Tag Archives: Best hotels in India

5 Pet-Friendly Resorts near Mumbai

Planning your vacation in Mumbai but worried about leaving your little pet behind? Do not worry I’ve got your back. Mumbai is a home to some luxurious and pet-friendly resorts which allows you to not only experience a comfortable stay but also allow you to bring along your little munchkin and play along.

Enjoy your long-drive from Mumbai to reach these locations with the lush green landscape views. The sound of waterfalls flowing during monsoon, panoramic view of valleys, mountains and greenery of these resorts will leave you mesmerized. The resort here is known to offer best-in-class services and amenities and offer a pet-friendly environment so that you can chill and relax while your pet also has something to do. These pet-friendly properties have various facilities to enjoy your holiday that allows you to experience the feel of Home, away from Home.

Manas Resort Nashik

Located in the expanse of the Western Ghats of Igatpuri, Manas Resort Nashik is the first Indian resort with Petting Zoo, hosting human-friendly animals and walk-in aviaries. If you are a true nature lover and love animals, this resort might be the best place for you. Located at just a distance of 2 hours from Mumbai, Manas Resort Nashik allows you to enjoy fun-filled activities in the lap of nature.

This resort has exclusively offered Petting Zoo and Organic farming which is a very different experience to the travellers while they enjoy and take a weekend break from daily life. The resort gives you the privilege to interact with wildlife, The lavish villas with personal pools and modern facilities are ready to give you a warm welcome and with the soothing massages and relaxing sessions, you can enjoy a rejuvenating spa during the stay. The resort has luxurious rooms of various designs and categories, keeping the view of multiple family needs. The Facilities in this resort include an All Day Dining Restaurant, Highway Café, Lawns, Swimming Pool, Spa, Kids Zone, Games Room and Car Park as well. You will also have options to choose from outdoor activities like tours, treks, nature walks etc and make you truly stay fun-filled.

Also Read:Treading the Living Root Bridges- Nongriat

Rippling Edge Gadhok Cottage

Nestled in a river bank and surrounded by the verdant forest, this thrilling resort offers you a memorable & luxurious stay with modern amenities and gives you a chance to live with nature as you step in this beautiful and relaxing oasis. This beautiful resort is a perfect getaway to spend a weekend with your furry friends. Huge lawns surrounding greenery give you freshness, chill and natural vibes. This is a beautiful property that is highly recommended for those who love a mix of adventure and nature. Head to this exotic bungalow by the river in Karjat and enjoy unwinding in the midst of nature with your furry friends. Huge lawns, gazebos, mind-blowing views of greenery all around with fresh air make it a beautiful place to stay, You will also be offered the cycles to explore the surroundings.

Also Read:Marvel at Caves and Crannies Kurnool

The Whey Side

A 60 kilometer drive from Mumbai with your pour paws friend, this is a wonderful eco-friendly resort offering some really comfortable accommodation, surrounded by a forest in Karjat. This beautiful place offers you the fully furnished tree-houses with a splendid mountain view. You can choose the room with a balcony. Barbecue facilities, board games and books for children are the other facilities which you can avail. There is also a swimming pool within the premises for its guests.

You can definitely indulge in trekking, cycling, fishing, etc while kids can play in a spacious play area. This is one of the most ideal pet friendly resorts in Mumbai to bring your four paws friends along for a wonderful holiday. A quick getaway from the hustle bustle of the city, this place offers a relaxing stay, good homely food and an amazing view from the room. No matter which cottage you select it offers view from sides

Eko Stay Sea Breeze Villa

A beach front villa which is situated near Saswane Beach, Eko Stay Sea Breeze Villa is quie n amazing place to come with your pet. This property makes travelling with your pets even more enjoyable as it offers both you & your furry best pal the freedom to enjoy your holiday in a mind blowing surrounding without any unwanted and unusual restrictions which are a norm in various pet friendly resorts near Mumbai.

Eko Stay Sea Breeze Villa allows you to enjoy a crazy evening with your friend. A private pool, and an open-air barbecue are the perfect ingredients for an ideal staycation offered by any resort, and this Villa has it all. Bon fire and candle light dinner with beach view would not be a bad choice though. You can be here solo or as a couple for Honeymoon or with friends, bachelors and family.

Bali Style Villa

Not everyone can fly all the way to Indonesia. A 10 minute walking distance from Mandwa Jetty, this beautiful Bali-isque holiday home is a getaway for Mumbaikars. Whenever you are stressed from work, head out to this delightful farmhouse for a relaxing staycation. This place comprises an expanse of beautiful greenish lawn and comfortable accommodation .This home stay with its serene atmosphere will diminish the stress and strains of daily life. Managed by Eko Stays, the villa consists of 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and 2 bathrooms along with a garden. Moreover, As a pet-friendly place, there are ample open spaces available for your pet to wander about so you can play fetch with your pet or go for a run together, to make your pet happy and relieve your own work pressure. Encircled by greenery all-around, this villa offers indoor and outdoor dining areas to party with your loved ones. Bonfire nights with your colleagues, friends or family will enhance your vocational experience.

Best Luxury Resorts in Karnataka

Karnataka is one of the most beautiful Indian states that weave both heritage and contemporary culture together in a beautiful blend. Karnataka is a hub for travellers looking for some adventurous things to do or for globetrotters planning to travel amidst nature. From the strikingly beautiful hill station of Coorg to the ancient ruins of Hampi and from historic Mysore to the tech city Bangalore, Karnataka has never failed to amaze people with its hospitality.

And since this state attracts thousands of travellers each year, one can easily find some amazing resorts right from the budget category to the most luxurious ones. Luxury resorts in Karnataka help you tailor your vacation or work trip just the way you want! The cities have quaint boutique resorts that will make you forget the bustle of the town, and then there are resorts where you can go and have the perfect business meeting. These resorts are some of the best in the State, offering world-class amenities with all the warmth of traditional Indian hospitality.

