlements centered around a temple and an attached market denoting two of its core activities – worship and commerce. We explored the Vitthalapura Bazaar that lead to the famous Vijaya Vitthala temple considered by many to represent the pinnacle of temple architecture in India. This temple is renowned for its musical stone pillars and a chariot carved in stone. Here every stone and every painting has a story behind. Also this temple courtyard has a few hundred year old Firangipani tree (temple tree) which has a fragrant blossom which is used for the worship since this is considered pure as it doesn’t have any nectar so it’s not polluted by the bees. So it symbolises purity and offered for worship. The musical pillars and the architecture will make you awe of our forefathers and our rich heritage. There are multiple temples close by, the bazaars and also the sad plight of lack of awareness that we have of our own rich heritage and culture. My admiration and love grew multi fold after hearing about the history from the experts of Evolve Back. I fell in love with my country, for our rich culture, heritage and architecture marvel. Thanks to our guide and the Evolve Back Team.

Then we reached back to the resort for a quick lunch of Penne Pasta and ordered Walnut brownie. I loved so much the brownie that every time I had a meal, I ordered a brownie as well. The Walnut brownie was the best one that I ever tasted as it just melted in your mouth. I was planning to ask the chef to pack a few when we checked out but I completely forgot about it. Next time I am sure am packing a few extras as we are planning to visit again to continue the pending historical trails again.

We went for a quick shopping situated inside the property, we picked up few souvenirs and then started the second trail. Even though it was little packed schedule but the love for our rich history gave that enthusiasm to explore as much as possible during our short stay there.

The second trail was Raya Trail, this trail takes you back five hundred years and gives you a privileged peek at the life and times of the Rayas (Maharajas) of Vijayanagara. We learnt about their lifestyle, culture, the unique social and political dynamics of the period and the magnificent structures of the royal city. We visited Royal audience hall, Lotus hall, Elephant stable, queen’s bath, watch tower, queen’s palace, water tanks, museums, Hazarama temple and Ranga temple. If you want know more about it, please do visit this place. Few lines about the place will not do any justice to the grandeur and rich history of this place. I wish our children get to learn more about this as many of us have never heard of these places and it’s richness.

We came back with so much love and energy to know more about our history after just a day and we were looking forward to the next two trails to know more about. Then we enjoyed little time in our balcony and then headed for dinner to Bahmani Restaurant which is a specialty restaurant, and it was pre booked by the staffs. I ordered Murgh Akbari Shorba (Mint infused chicken soup) and Jhinga Gulnar (Prawns spiced with caraway seeds, chilly and garlic, cooked in a tandoor) and Sur ordered his vegetarian dishes Dastan-e-Paneer (Cottage cheese flavored with pudina, malai and achari) and Paneer Lababdar (Cottage cheese cubes slow cooked in a rich tomato onion masala finished with fresh cream and a hint of sun-dried fenugreek with butter naan). The food was great and yes, I finished it with Walnut brownie again even though this was not in the menu at this restaurant, staffs brought it from Tuluva restaurant. I am grateful to them.

After a great meal, we rushed back as it was raining and then crashed for the night.

Day 3:  After a great sleep, our usual quick breakfast of Idli and varieties of chutneys that I enjoyed and Sur back to his omelette and orange juice. Then we rushed for our third trail which was Virupaksha Trail, this trail begins with a leisurely walk up the Hemakuta hill, which opens up a treasure trove of pre-Vijayanagara temples, statues and the wondrous stories surrounding them. It will also serve delightful views of the rock strewn landscape of Hampi with its glorious sunsets. Then we strolled down to the centuries old Virupaksha Temple at the base of the hill, the holy temple of the early Kings of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century. Another architecture marvel and this trail was like a pilgrimage. The end of the trail is marked by the exquisite Krishna temple and the huge monolith of Narasimha. After such a spiritual journey, we then returned back for lunch.

Sur ordered his Butter naan and Shahi Dum Aloo (Stuffed potatoes cooked in a spiced tomato gravy laced with shahi garam masala) and I went for Charmaula rubbed sear fish (Sear fish marinated and grilled, served seasonal vegetables) We enjoyed the food and yes, had my walnut brownie for the dessert.  Then went and freshened up and then were planning for a final trail. As we were in the lobby, the GM (Mr. Joydeep) was telling us about the new place (Hire Benekal) that they did a recce and were planning to add that as part of the historical trail. Then we were curious and asked if we could do that. But then we had to extend a night stay, so we reached out to Ms. Gayana for help and in turn it went to the sales person. We were informed that the current category of rooms was completely sold out and only Nilaya rooms were available. After few hours of tough calls and negotiation as the sales team were involved and local team couldn’t do much on this, finally our stay got extended since the sales team was quoting a higher price of what we booked earlier, inspite of not getting the same room category. Somehow after few hours of uncertainty, the room was confirmed finally by the sales teams in Bangalore.