1. Purple palms resort & spa, Kushalnagar

Purple Palms Resort and Spa is one of the best luxurious resorts in Karnataka. Relax in a magical paradise that makes your greatest wishes come true. Experience the lush green surrounding and serene beauty bounding the resort and witness the beautifully crafted rooms with the bliss of luxury and soothing comfort. Dive down in the swimming pool and fill your day with fun and give yourself a treat by relishing a delicious breakfast with a local touch at Purple palms resort & spa.

Indulge in the luxurious ambience of his amazing resort that makes you feel royal. If you can’t resist the allure of the hills, step out for a regal sojourn. This resort has all that you and your family are looking for a perfect holiday with all the tourist attractions in the vicinity. You may relax and rejuvenate at the Resort’s Spa with Ayurvedic and Western massage that will cleanse your mind and body to make your stay at our resort more meaningful.

2. Evolve Back, Hampi

One of Karnataka’s most treasured gems, Hampi is full of history and serenity. With various rulers reigning over the Vijayanagar Empire, the map of Hampi was designed in such a way that today, it stands as one of God’s blessings to humankind. Offering a spa centre and hot tub, Evolve Back Hampi is located just 4 km from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi.

Here at Evolve back resort, you will experience the Vijayanagara Royal Style at Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, Hampi – an opulent palace whose stone-paved boulevards, arched hallways and regal chambers reflect the royal lifestyle of a past but glorious era.

3. The Tamara, Coorg

The Tamara Coorg, a luxury experience nestled in the heart of the hills, is a perfect place where you can rediscover the joy of being in nature, where your quest for serenity will end. Lush greenery, aromatic coffee plantations, spices, beautiful streams, and flowing waterfalls, all experienced in a stunning eco-resort. Your stay at The Tamara Coorg will be filled with uniquely curated experiences and nature-based activities as the resort spans 180 acres and is located over 3,500 feet above sea level where you will experience nature and luxury at its best as you wake up to the breathtaking view and the calming silence of the hills, disturbed only by the chirping birds and the crackle of leaves.

Wake up to the smell of tranquilizer coffee, and enjoy the scenic beauty and try so many activities in the house, and the expert yoga instructor will tailor a perfect session for you. You can even enjoy a private gourmet meal under an open sky at a variety of stunning spots.

Take a cozy walk through the rain soaked plantations in Coorg
Coorg- Coffee trails

4. Coorg Wilderness Resort

Coorg Wilderness Resort is nestled amid the deep valleys, majestic hills of Coorg and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Move into the wild and find a distinctive ethos of extravagance implanted in the thoughtful lap of nature. The luxury from this resort with rich European-style masterful rooms and palatial suites that are spread across a large area and allows you to stay in Karnataka luxuriously.

The ambience is so warm, and the air is so cool and cozy, air-conditioning is not required throughout the resort. During romantic rainy days of the famed monsoons and lazy, gentle winters, you will find each room is cozily warmed with traditionally designed electric fireplaces; the facilities and unparalleled quality of services provided by the staff are worth spending your vacation. For adventure and thrill lovers, the Coorg wilderness resort will fill your heart with contentment and excitement through various outdoor activities like trekking, coffee plantation tours, and other adventurous activities.

5. Machaan Plantation Resort, Sakleshpur

The resort is tucked within a coffee plantation in Sakleshpur. Machaan Plantation Resort is ideal for a quick getaway to relax, rejuvenate, and refresh your inner self. Workspace at the resort will help you break free from routine, and your family would also rejoice in a change in environment. Your pre and post-work routine could be a host of activities ranging from estate walks, yoga in the outdoors, visit a waterfall, trekking, evening barbeque, to name a few. The resort has an outdoor pool where you can just lounge all day and enjoy splashing pool water. The sit-outs are ideal for lazing in & enjoying marvellous views of the hills and valley. On a rainy day, one can curl up with a book and a blanket here if you want to be in the room. Then each room caters for the views of hills and mountains, which will refresh you in seconds. A day here would not be complete without a campfire, a bonfire area that gives access to a 360° view of the night sky.

Celebrating the festival of Love and lights at Varkala

Solo tripping during Deepavali has somehow been a ritual that has caught on to me since 2015. In 2019, I was out in Kerala. I was going to spend three days at a place considered somewhat to be a hippie destination. Train tickets were sold out and hence, I boarded an evening bus from Bengaluru. After a long journey, I alighted at Kollam on the following morning, from where I got a passenger train ride to my destination: Varkala Sivagiri.

The itinerary for three days is as follows:
Day 1: Janardhan Swamy temple visit, Lazing and hippying around the cliff and the Varkala Promenade
Day 2: Golden island, Sivagiri Mutt, Ajengo Fort, Varkala Light house and Munroe island
Day 3: Kappil beach

The Story:
It was a pleasant train journey along a scenic route. I had a nice Kerala breakfast at a restaurant across the railway station and then followed google maps to the hostel that I had booked online. I did not mind the long walk to the hostel that was located close to the famous ‘Cliff point’. I always consider walking as an opportunity to explore the streets and get acquainted with any place that I visit. After checking in at the hostel and freshening up, I headed out to visit the ancient Janardhan Swamy temple. After offering my prayers, I walked back to spend the rest of the day at the beach.

While I was walking along the beach and silently enjoying the romance of my feet with the waves, I noticed a woman (in her sixties, which she later mentioned during our conversation) walking on the beach too. With a smile on her face, she was enjoying her lone time. But at the same time, she seemed to be struggling with something. I felt as if she wanted to mingle with the people around there, she wanted to get herself photographed, but something was holding her back. I smiled at her and she smiled in return. I offered to take her photo and she was glad. Eventually as I spoke to her, I realized that she wanted to socialize with the locals but was struggling with the language. She was French and couldn’t speak neither the local language nor English.

As I spoke slowly, she translated it on her phone and communicated back with me through the mobile phone translator. we had become good friends by the next hour. She mentioned to me that she was in India to help herself with the loss of her husband and was accompanied by a friend who had traveled all the way only to be by her side. She was in Varkala since a month and was staying at her cousin’s house who was married to a localite. She was learning Yoga and aromatherapy and was keen on buying good incense sticks from India. She walked me along the entire beach and showed me around the marketplace. She then sought my help to negotiate with a local vendor to buy her a ‘Hapi pan’, a musical instrument that she had been eyeing since the past month that she had been living there.

A demonstration of playing the hand pan/ Hapi pan by the vendor

I managed to get it for her at almost half the price that he had quoted to this ‘Foreigner’ and I can’t explain how happy she was with her new possession. She then walked me down the cliff, laid down her shawl on the ground and sat me down. She started to play her musical instrument and it was a sight to see the sparkle of happiness in her eyes. Sometimes, these little things of bringing joy in others’ life means EVERYTHING!

My friend enjoying her time with the happy pan (Image blurred intentionally)

Post sunset, she walked me till my hostel and bid goodbye with a REALLY tight hug! She said she was extremely glad that she had met me and asked me to join her at the Yoga classes on the following morning if I had time. “The morning recitation of the Shlokas by the beach is my favorite time of the day” she said. I informed her of my plans of exploring other places around Varkala and that I wouldn’t be able to meet her. I gave her my phone number to get in touch if she needed any help and we both parted.

It was a night of celebration at the hostel. The hostel had people from various corners of India and the world and were all dressed up in traditional Indian wear. The premises were decorated with diyas and rangolis. It was a special Diwali, for sure 😊

My visit to the Golden island

The following morning, I hired an auto rickshaw and did a quick visit to the Sivagiri Mutt and the fort before heading towards Ponnumthuruttu. Fondly called as the Golden Island, it is a protected forest area reachable only by boat. It has a few ancient temples and it reminds me much in line of ‘Devarakaadu’ or sacred groves in my hometown. It was indeed a pleasant ride. Apart from the auto driver and the boatman, I was the only other person in the boat, in the island and hence had the blissful time with nature. Although I had plans of taking a boat ride in the nearby Munroe island at Sunset, I later decided to stay back in Varkala itself. By evening, I returned to the cliff again at sunset time. Believe me when I say, the BEST Diwali of my life was in that day’s evening sky. It was a riot of colours.

The sunset from Varkala cliff on Deepavali 2019

After the sun sank into the horizon completely, I decided to treat myself with some nice sea food. It is one of those strange moments when you are made to feel at home in an unknown land. As I was strolling along the promenade, undecisive of which restaurant to go, I heard someone say: “Akkayya, ninga Kodagu-l elli?” in a male voice. In my mother tongue, that translates to: “Sister, which part of Kodagu do you belong to?” I was astonished and surprised for a moment. We got talking and he said he belonged to a native tribe from Kodagu, settled in Varkala. He had been working at a restaurant there since several years. On being asked how he recognized me to be a Kodavati, he pointed out at my unique Kodava facial features. That was SOMETHING for me to hear now! He volunteered to choose the lobsters and the crab for me from the aquarium, got me a beach-facing-candle-lit table and served the best sea platter I had tasted in a while. It is one of those overwhelming evenings of my life. All time for myself on a Solo-date-dinner night and still made to feel at home by a random person.

My sea view dinner table at Varkala

The next morning, I headed to the beach to grab some English breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised when my French friend and her friend, both arrived at the same restaurant. We three conversed on a multitude of topics and spent good long time together. While the two of them later dispersed, I stayed back at the restaurant waiting for a friend who was riding down from Kochi to meet me. On his arrival, I walked up to settle my restaurant bill at the counter. The cashier said: “No madam, your bill is already settled.” I was amused and told him that I had been eating until now and hadn’t left my table. So, he informed me that a foreigner lady had paid for my orders. There I was, in yet another overwhelming situation. My French friend had paid for my share of the bill too.

Kappil beach

My friend and I then commenced our ride towards Kappil beach, situated on the outskirts of Varkala. It is one of the finest beach side roads I have been to. Somehow, I drew parallels with Maravanthe beach in coastal Karnataka. But moving away from the highway, my friend took me to some deep hidden jewel of locations. I guess it would be fair to call this as my 4th best part of the same trip. Some amazing places can be explored only by hanging out with the locals. He is a Malayali and knowing the offbeat locations enable me to experience one of the craziest bike rides of my life. We drove several kilometers LITERALLY along the edge of the world; like the EDGE! Even if the moist soil under our wheel slipped or the rider went slightly off balance, we both would’ve gone along with the sea, beyond the cliff. All this, while riding through poor visibility due to wild shrubs that were standing taller than us. And then, the shrubs opened into yet another beautiful sunset.

Upon return to Varkala, I picked up some incense sticks with essential oils and dropped them off as souvenirs to my French friend at the Yoga center (A surprise that she would receive only the following morning, after I was gone). Then, I did a quick check out from the hostel and boarded the night train back to Bengaluru. The train route is for yet another post, someday!

My Deepawali of 2019 was all about spreading love and feeling loved. How often have you got lucky and overwhelmed with warm experiences during travel? And how often has it been multiple times on the same trip?