So we gave a go ahead for the next day recce of dolmens and then left for the final trail Tungabhadra Trek, where Mr. Sarath (Associate Director of Conservation & Experiences) accompanied and also wanted a feedback about the experiences. it’s an offbeat evening trek that took us through giant boulders, the ruins of the Achyutaraya Temple and the famed ‘Courtesan Bazaar’. There were splendid view of the setting sun behind the boulder hills as we walked along the banks of the scenic Tungabhadra River.

We also took a coracle ride and we were in for a special treat since there was some shoot happened with a coracle decorated with flower petals. As they finished the shoot, we entered so the coracle staffs offered that particular coracle for our ride in the river, and we enjoyed that unexpected treat of coracle filled with flower petals. During the coracle ride, there were some of the temples which were submerged in water and had lot of Shiv lingas, so went to see those and couple of old paintings and carvings and then enjoyed the coracle ride back. As we returned, we stopped at an empty ground (it was gymnasium during the royal period) and staffs surprised us with a little fruit champagne and snacks. I was never a champagne fan as it’s too dry for my taste but I just loved this fruit based one and we enjoyed the snacks while listening to the peacock’s mating calls. After such a lovely experience and surprise treat from the staff, we headed back as it was getting darker.

Staffs had booked us again in Bahmani restaurant for the dinner since we enjoyed the food here and Sur ordered  Nargisi Lahsooni Palak (Indian vegetable fried dumplings topped with garlic and served in a spinach curry with butter naan) and I went for Gosht Ka Marag (Spicy mutton broth infused with spices and enriched with cashew & cream) and Pomfret Nawabi (Tender whole white pomfret marinated with hand pounded fresh red chillies and a special chef’s signature garam masala). After enjoying my walnut brownie again, we crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had to start early by 6 AM, staffs packed sandwiches for our breakfast and packed our luggage as the staff had to move our luggage to another room, so gave the key to the reception, informed Ms. Gayana and we left for Hire benakal with our guide and Naturalist Mr. Vinay. This was approximately 1.5 hour to Koppal Taluk and other side of Gangavathi river. We enjoyed the views, greeneries, boulders and we reached for the spot to start our trek. This was an easy trek and on the way we did miss a sloth bear whose fresh potty we found. Sloth bears do not have a great eye sight, so if it feels threatened it will attack, so we were informed prior that we need to talk and stay in groups, so that if the animals senses there are humans coming their way, they might go the other way so we do not have animal-human contact as we are in their territory. That was a learning how to avoid an attack from Sloth bear. Then Mr. Vinay who was an enthusiastic historian explained the cave paintings that were on the way. Then we climbed to the site of dolmens which are at least 3000 years old. There were more than 490 but got destroyed and finally only 200 are left. Also we enjoyed watching Agamas, Skinks, various coloured butterflies, six spotted beetle and giant millipedes.

After finding another hidden treasure, we stopped near the base for a quick brunch, had our sandwiches and started back our journey. We asked our guide if we can stop for a nice tea since I was missing a good tea in the resort. He stopped on the way and all of us enjoyed a great cuppa of tea and then we reached back to the resort.

Ms. Gayana ensured we got a great room and then both of us were escorted to the new room. Sur then went for a quick siesta and I went with Mr. Vinay for a nature walk in the evening. We spotted Mangoose, wild pigs, pea cock, sandgrouse, laughing dove, red-vented bulbuls, Plover and just before we finish the walk we saw the wild hare. Then it started drizzling and we rushed back to the resort.

We freshened up and then went for the dinner at Tuluva restaurant. I ordered Cajun-spiced grill prawns (Garlic and homemade Cajun spice marinated grilled prawns served with mixed lettuce salad) and Chicken and leek broth (Slow-brewed chicken and leek broth served with garlic toast) and Sur went for his Garlic butter naan and Paneer butter masala. After tasting my final walnut brownie for the stay, we crashed for the night.

Day 5: We didn’t want to checkout the place as the GM had recommended lot of other unexplored places which we could do, unfortunately we couldn’t extend due to work commitments and had to reluctantly check out to come back for a week stay later to finish the unfinished places that we missed out.

The GM, Ms. Gayana, Mr. Santhosh, Mr. Vinay and lot of other staffs came to bid farewell and we returned back with a memorable experience and checking our calendar for our next visit soon.

This would be incomplete if I don’t talk about few staffs who went extra mile to ensure we get the best experience and I have already informed the GM that another week stay is due to complete the unfinished places of historical importance that we missed out

First and foremost a special thanks to Ms. Gayana, she was the first person to be connected from the resort. She ensured that we had our memorable experience and the credit goes to her for doing that from the first connect to the check out with a lovely smile. Our special thanks to you.

Next our guide Mr. Santhosh, the historical trails that he accompanied us, I would not have fallen in love doing more if not for his information that he shared and how he explained every story behind the marvels of our history. Thanks Santhosh for helping us appreciate our own rich heritage.

Mr. Sarath, it was so good to hear your travel adventures and for curating those experiences at the resort. Very well done and we want to hear your experiences more.

Mr. Vinay, accompanying for that Hire Benekal – Dolmen visit, even though it was not planned, you took a risk of taking us at the last minute and your enthusiasm and passion spread to us during that trek and thank you for that.

Mr. Joydeep (GM), he was the main reason we extended our stay since he tempted us with that recce they did in Hire Benekal. He was the man behind guiding the staffs, to provide the guests with a great memorable experience and excellence in hospitality. All the credit goes to him, he was the man in action, who ensured to meet us almost every day in the lobby and gave us all the activities that we could do, asked for daily feedback and made our stay all the more worth staying for.

We enjoyed the food and that credit goes to Mr. Vaibhav Verma, the Chef. He also paid us a visit very often at the restaurant, customized as per our taste since we love our food to be extra spicy and also recommended to try something new. Once he knew our taste, we didn’t inform the next time. Whatever we ordered, the food came as per our taste and we enjoyed every meal there at the property. This would be incomplete, if I don’t mention about the walnut brownie, that I was having at after every single meal. After a very long time, had the one of the best brownies ever which just melted in your mouth. Please be prepared that we might pre order few next time when I visit.

F&B Staffs at the restaurant, Almost all the staffs were friendly and once you order something, they knew next time when you are at the restaurant what we requested earlier. For example, a simple thing like Sur loves to have ice cold water and myself hot water to drink. We just said once and we never had to repeat that for the entire stay there. Little things that they remembered mattered the most. I just remember Mohit’s name and other staffs as well, everyone whom we met. My apologies for missing out your names. You all did an excellent job and we are so glad that we will visit again to enjoy your hospitality.

This place remained most memorable because every single staff that we met, provided a great service with a greatest smile. I don’t have enough words to thank you but a big thank you to every single staff at Evolve Back, Hampi. You deserve every appreciation.

The historical experiences that you curated was something I would specially make a note here, that made us fall in love with our country and love to know more about about our rich culture and history. Thanks to your team.

Another week of stay is overdue for the experiences that we missed, am sure will reach out to your team to relive those memorable experience and create new memories.

During the Covid times, when we were not sure of the place to stay keeping all our safety protocols in mind, only solace was Evolve back. First in Coorg, 2nd in Kabini and 3rd in Hampi. The two years of Covid nightmare was forgotten because of the break that we had at Evolve back, once the lock down was lifted. So thanks to all at Evolve for the memorable experiences that you provide.

We are looking for our 4th stay in Hampi again soon when our calendar is free for a week….Until then please stay safe and continue to do the good work of providing an excellent hospitality experience ever……….A big Thank You to each and every one at Evolve………………..

July 5, 2021

Huliyurdurga

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 7:20 pm

Now that the 2nd wave of Covid in India was nearing it’s end, we wanted to take a short break which would allow us to travel outside our house where we had been under lockdown for over three months. The blessing of being in Bangalore is there are quite a lot of places for sightseeing and treks around Bangalore. Due to Covid we were unable to for any treks and were missing them quite badly so we wanted to do a short trek that we could finish within a day and reach home before 7 PM as we had a weekday night curfew in Karnataka and a full weekend curfew due to which we couldn’t travel over the weekend.

Sur had found few options for us to explore and as usual we had to decide the location as Akanksha, Ayush and Shashank were fine with whatever we chose. So Sur finalized Huliyurdurga, which is hardly a 2 hours drive from Bangalore and the trek itself would take less than 2 hours to complete, which meant that would return to Bangalore by afternoon, as we wanted to avoid trekking under the scorching sun in the afternoon.

We started from home around 7 AM and reached the Huliyurdurga police station within 2 hours since we didn’t stop anywhere on the way due to covid. When traveling by car you should enter the Huliyurdurga Police station as the destination. Once you reach the station, there is a narrow concrete road right before the station on the right side which you need to take. This will take you through a cemetery on the right and you need to keep going straight. A few minutes drive will bring you to a fork in the road and you need to take the road on the right. This will take you through a narrow road between houses and you should keep going straight till you hit a dead end and you will see stairs going up. Park near the stairs and then proceed.

We parked the car close to the stairs and we started climbing. It took hardly 15-20 minutes to reach a small temple midway and then we had to follow the trail on the left to go to the top for a good view. We tried to sneak in and went close to the rock, from where we had to climb a little before we got a  great view, however due to non human activity for few months, there were quite a lot of plants have grown on the trail and blocked the path and some of them had thorns which was hard to ignore as they were very strong. So we had to discontinue midway and reached back to the temple.