A Visit to the Mecca of India- Ajmer

This was the first time I was stepping into the state of Rajasthan. Time has been kind on me yet again bringing me to the right place when the time was right! And this time it was to Ajmer during the holy month of Ramadan. Ajmer-Marwar region was a separate state until it was merged with Rajasthan. At a distance of 130kms by road from Jaipur, it is believed to be the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. Apart from exploring Ajmer town, if you are a traveler, you can also include Pushkar in your itinerary, which is located less than 25kms from Ajmer. Apart from being a holy place for the Hindus, Pushkar is a popular haunt for the hippies from world-over. You can use the below itinerary if you have a weekend in hand. However, I could only explore Ajmer on this trip.

A weekend Itinerary:

Day 1: Bangalore to Jaipur (Flight); Jaipur to Ajmer (Hired car); Visit Ajmer dargah, explore Taragarh hill, Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra, Akbar Palace & museum, Soniji-ki-Nasiyan Jain temple, Mayo college campus. (Night’s stay at Taj- Ajmer gateway)
Day 2: Visit Pushkar lake for sunrise, explore Pushkar town (and the annual camel fair, if you time your visit right); return to Jaipur (by road), Jaipur to Bangalore (flight)

The Details:

I was visiting Ajmer on a business trip with three of my colleagues (Click here to read about my job as a car doctor). Hence, I somehow managed to squeeze in sufficient time into my trip so that I could venture out in this city and explore most of whatever it has to offer for the traveller in me. Needless to say, no visit to this holy city is complete without heading to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah dedicated to the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

Apart from it being the holiest and the busiest of the times on the Dargah’s calendar, our visit also coincided with the 27th day of the holy month: revered as the ‘Night of Destiny’ in the Islam faith. This is a place where most people struggle to get past the crowds even on normal days. We were fortunate to have contacted one of the trustees of the Dargah who managed our entire visit and made it effortless. It was evening time and we had just finished offering our prayers by donating a Chadar to the diety. What we hadn’t realized was that we were there on the premises of this holy place at the time of breaking the day’s fast. We were offered some fruits, nuts and food by the trustees and other devotees who were distributing food there. I was overwhelmed with the thought of having had such an opportunity, at such a time!

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Breaking the fast at Ajmer dargah Sharif

The Dargah is located at the base of the Taragarh hill, atop of which a fort is situated. The view of the entire hill overlooking the Dargarh is so beautiful with a township constructed on the steep slopes of the hill. Since, photography is prohibited inside the Dargarh premises, I wasn’t able to capture most of the things. It’s a welcome move in some places like these and respect the sanctity of the place. Enough is said and written about this place on the internet. So, I wish to cover about the other things this historic town has to offer.

After our visit, we walked the by lanes around the Dargah to explore the best of Ajmer. Not in terms of places but in terms of its lip-smacking street food. With a lot of Mughalai and Nawabi influence and it being the Ramadan season, the best of the spread was available. Needless to say, Ajmer is a haven for food lovers. By the time the last ray of the day’s sun had vanished, we were stuffed until our glottis.

If you are a history buff and want to find something to feed your wanderlust, you can take a walk to Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra and the Akbar Palace and museum that are located closer to the Dargah. Soniji-ki-Nasiyan is a nice two-storeyed wooden Jain temple that can be visited enroute to Dargah Sharif. If you are at the luxury of time, a quick ride to quick ride to the Mayo college campus can be ended with some peaceful sunset time spent by the banks of the Ana Sagar Lake. But, for me- something else was awaiting!

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The folk singers performing live in the courtyard of the Taj

I had my stay booked at the Taj- Ajmer gateway for the night, a world in itself to visit and hang around. The drive from Ajmer city towards it outskirts on Pushkar road, through winding roads with the backdrop of the setting golden sun was a picturesque treat after a tiring day of work and toil. All this seemed like only a grand welcome to the beautiful Taj property that’s nestled in the midst of nowhere in the lap of the Aravalis. The sky was dark, when we arrived at this palatial hotel. The entire driveway was lit with dim sodium lamps from the gate through the lounge. A faint outline of the Aravalli hills standing calmly on the backdrop only enhanced its grandeur. It was a warm welcome as the live Rajasthani folk music with the timbre of the Morchang and Khartal resonated from the courtyard. The host personally lead me to the room while explaining the delicately chosen wall murals and paintings as we walked through the elegant corridor. Though my stomach was stuffed with Ajmer’s street food, I did manage to make some space for the delectable dinner that I was hosted at the restaurant. With all items seasoned and cooked to perfection, each dish seemed better than the other. With a refreshing dip in the pool, a day was called!

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Top: The courtyard at night Below: the morning view from my balcony

I looked forward for the morning as much as I did for the previous evening! I had set the alarm for sunrise but was woken up rather early by the calls of dozens of feral peacocks that had come from the forest/hills just behind the pool. I opened my balcony doors and voila! It was a magical morning with peacocks dancing in the courtyard and a modestly calm sun peeping out of shadowy grey clouds with the glorious green Aravalis forming a backdrop… I soaked in this special moment as much as I could from my balcony before I realised that it was time for me to pack-up. Finishing up the morning chores and ending my stay with the Taj with a wonderful breakfast spread, it was time for me to say good bye to this beautiful city of Ajmer and this beautiful Taj property- the Ajmer gateway!

Fact file:

Must-do: Make a wish by offering the Chadar or the decorated shawl to the deity/tomb at the Dargah Sharif.
Must eats: while the street food and the never-ending list of non-veg dishes are to die for in the month of Ramadan, Kadi Kachori and Soan-Halwa are an all-season recommendations.
Must buys: variety of prayer caps and incense.

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The Street shopping at Ajmer

Camping in the Indian forests of the African tribes- Dandeli Jungle Camp

Being abundantly blessed with natural beauty, Anshi National park and Dandeli Tiger reserve is one of the first hotspots of the elusive black panthers in India. Apart from its paper mills, Dandeli is also known as the ‘Rishikesh of the South’ for its river rafting in the waters of River Kali. As if these weren’t reasons enough for me to backpack, I got invited to stay at the ‘Dandeli Jungle Camp’. What better way to reconnect the lost bond with nature than camping in the woods? I jumped to grab-in when opportunity struck! This was a Solo trip that was long due, and I had alighted for sunrise at the Dandeli bus stand on a Saturday morning.

Itinerary:
Friday: Overnight journey from Bangalore
Saturday: Alight at Dandeli town, Drive to ‘Dandeli Jungle Camp’, Visit backwaters of Supa dam, Shop for some forest produces at the tribal shop, Visit Syntheri rocks, sunset hike at the homestay
Sunday: Birdwatching at timber depot, river rafting & coracle ride, (Visit Kavala caves or the Siddi tribal village if you have more time), Leave for Bangalore by evening (direct bus from Dandeli or by train from Hubli)

Details:

After a 30mins drive through the forests to Pradhani, a further off-roading of 2kms from the main road lead me to this simple homestay and camp run in the lap of nature amid the woods. The eerie silence of the elusive woods and the stridulations of the crickets instantly calmed my soul by responding to the deep calls of nature. A basic cottage with all the essential and neat amenities was awaiting me in the midst of the jungle overlooking a farm of areca and mangoes. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be, to feed the wanderlust and nomad in me for the weekend. I was excited to be greeted by Malabar giant squirrels and sambar deer at my doorstep to say the least. One can also avail their tenting facilities with bon-fire if it’s a bunch of friends traveling together. Mr. Dharmesh, the ever smiling owner of the property says that the camp was started by a French lady 3 decades ago from whom he has taken over so that he could settle down in the woods after he quit his well-paying job at one of the top-star hotels in Bangalore. He had planned a detailed itinerary for me, and I can’t thank him enough for his warm hospitality. After dumping my luggage and a nice lunch, I set out for some exploration.

View from the Supa dam backwaters
View from the Supa dam backwaters

A stroll along the dwindling lonely road on the backwaters of Supa dam offered a panoramic view of the distant hills, only if there was good rainfall- it would have been a gorgeous sight. After a quick stop-over at the tribal shop to relish a glass of kokum juice and buy some jackfruit chips and papads to take back home, I was taken to Syntheri rocks. This is a very beautiful little place located deep in the woods and formed by rich mineral ores that have formed beautiful rock patterns by standing the test of time. A drive to the Kavala caves, A coracle ride in the ferocious rapids of the Kali river, a dip in the natural Jacuzzi, crocodile walk is some of the other activities included in the package that kept me busy through the day. An evening walk in the woods around the property with a personal guide was a memorable time spent identifying the calls of various birds and inhabitants of the forest. The large number of hornbills that fly into their nests in this forest with a small hike into the jungle at sunset or catching the sunrise from my window are only some of the fancy things that my stay offered to me.

Syntheri rocks
Syntheri rocks, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

The next day, Mr.Dharmesh personally dropped me off for the early morning bird watching walk that was arranged at the Dandeli timber depot. This first time experience of birding is something that I will cherish for a long time and is written about as a separate post. A bird watching tour around the depot where over 150 bird species could be spotted on any given day- was the highlight of my trip to Dandeli!

So, the next big agenda was meeting the Siddhis- The tribal community endemic to the Kali reserve region who are believed to be of the African origin. Be it chilling with them over some rustic music or trying their favourite delicacy- the red ant/ termite chutney, the experience is sure to leave one amused and feel time travelled.

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A coracle ride in the Kali River, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

With so many activities included in the package that kept me on toes through the 2 days I stayed at this property, it is a high recommendation from me. If you wish to extend your stay by another day, you have no dearth of things to do- from river rafting, to a canopy walk and visit to Dudhsagar falls, all can be arranged by the camp guys themselves. After freshening up at the camp, I started my journey back to Bangalore. I took a KSRTC bus from Dandeli to Hubli from where I had booked my train. Whoa! Such a wonderful trip!

Dandeli Jungle Camp’ is an offbeat stay which does not have its own webpage or have direction boards to keep commercialization at check. From the time I alighted at the bus stand till the time I boarded for return, my entire trip was managed by www.dandeli.com through whom my package was booked. The connectivity of public transport within the reserve area is scarce and being a solo traveler, all my travel hassles were taken care by these wonderful organizers.

Luxury in Wilderness of Dandeli- Old magazine house

With an invitation to review a nature resort, I struck an opportunity to explore Dandeli. I packed my bag and hit the road in an overnight bus to reach Dandeli. I was excited with the much-anticipated trip that materialized after really long. I was received at the Dandeli bus stand the next morning and transferred to the resort located 20kms away at Ganeshgudi where I had the booking. The resort is situated in the buffer zone of Anshi National park and Dandeli Tiger reserve, and hence I could pamper myself with luxury in the wilderness.

Itinerary:

Friday: Overnight journey from Bangalore

Saturday: Alight at Dandeli town, Drive to ‘The Old Magazine house’. Depending on your interest, you can either indulge in birdwatching on their premises and enjoy the food or visit backwaters of Supa dam, Shop for some forest produces at the tribal shop with a visit to Syntheri rocks

Sunday: Go for a nature and Birdwatching walk by the inhouse naturalist, river rafting & coracle ride, relax and Leave for Bangalore by evening

Details:

The name of the property where I was supposed to stay at was as enticing as the woods itself. The first thought that struck me when I heard ‘The Old Magazine house’ was an old rugged cottage painted on canvas straight out of a magazine cover. But that’s not what the fancy name beholds. Originally built by the British, it once served as a warehouse of gelatin and gunpowder (hence the name) during the construction of the Supa dam built across River Kali, the lifeline of the National Park. I was hosted at this renovated property, now run as a resort by the Karnataka Forest Department.