Sur didn’t want to give up and thought we will try the right side of the trail, there we could only walk for 5 minutes which had an amazing view and we couldn’t go further as there was only place to crawl in the trail which we didn’t want to take a risk. So we stopped on that little rock and spend few minutes enjoying watching a chameleon, different colors of butterflies and lots of different birds. Still we were disappointed since we couldn’t complete the trek, however we were a little satisfied that we had a break and some fresh air amidst the greens. We had complete silence there since we went on a weekday and there was no one there except the 5 of us.

Then we came down the stairs as we were trying to find a place to sit for few minutes to have some snacks, we found a old temple ruin, which were getting renovated. So we sat in front of the temple and spend about 30 minutes relaxing and had some snacks. Except me none of them wanted to explore more since it was too sunny. Everyone started complaining about the heat and I couldn’t convince them to go around even though we could see few more old buildings around.

So we had to start back and due to covid we didn’t want to stop on the way, we headed straight home and reached back home by lunch time.

Even though this was micro trek, we were glad, we were just happy that we got some fresh air and few hours of drive outside after being locked in the house due to covid. We all are just waiting for our 2nd doses so that we feel more confident to travel further and explore more.

Until then please get vaccinated, stay safe and look out for your loved ones….

 

May 2, 2021

Wildlife at Kabini

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 4:20 am

When we got a little relief from the Covid situation after being under lockdowns and restrictions for months, we saw a ray of hope when everything opened to the public and we could slowly get back to normal with masks and social distancing. Sur and myself had a crazy month due to our exams and we decided for a quick break post our exams to Kabini, since I heard that we get to spot more wildlife there.

Day 1: Since we cannot let our guards down as Covid situation still didn’t go out completely, we decided to travel on a weekday which would minimise the crowd and also decided not to stop in between for a breakfast break unless except for a bio break or fuel refill. I enjoy the South Indian breakfast on the way when we travel by road and I have to give up for our own safety due to Covid and I was ok for that little sacrifice.

We started the journey in the early morning and after a quick bio break at the petrol bunk, we reached straight to the Evolve Back, Kabini. This property was hut themed, so all the rooms were designed like a hut and it did look different from the usual. Once we reached the property, we had to wait for some time to get the rooms allocated as we reached a little early. As we were waiting, we found that, the guests who came after us were allocated the rooms and we had been waiting for almost an hour and there was no sign of our room allocation. When I asked about why we were waiting when other guests who came after us, were being allocated immediately, I was informed that the room allocated for us was still being cleaned. Then I got to know that the rooms were being allocated much earlier, so it was not the usual allocation of first come first serve basis, which was a surprise to me. Since I was already hungry as we didn’t stop anywhere on the way, and then we had to wait longer than usual, we decided to go for lunch at Honeycomb Restaurant. By then the rooms also were ready. Then we checked in to our rooms, the hut outside didn’t look very impressive but inside it was designed great. Another disappointment awaited when Sur was planning to chill in the swimming pool. There was a tree close to the swimming pool and hundreds of flowers were falling from the tree to the pool and it didn’t look clean to get into the water as the flowers occupied the entire pool, they were tiny so it really looked like the pool was dirty. So we had to skip the pool for the entire stay. I wish the swimming pool was built on the right side where there were no trees. After a short siesta, we had our dinner and crashed early since we were tired. We had a very high expectations after visiting Evolve Back, Coorg few months back as we had an amazing time there, that was another reason we had booked the same property, but our first impression was very disappointing and I don’t think we want to book ever again this place.

Day 2: We had our breakfast and then strolled around for a small walk around the property. It was great and we had birds in abundance and there were too many tiny birds which made us forget everything about the first day disappointment and started enjoying the place. It was so great just sitting outside the room listening to the birds and we had enough birds to spot while we were walking around the property. I just loved that experience of seeing so many tiny birds which I had not seen ever. Then we headed for a lunch, we had to rush since we had booked for a boat safari in the afternoon post lunch. This was worth the visit as we had the best wildlife that we could spot. We spotted, Osprey, Kingfisher, Black Cormorants, White Stork, Black necked Stork, Painted Stork, Eagle, Darter (Snake) Bird, Lapwings, Ducks, Wooly Necked Stork, Drongos, Woodpecker, Peacock, Egrets, Grey Heron, Monkeys, Crocodiles, herd of elephants, Bisons, Spotted Deers and Sambar Deers. It was so much fun watching the wild animals grazing near Kabini river and playing in the water. After a great boat safari, we returned back and it was time for dinner. We had our dinner and then crashed early since we had booked a land safari in the next day early morning.