The road leading to the Old magazine house
The road leading to the Old magazine house

Their 3 categories of accommodation to suit all budget includes- the individual luxurious wooden cottages, the standard large rooms housed in the actual magazine house and the dormitories for large groups who want to stay together. I chose the second one and had a very comfortable stay. The Old magazine house is a simple place nestled in the midst of high rise thick canopy of trees with abundance of peace and calm in nature’s lap.

Water bowls have been placed with entwined twigs collected from the forest where the winged beauties come down to beat the heat. The set-up offers abundant opportunities to click the perfect postcard/wallpaper shots of these winged beauties. While most of the resort operators in the region keep food to attract more birds, “that makes the birds lazy and inactivity makes them vulnerable to prey. Hence, we only keep water bowls to help them quench their thirst and provide a more natural habitat for the birds” says one of the staff. Given their dedication to avian conservation and hospitability, no doubt the place is quite a hit among the bird photographers’ fraternity. I was surprised to meet so many enthusiasts who had made this place their home for over a week straight. All they did was eat the meals served at their place and wait patiently to get their perfect shot or spot that one bird they had come down for, all the way!

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Some of the visitors at the property from over 50 species, photos by: Gowtham Shastry

The early morning nature walk too offered some good birding opportunities with their very knowledgeable in-house naturalist. No doubt, the resort is a birder’s haven, but the place has lot more to offer like the flying lizards, the great Indian hornbill, sloth bears, the giant Malabar squirrel etc. which are easily spotted here than any other resort in Dandeli. Don’t be surprised if you drive past a leopard or a black panther post sunset, hence venturing out of the property after 6.00.p.m. is not advised and the guests are required to stay indoors post dinner at 10.00.p.m.

The Dining area at breakfast and Supper
The Dining area at breakfast and Supper

If you are more of an outdoor person always in action, their package does not disappoint you either- It includes a hike to the sunset point, coracle ride and bon-fire if the weather is friendly. While you are in a place known for its white water rafting, you can indulge in the water sports offered by the resort run Kali adventure camp. With a river seeming deadly with uncountable whirlpools, the coracle ride was sure an experience in itself. With the Kali river flowing as ferocious as her name sounds, I chose them over any other private property because all the permits for treks and adventure activities are legally obtained and conducted under the supervision of authorized and trained personnel from the forest department and hence, a safe bet. The neat spread of dishes for all 3 meals completed my stay into one memorable trip!

The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River
The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River

Summary:

Must dos:

Watch the hornbills mud-bathing on the river bank near Ganeshgudi bridge

• Spot flying lizards that can be seen in abundance just outside your room window.

• Get lucky to come face-off with the black panthers.

Since the resort is secluded inside the Dandeli wildlife reserve, the accessibility to places is difficult through public transport. My entire trip was very well taken care by www.dandeli.com. From my bus-stand/railway station transfers, accommodation to local sightseeing, everything was perfectly handled with their efficient personnel Mr.Sanjay, Mr.Ramnath and Mr.Rajesh. Even if you are a solo-traveler or a bunch of friends or family, I would definitely recommend their services not just in Dandeli but other places as well.

What has the spiritual capital taught me at Banaras?

Kashi for the pilgrims, Banaras for the historians and Varanasi for the modern… How it is religiously important, culturally vital, historically notable… There is enough said and done about this city through literature that is available as early as mythology, history and the modern contemporary. If I had to write about the same stuffs here, then this post would be just another summary with my perspective in it. However, I still use this one sentence to re-iterate the common belief: ‘No time is long enough to be at Banaras’.

The immovable faith of the people, the ever crowded streets, delectable street food, the elusive power of the Naga Babas, the hippie culture of the westerners, the rich history, the mythological importance, the intriguing cultural heritage, dance, music, poetry, handloom, education, art, architecture- The list goes on endlessly that holds so much significance. Hence, keeping it all aside, I wish to make a list of what this city offered to teach me-

1. Work is Worship: This old man agreed to pedal us around for a rickshaw tour of the heritage campus of the Banaras Hindu University. The humility in his speech, the five-o’clock shadow in grey on his weather beaten face and the sinewy legs spoke volumes of his wisdom and hard work for this 60+ someone. He has seen those innumerous people come and go to this sacred land. At the end of the tour, he stopped at the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum complex on the university premises. We told him that we wouldn’t need much time there and would be back in half-an-hour. We failed with our words, and the quickest we could come out is after one-and-half hours. There was no sight of this old man for as long as our vision could stretch. The man did not carry a cellphone and we didn’t know his name to enquire with the people around. We had waited for another 30minutes now. We were uncertain whether to wait for some more time or leave without paying his fees. In just then, we heard the tinkle of his cycle bell as it screeched to a halt in front of us with a little girl in the rear seat. He explained, “I was getting late to go pick up the kids from school and drop them home, they would panic or else”. This man did not worry if he lost the money that we owed him, there was something else he considered more important. As we sat on the rear with the little girl on my lap, I was reminded how for this man ‘Work was Worship’. One has to stay committed to what has been assigned.