Day 3: We woke up early and we went to the lobby to wait, we were half an hour early so we had to wake some of the staffs and then after a quick coffee and cookies, we got into the boat which dropped us to the Jungle Lodges and Resorts where we had to get into their vehicle. Unfortunately, we got allocated to B zone, which is the same zone which we went for the boat safari the previous day, so for us it was the repeat of same area except that we were coming through the land. We spotted Deers, Bisons and Elephants and one tusker even came charging towards us and we were all scared but guide assured us that it was a fake charge, so we were relieved and then elephant also stopped midway. Since we had few alarm calls from monkeys which is a sign of tiger or any predator around, we were waiting in case we get lucky to spot it. While waiting we spotted bevy of Otters. We didn’t get lucky and we left. We got dropped back to the Jungle Lodges and then had to take the boat back to Evolve Back. We reached the property, had our late breakfast and then rested a while. We skipped lunch since we were not hungry and evening we were booked in Kuruba Grill which is a specialty restaurant. It was crowded, the service was slow and of course we didn’t feel very comfortable to sit long there, since social distancing had gone for a toss. After multiple reminders for our food, we got our food, had a quick bite and then crashed for the night. The only solace was the bar tender who was extremely friendly and went out of his way to make different cocktails for us, so most of the time we enjoyed different cocktails everyday which compensated for all the disappointments we had at the property.

Day 4: Woke up early, had a quick breakfast and checked out, since we wanted to reach as early as possible in Bangalore. Except the fuel refill we didn’t stop anywhere so that saved our time and we were glad to be back home with much needed break

Even though property was a disappointment, thanks to their staffs who were extremely friendly and helpful.

We thought we are slowly getting out of Covid situation but after a week or two we were just shaken by the Covid 2nd wave which took lot of lives and people closer to us. Just looking all around the suffering and death, just praying to God to have mercy on us and help us to tide over this Covid which has brought greatest suffering, poverty and pain to lots of people. This too shall pass. Until then Please stay at home, follow the covid protocols and please get yourself vaccinated.

Please stay safe and God bless…………

February 11, 2021

Weekend in Kotagiri, Nilgiris

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 4:00 pm

About Kotagiri: Kotagiri or Kothagiri is a taluk and a Panchayat town in The Nilgiris District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the third largest hill station in the Nilgiri hills.

The trip was more of, spending time with our friends {Anil, Manisha, Vinit and his 2 kids (Vir & Sara), their Nanny Seema, Suprita, Sur and myself} rather than visiting the location as we had already visited Kotagiri. Suprita and Manisha zeroed in on La Maison, Kotagiri and we just tagged along.

E-Pass: Due to Covid situation, we need to register for the E-pass and this is still mandatory for Nilgiris. Please ensure to get the pass before you travel or else you would be sent back until you have the e-pass. Please find below the link for the same.

https://nilgiriscovidcare.in/entering-nilgiris/

Day 1: Usually we start early but our friends suggested to start the trip by 7.30 AM. But due to delay from some of the friends who couldn’t reach on time, we started only by 9.30 AM. It was a good drive and it was fun to catch up with friends as Sur and myself was in Anil and Manisha’s car. Vinit, his kids, Nanny and Suprita came in Vinit’s car. We had a pit stop at Kamat Restaurant for the breakfast, which is a go to place for many when you are on the road trip and it was good. We enjoyed their Dosas and Utthapam along with a filter coffee and started our drive back. Then our friends wanted to stop over for lunch in Radisson, Mysore and we took a lunch break. That was one disappointing lunch ever from Radisson. Having dined at Radisson, Bangalore this came as very disappointing and am sure my friends from Bangalore Radisson would be very disappointed to hear about this as well. After such a bad experience, we started our drive back and hit the Bandipur forests. We spotted lots of Deers and Peacocks that made us all excited and happy. Not to forget the monkeys who have encroached most of the places and an elephant which was tied up near Mudhumalai forest area. When we entered Mudhumalai, there was a check for our e-pass and our friends had misplaced the hard copy, while they were searching, the forest officers also searched our car and then they found the carton of soda bottles, since plastic bottles were not allowed in the hills, we were fined. Still we couldn’t locate the hard copy of the e-pass and then Sur came to the rescue and showed the soft copy. I stepped out with the soft copy, filled up the registry details in the check post and then started the scenic drive again in Mudhumalai. The sight of so many peacocks were wonderful. Then we had to hit the not so interesting drive of hairpin bends of Ooty as couple of us had motion sickness so it made it worse. Once the harpin bend was done, we still had Kotagiri hairpin bends, thankfully they were not bad as Ooty one, so we felt better. Then we had to follow the instruction from the hosts of La Maison property on how to reach there. Since it was already sunset and was getting darker, it made us little difficult to locate the property. The reason, the property doesn’t want to put the sign board outside as they do not want to have walk in guests. If you put the google map, then it stops you at least 2-3 Kms away from the property and tells you that you have reached the location, even though you have not reached. Finally we reached the property and Vinit and team did miss the road and they reached almost an hour late which was not a good experience travelling with kids and driving in the hill station in the dark. But when we reached the property, we forgot all the trouble that we had in locating this as it was such a beautiful property and the building dates to 18th century which got renovated. Then Sur recommended later that there was tea factory next to this homestay and if we select that in the google, then it takes to the right place, so that helped us for the next 4 days while travelling in and out for our lunch and dinner which our friends had prebooked outside the homestay.  The hosts Mr. Benoit & Ms. Monu were excellent hosts and we were welcomed by a drink made from pineapple. We refreshed and then sat for the Indian dinner which was ready to be served. Then we just crashed for the night as we were too tired.

Day 2: Woke up to the beautiful morning, enjoyed the beautiful garden around and enjoyed the breakfast in the garden. We enjoyed Idly, Dosa, homemade bread and eggs. Then we stepped out for a mini hike behind the property. Walking around the tea garden, listening to the birds, enjoying the morning mist, we couldn’t ask for anything more. Then our first lunch drive started to The Culinarium, Coonoor. Travelling out of that property and going all the way to Coonoor was not fun with the small kids around, as every lunch drive was taking almost 4 to 5 hours, up and down. So except the driving part, which is not fun in the hilly terrain was time consuming and not worth as we were just wasting our time on the roads rather than enjoying the location/homestay. Finally we reached the restaurant and this is also my favourite one in Ooty as we had dined here earlier. We had a great lunch and I was looking forward to their collection of pastries for purchase. Unfortunately due to covid, they had very limited pastries for display. So I couldn’t pick up any. This place is a must visit if you are in Ooty, after such a heart-warming meal, we started our drive back after a quick stop at the grocery store. We reached the property after sunset. By now we realized we cannot drive again for dinners in this hilly terrain and am glad others agreed to cancel all the dinner plans that they had planned outside the property. We relaxed at the property, enjoyed their bonfire and had French dinner served which was good and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: After waking to another beautiful morning and delicious breakfast, we headed for a mini hike next to the homestay. There was a tea factory and we went to visit but it was closed. So we walked next to that as we saw a waterfall on the opposite side. So went down for a little walk. There were couple of homestays nearby and then we ended up a chatting to the owner of one of the homestays and then he showed us the shortest route to the waterfall where the water was coming to his property. It was hardly 20 minutes of mini hike. Since other friends were not keen, Anil, Sur and myself went to the waterfall, enjoyed sometime and then we returned back. Then our lunch drive started for Taj Savoy, Ooty. Taj Savoy was such a beautiful property, we enjoyed the greenery around and then headed for lunch. We ordered A la Carte and it was good and then Vinit and kids left for the homestay and we went to Earl Secret Restaurant to check the availability for next day lunch, however they were full as they had an event. So we then started our long drive back and reached the homestay. Sur came to know his best friend, Gaurang was in Wellington, Ooty. Since they have not met after he came for holidays, we asked him to join us for dinner. Gaurang joined us for some time and Unfortunately he had to leave without having his dinner as others were still not ready for the dinner. We had asked him to stay back, but he didn’t want to stay back as there are wild animals roam around his property, so he had to be back home. I was relieved to know, his backup dinner had been arranged at his place in Wellington. After we sent him off, we relaxed some more time, had another good spread of dinner, enjoyed the bonfire  and crashed for the night.

Day 4: Woke up to another beautiful day and had the delicious breakfast. Then we headed to Gaurang’s place in Wellington to spend a day at his place and others went for a trek closeby with our host as the guide. As we started to drive to his place, we realized the Kotagiri road was closed for maintenance. I had enquired with a mini truck driver who was also stuck there due to road closure for alternate route to wellington and he showed us another route which was in opposite direction of our homestay. He also mentioned that it was the forest road. We thanked him and started the alternate route. On the way we found lot of bisons which was enjoying the sun in the tea factory. The alternate route was very narrow and within half an hour we hit the forest, that’s where my nightmare started. There were hairpin bends, very very narrow roads, steep bends and you had to reverse for every turn at the hairpin bend. Sur was worried as the car was Vinit’s and he didn’t feel comfortable to drive that car in such risky roads. We were just praying that the car doesn’t get stuck or wild animals do not cross as these were thick forest with little light and there was no signal at all. Since we were not sure how far this forest was and we were scared whether we got lost in the jungle as there was no movement of people/vehicle. We were thankful that no other vehicle came from opposite direction, then both of us would have been stuck in this road for some time as manoeuvring in this stretch was quite tough. Also we were not sure, whether we were in the right route. Sur was trying to keep his calm which was remarkable during such storm.  Finally at the last bend, we saw a small temple and that scary forest road ended and we were in the open close to the residential area. Even those roads were narrow, we were ok as it was open and we were out of the forest. After such a scary drive, we finally reached Gaurang’s place. We spent some time with him and I went to enjoy the garden while both the best friends were catching up with each other. We were served delicious lunch. We decided to leave by 4 PM from his place to ensure we reach the homestay before sunset. I was just wishing that I shouldn’t go to that forest road again. We left his place and started back to the homestay. We took our usual route and our bad luck the road was closed when we were just 15 minutes drive from the homestay. Now the scary part starts as we had to take the forest route but it was already 5 PM. We had to rush as we didn’t want to be in that treacherous road after the sun set. So we had to go back all the way and then take the forest road, by then it was already 5.35 PM. As soon as we saw the temple, we knew the forest road began and then this time we know the forest road is hardly 15 to 20 minutes of drive but we were worried we should get out of it before sunset. Since wild animals are aplenty specially the bisons, this was not at all a fun drive. Now I was more scared of any wild animals on this road since it was close to sun set, so I asked Sur to honk, even though I know that’s a bad since we the noise disturbs the wild animals in their habitat. Even though Sur doesn’t like to honk normally, he just honked once. It was such a coincidence that there was a bison trying to climb the turn which we were entering, since it heard the sound, it just stopped for a second and we saw the head so close just few inches away from me. Of course, we were at the mercy of the bison here as neither you could not speed in this road as there was hairpin bend so close to each other. I was relieved that we were saved from the bison and after 10 minutes we were out of the forest to the open. We just reached the homestay just after the sun set and it took some time for me to remove the picture of the bison head out of my head. That was one hell of a scary experience with the wild. Sur got another chance to make fun of me and he also was relieved as car didn’t get stuck anywhere and we reached safe to the homestay. We were narrating to the hosts and for them this was normal and yes, they recommended not to honk, which I completely agree especially with bison as their temper is really bad. We just had our lucky day. We also spoek to our friends about their trek which we missed, they had a memorable trek as even the kids could go for it and after a little break, it was a barbeque dinner of beef, chicken and paneer. That was one of the best dinners, enjoyed the bon fire and crashed for the night.