2. Solo travel helps in self-discovery but having a travel mate provides security: While we finished the Ganga Aarti, savoured some delectable street food and returned to the hostel at around 10.00.p.m. we found that 3 of our roommates were fallen motionless. We checked with them to know what had happened. While one held on to her stomach and started to cry of pain, the other 2 ran to the restrooms… Having barely any strength to talk or stand, one of them managed to say that they had food poisoning. On being requested for help, the men running the hostel conveniently pushed the responsibility of nursing the girls on us. Since 2 of them were burning with high fever, we rushed them to the hospital (supposedly the best in town) for medication. On arrival, the hospital authorities refused to provide first aid without submitting their passport and paying an advance of Rs.30000. Forget being able to talk, these girls barely had any conscious to tell us where they had kept their belongings. And we ourselves being strangers in the place, it wasn’t going to be easy helping those girls. It was well past 12.00.a.m. while we were running around the dark, rainy streets of Varanasi for the required documentations so that the girls could get their first aid ASAP. With the physical condition they were in, with a no-electricity night, cocky/horny street hawkers who were hovering around and adamant auto-rickshaw drivers trying to make quick bucks out of the helpless situation, it would have been rather impossible for the expats hadn’t they found us! While the attitude of the guys running the hostel, the hospital and one of the girls among the patients itself is a story to write about, this whole episode taught me one thing- The importance of having company while travelling or at least having an acquaintance in the place one wishes to travel.

3. Serving food is divine, do it from your heart: There are eateries in every nook and corner of Varanasi that serve authentic cuisines from almost all parts of the world to cater to the international tourists who throng in large numbers. Any food that is offered with a true heart gets its added flavours… We had found our favourite hangout at the Phulwari restaurant, conveniently sharing the premises of the Godowlia Kaali mata temple. With a traditional ornate welcome gate opening into a casual shack like place with basic cushions and bamboo chairs and a mud-smeared kiln for making their wood fried pizzas, it offered a very warm ambience. And having personal attention from the waiter was overwhelming. He made sure we got precisely what we wanted while we were confused running through the long menu. He even went to the extent of getting some herbal drink from the next street to help me with my headache. He offered us with the best thandai of Varanasi, chilled to perfection and served in clay bowls to retain its authentic flavour; delivered at our hostel on the last day of our visit! There is so much more about providing customer service and hospitality- this man was at his best!

4. Do not question the untold: The Ganges is a powerhouse of inspiration. She’s holy, pure, sacred and selfless. While we took a ride along the shores of the holy river, the veteran boat man patiently answered all our questions about the holy city. While umpteen things can be discussed in lines of communalism, history and science, Not to be debated about: the Ganga at Banaras is a lifeline. It’s a way of life. Irrespective of religion, caste and creed, faith is the only thing that has kept the people going here… Every baby born in this land imbibes it in the genes… It’s at times important to understand the significance and let things be. Do not be overwhelmed to exhibit your education by venturing into a zone to only be littled by the magnificence of the faith.

5. There is no escape from the cycle of life and death: While we were sitting on the steps of the Manikarnika Ghat and watching the flames engulf the body of the deceased on the banks of the holy river, a volunteer sat next to us to proffer his knowledge about the significance of every ritual in Hinduism starting from the birth of a person until he bites the dust. He goes on to explain why Hindu culture does not encourage women from performing the last rites. Women being emotionally weak, tend to cry at funerals. This makes it difficult for the soul to break the attachment and leave the body. With soot from the fumes rising from the burning ghat settling all over us, it was a good long 2 hours of narration of the rituals associated with life and afterwards. At the end of which, I was left wondering with a continuously running stream of questions about life and finding its worth. They were thousands of unanswered questions which I hope to go back to the ghats someday, to find all my answers!

My hotel nightmares in India.

The long list of places I’ve travelled to and stayed at have given me a new insight to life and a new outlook at seeing life through.. The journeys have been enriching and the stays have added a new dimension to the travel. From five-star luxury to shoe-string budget hostels- I’ve stayed there all. While the pleasant ones were many, there is its own share of hopelessly aweful places. So here are a few ghastly and horrendous stays I have opted for during the course of my Indian discovery.

1. It being a pleasant season in the holy town of Rameshwaram, we had checked into a decent non-AC lodge at noon. After freshening up, we went out for sightseeing and returned to our room post dinner. We unpacked all our girly goods and let most of our wet lingerie strewn out for drying. It was around mid-night and I was just about to fall asleep and my friend Madhu screamed out loud. HECK! I jumped out asking what had happened. She switched the light on and started to pick up 1,2,3.. Bedbugs! She was allergic to them and the rashes had spread across her body. We spoke to the hotel manager and he arranged for an alternate room which he claimed would be good due to A/C facility. While we moved in our luggage and shut the doors, my friend lifted the bed to just reconfirm that everything was alright. Alas! More bedbugs were partying around the hemline.. We ran to the reception and asked them to give a permanent solution. They somehow managed to arrange a room in a nearby hotel after having themselves confirmed the room quality. So the next thing we were found doing was- Two girls walking the empty streets of Rameshwaram at well past midnight with half zipped backpacks, untied shoes in our feet, wet lingerie hanging out of the luggage, random plastic bags on both hands and anxious faces searching for a place to spend the night.. It was almost dawn by the time we settled down in the alternate accommodation provided.

2. We can’t blame anyone for this one- there was nothing else for us to expect while being stranded in the middle of a winter trek and the night temperature at 25 below zero!! We were at Leh town in Ladakh. No plumbing would work in that part of the world in that season for obvious reasons. We found ourselves in a homestay where we had to fetch water to do our daily chores. We had to break through the frozen layer of ice just so, that we could get half a bucket of hot (warm) water from the bottom of the same drum placed on fire. The bathroom waste was collected in containers which would overflow now and then making us want to throw-up very often.

3. The overly broken plumbing of the Chidambaram lodge is something that tops the list. It was a place that changed my mind to cutting-short my week long trip on just the 2nd day and making me want to go back home ASAP.. As if the stench from the nearby gutter, the smell of alcohol from the adjacent rooms and the super dirty bed covers weren’t enough, the washroom was moss covered and the faucet rusted as if it would break if operated… And to top it all, We stepped on someone’s barf that was spewed up on the stairs.. YUCK!! This has really given me strong reasons to have apprehensions towards online hotel booking based on guest reviews..