Day 5: Woke up to the beautiful day, had our breakfast and by then Gaurang also joined us as he also was heading for Bangalore and we tagged along in his car for the return journey. Suprita joined in Anil and Manisha’s car. Vinit was alone with the kids and nanny.  Once we came to know Vinit was alone, I decided to join Vinit for company but he didn’t have a place as kids needed the complete back seat to sleep. So I had to join back to Gaurang’s car. Thanks to Gaurang, we took another route which avoided all the hairpin bends of Kotagiri and Ooty. We were going slow since Sara was not feeling well and we decided to take a break near café coffee day for the refuelling. Since Anil, Manisha and Suprita were ahead, we thought will catch up with them for lunch as they had planned in Radisson, Salem for a lunch stop over. Since Vinit and us didn’t feel of stopping for lunch as we had a heavy breakfast and also Gaurang had packed few rotis with egg burji which was good during the drive. So we skipped the lunch and we went ahead as Vinit also told us to go ahead . So all the 3 cars came by ourselves and we reached ahead in Bangalore after a very short coffee break near Krishnagiri. We stopped at Gaurang’s place, said hello to Kangan and his kid and then took an Uber back home. We were so relieved once we reached home.

Stay Safe………..

January 18, 2021

Beach Vacation in Kannur

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 12:02 pm

About Kannur: It is a coastal city in the south Indian state of Kerala and it was once an ancient trading port. This trip was with our friends (Sala and his family, Jagjit and his family, Anita, Judy, Sur and myself), which was long over due. So it was decided that we go for the trip during Pongal holidays. Some of them had been to Kannur, so they were ok to revisit this place and we were happy to tag along as long as we could spend time with each other which we couldn’t do due to our busy schedules.

Before you visit Kerala, do register with https://covid19jagratha.kerala.nic.in/. This was approved instantly and we didn’t find anyone doing the check either. But it’s highly recommended that you register with the correct details (as per your photo identity card like Aadhar) and follow the instructions which ever state that you are entering. This is to comply with the Covid protocols of each Indian State.

Day 1: We started our journey early morning and we ensured that we had minimal stops. We didn’t find any place to stop for breakfast so we stopped just before one of the tolls and had a quick bite of sandwiches and snacks that we carried. After almost 7.5 hours of drive, we reached by noon at Sea Shell Haris Beach Home. We were hungry but our lunch was not ready as we were little early. So we had our snacks till we were served our lunch after an hour. We were served with simple lunch with Rice, Sambar, Rasam and Cabbage with Fish Fry and prawns for the non-vegetarians. It was decent. Then we headed to the beach which was next to the home stay. We enjoyed in the water till the evening, came back for tea and then spent some time with each other and then headed for dinner. The showstopper for the dinner was Kerala Parotta, while vegetarians enjoyed their paneer, cauliflower and mixed vegetables, we enjoyed the Chicken curry. After a great meal, we crashed for the night early.

Day 2: We started early to reach Bekal Fort (Bekal Fort was built by Shivappa Nayaka of Keladi in 1650 AD, at Bekal. It is the largest fort in Kerala, spreading over 40 acres.) after having a quick sandwich we had brought with us since we couldn’t wait for breakfast at the homestay. After almost 2 hours of drive, we reached the beautiful fort. This was worth the visit, we walked around and enjoyed the historical monument and headed out. Since we were early, we avoided the crowd and also the scorching sun. The fort was well maintained and had a beautiful view. As we stepped out, we stopped at the small shop opposite to the fort and enjoyed the pineapple which was soaked in the salt water and green chillies. Then we drove back to the homestay. On our way we stopped for our favourite Kerala Chaaya (Tea), and enjoyed the roadside snacks like Pazham Pori, (Ripe banana fritters), Unnakkaya (banana roll with coconut) and Mutta mala (rice dish with egg and sugar). Then we headed back to the homestay for our lunch. They had made Mini Sadhya for us (variety of traditional vegetarian dishes usually served on a banana leaf, Sadhya means banquet in Malayalam). All of us were happy that we could get a taste of Sadhya and then we headed to Muzhappilangad Drive In Beach. This is was our first time experience of drive in beach and we just loved it. After enjoying the beach, we headed to Nouka Retaurant for dinner. We had our best meals in this restaurant during our trip in Kannur. We ordered the Kerala Parotta with a beef roast (the best dish that you should never forget to order while in Kerala) and vegetarians had their panner and cauliflower dishes which was also delicious. After an awesome and delicious dinner, we headed back to the home stay and crashed for the night.

Day 3: We had our breakfast of upma, appam with coconut milk and then headed to Arakkal Museum. Unfortunately that was closed, so we headed to St. Angelo’s Fort (it stands majestically on a hill overlooking the sea and it has a significant place in the historical map of Kerala. The fort also known as the Kannur fort), we enjoyed the place and then sat on the lawns and spent some time with each other and then we headed to Sky Palace Restaurant, which was next to Nouka Restaurant. They also had their Sadhya, including non-veg Sadhya. The food was decent but it didn’t impress as Nouka. The waiter who came to serve the extra curries had a sambar and fish curry, even though we (vegetarians and non vegetarians) sat at different table, he without asking ended up pouring the fish curry on everyone’s plate. No one could figure out as it was overpowered by coconut and it tasted like coconut curry rather than fish curry. When one of us, just asked out of curiosity what was that gravy which was served along with Sambar then he said it was fish curry. By then most of the vegetarians had already ate and then we had to stop and ask the person who was taking orders to change the plates. Thankfully, the vegetarians didn’t raise any concern, so we had to finish the meal and leave as neither of us were impressed with the food nor we liked their service. The disappointing thing was, none of them came and apologized for the mess, I know how sensitive this was to the vegetarians. We didn’t want to continue at this place for the dessert, so we headed to MRA bakery and restaurant to try the Faloodas. This place was very crowded and finally our order came and it was good, but everyone felt it was too sweet and most of them had too much of cereals added which made it more sweeter. Since this also had a bakery downstairs, we thought off doing a quick shopping for the local snacks. We found this place expensive, but since we couldn’t go anywhere at this time, we purchased some local snacks and dry fruits and headed to the home stay. While some of us went to enjoy the beach for the last time, others sat and caught up with friends in the homestay. Then we had our dinner where we were served Ney Pathri (Deep fried version of Rice Rotti with Cumin Seeds) which is famous in Kannur along with Kerala Parotta. Since we were planning to leave early the next day, we crashed for the night early.

Day 4: We started early so that we could reach Bangalore by afternoon. I was too tempted to taste the Kerala Chaaya and Pazham Pori before we hit the ghat section, however we couldn’t stop as we didn’t want to delay. So we headed off and were enjoying the morning drive in Brahmagiri Forest Ghat Section. Once we came out of the ghat section, we were planning to stop for breakfast in Coorg, before we hit the Nagarhole forest area, however we didn’t notice our colleagues, so we drove forward. By the time we communicated, Sur and myself were already 5.5 Kms ahead so, we both decided to stop closeby for breakfast and we found The Spice Rack restaurant, while others had their breakfast at Coorg family restaurant, immediately after the ghat section. We ordered the bread omelette, Poori and nice coorg coffee. The breakfast was great and most importantly the place was clean including the rest rooms. We enjoyed and waited for others to reach and then started back to Bangalore. We planned to Stop over at Sala’s place for lunch, however Sur had to complete his assignments for the week, so unfortunately we had to miss their hospitality (We always loved Geetha and Sala’s hospitality) and had to stop at Sahara Family Restaurant, near Nelamangala for a quick lunch. Even though the chicken biryani was decent. The vegetarian order for Sur was disappointing as the Kerala parotta was old, reheated and rubbery and vegetable hyderabadi was decent. Then we headed back and finally reached home after almost 8 hours of drive. This was a deserved break with the friends and it was finally great to catch up with them after 5-6 years.

Even though I thought 2 days in Kannur we may not have much to do, we ended up thinking, we could have stayed for few more days, but we had to leave for Sur, who had to complete his weekly tasks for his studies.

Kerala never disappoints and their food always tempts you to visit. I don’t think you can ever get tired of visiting Kerala as it always has something to offer and am sure am looking forward to the next visit to the state.

Until then Stay Safe………..

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