4. This one was a highly recommended budget stay option at Panchgani. It used to be a school hostel until being converted to a hotel which has hosted several movie shoots in the past. After hearing positive reviews, we two girls were surprised to find that the property seemed rather deserted when we arrived there. We were the only guests and that too on a weekend.. Although the room seemed decent for the tariff quoted, we still had some apprehensions for being the only people and our safety.. Just when we were in the process of decision making, both our eyes were caught by some strange thing just a little outside our hostel room.. Some white fur like stuff hung out of a large boiler sort of an equipment. We kind of panicked and asked the warden what that was. He told us it was a water boiler and the hard water had deposited along with some insulating material on the top. It definitely looked strange and scary. We did feel that it was a dog inside the boiler and it was their long furry tail hanging out of the barrel.. If it was our imagination, it is so not possible that both of us had the same thought.. We stared at each other and rushed out of the place without any further discussion..

5. So after a nightmare-ish pursuit of an accommodation, we finally checked into a hotel that evening at Panchgani. Everything was fine until my friend came out running from the bathroom. When asked what happened, she anxiously pointed out at the bucket placed under a running tap with a blood red liquid! The bucket was half full already with what seemed like blood.. I ran down to the reception and they came upstairs to check for facts from our bathroom :p They realized that it was rust particles from the overhead metal tank and pipes due to hardwater being constantly heated. We were somehow convinced with the explanation given, but I had no courage to continue to bathe in that water. However, to our rescue the water from other taps seemed to have a normal colour and we completed our basic chores…!!

Summary:

Do not suggest hotels, places and dishes/food to anybody. The choices and preferences vary from each person based on their character, mood, budget etc. Avoid being blamed later!

The Hesaraghatta de-tour

My wants are vague… This weekend I wanted to drive through countryside. As you may know, my mother worked for a government bank, a subsidiary of NABARD that lends agricultural loans. While she was processing one of the farm loan files, I had once chanced to take a glance at the filename- Hesaraghatta. Through her, I had heard that Hesaraghatta is an important centre of several agricultural research in India. I had been familiar with the campus of Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra (GKVK) in Bangalore and the amount of green cover there. Hence, I assumed that there must be a lot of greenery around Hesaraghatta too, and decided to head there.

We started from home at around 8.00.a.m towards Hesaraghatta. We first passed through a village called Aivaragandapura. It is a small village that gets its name from the Pandavas. ‘Aivara-Kanda-pura’ translates to ‘A village that has seen the five people’. There is a temple complex dedicated to the Pandavas who are beleived to have stayed here, briefly during their exile.

We continued our drive to catch up with our plan of going to the area of agricultural research. The government run research institute is spread across a massive area and is divided into separate sections, each having its own administration and permit requisites. We first reached the poultry farm. Various poultry breeds are kept in separate enclosures for research purposes. Along with several native varieties, we also saw Ostriches, Emus, turkeys, ducks, white geese, grey geese, swans etc. With permission from the concerned authorities, we could also visit the Indo-Danish cattle farm. I was awestruck with their size. They were massive, comparable with elephants. I mean, really! There is also rabbit farm, pig farm etc. which we thought of giving a miss because we could not figure out the route. Hesarghatta is also a centre for Horticulture-research. You will pass through large stretches of seasonal flowers, mango orchards and other farm crops.

Birds at the poultry farm at Hesaraghatta
The birds at the Hesarghatta farms

We were done with our pursuit of agricultural research and still had a lot of time with us. We decided to drive around and explore hesaraghatta a little more. We drove further ahead and passed through a narrow pot-holed road. We stopped by a high wall by the roadside which we learnt, was the once famous Hesaraghatta lake. This reservoir served as an important part of water supply to Bangalore City in the past. This is now just a stretch of barren land, open for cattle grazing and a playground for some village boys who go there for a game of cricket. These days, it barely fills even during the heaviest monsoon. While we stood on the tank bund, we could see some village youth playing cricket on the tank bed with a little water at the far end of the large area. The breeze was indeed good and that’s why we spent some time walking along the tank wall.

From there, our eyes fell on a direction board that read “Nrityagram”. It sounded familiar and it struck to me that it was a Gurukul dedicated to “Learning Dance”, founded by the famous danseuse Late. Pratima Bedi. When we reached there, we were told that the place was not open to visitors. However, there was hope. A portion of the beautiful dance school (constructed of natural materials) is now maintained by the Taj group. They run the “Taj Kuteeram”, a nice cozy resort. We dropped in for light snacks and coffee, as we were well into evening. We walked around the area and spent some good time amidst the chirping birds and the splendid nature. Since the setting sun was coming down, we thought of heading back home.

Taj Kuteeram / Nrityagram in Hesaraghatta
The Taj- Nrityagram, at Hesaraghatta

Half a kilometer from The Taj towards Bangalore city, we saw many vehicles going to a place to our left. The place looked secluded but made us curious to check out what was in there. We followed the vehicles that were going there. Oh, believe me! It was a nice suspicion. There lied a vast-neverending-wide-open stretch of plain-land. All those vehicles were actually ferrying some film crew. So that means, we also got to be on the sets of a movie shoot. A stage was set, some other make shift pillars were put up etc. We learnt that, many many movies and ads are shot here almost everyday. This barren land is converted to anything from a helipad to a swimming pool, a crowded village to a concert hall depending on the requirement. It is popularly called as the Hesaraghatta Grasslands.

the Hesaraghatta grasslands
Top: A movie set at Hesarghatta grasslands; Below: The grasslands

We also had a good view of the sunset from the open area. It was getting dark by then. So, we drove back to the hustling and bustling city—away from the calm and rusty countryside. It was hard to believe that such calmness prevailed in our very own Bengalooru. I will surely go back there soon.. Very soon… It was a total get away from the maddening city life.