Tag Archives: Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary

Exploring Vidarbha on a Long Weekend

Vidarbha- the region consisting of Nagpur and Amravati derives its name from the epic city of Mahabharata. With several references made in Ramayana and Mahabharatha, it is not just historically important, but is also economically important as it is a mineral rich region in Central India. Vidarbha is a cultural melting pot with its strong influence in culture, history and geography of the country.

When opportunity knocks at your door, grab it! That’s what I did.. A friend was getting hitched at Amravati and the nearest airport for me to fly down was at Nagpur. So this time, it was an opportunity to explore the Vidarbha region. But that came with its set of challenges. It is one of the hottest places in India and the ceremonies were scheduled during the peak of the summer season. So, my colleagues and I decided to hire a self-drive car to ease the travel hassles of local transport. We wanted to visit the prominent landmarks around the region. There are a plenty of them. Hence, the itinerary was planned such that all major landmarks around Nagpur were covered on a single stretch before hitting the highway for the night’s stay at Amravati. Along with that, the region offers its own delectable cuisine. We wanted to include some of the popular dishes/snacks on our list as well.

So, I present my visit to Vidarbha in two parts. One, listing the landmarks visited and second, with a list of food to try in the region.

Part 1: Places to see in Nagpur and Amravati

  1. The geographical centre of India before partition: The ‘zero’ milestone is from where all distances were measured and highways originated in India, before Pakistan was formed. For all the hype around this place on social media, I was surmised to see that it was poorly maintained and is located in a corner of a busy main road. I had imagined it to be centrally located at some kind of a junction on a busy road.
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The zero milestone of undivided India

2. The DeekshaBhoomi meditation centre: This is where Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution is said to have given his first sermon after he converted to Buddhism.

3. The Swaminarayan temple was a beautiful place located within Nagpur city. The Dragon palace temple and Ramdham Park are some other places located within the city if you have more time in leisure. The lakes in the city can easily be given a miss. However, some heritage structures like churches, schools and the railway station lend an old-world charm to the city.

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Swaminarayan Mandir

4. Adasa Ganesh temple: This visit can be done by taking a small deviation before hitting back the same highway.

5. Mansar: This is an archaeologically important site, believed to be of Pravarapura, an erstwhile capital of the Vakataka kingdom that ruled the Vidarbha region.

6. Ramtek: Located at about 5kms from Mansar, this is considered to be a holy hill to people of all faiths. ‘Gad Mandir’, an old beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Ram is situated atop a hillock. Solitude is available in abundance here with a great view of the entire area. The Ramtek hills is also believed to be a place where the mythological King, Kalidas wrote his epic poem- ‘Meghdoot’. There are several places that are significant among the Jains and Buddhists too that are located in the vicinity.

7. The Ambala Lake: The ghats of the lake located at the base of the Ramtek hills are lined with beautiful ancient structures and was my favourite place of the trip.

8. Khindsi Lake: Get yourself cooled with some water sports (recommended if you have leisure time at your disposal.)

9. Nagerdhan fort: Soak in history at the erstwhile capital town of the Vakataka dynasty. (Recommended only if you have some more time for leisure.) It is a further 10kms drive from Ramtek.

10. Pench National park: Don’t miss an opportunity to stay over and do some tiger sighting in the land of ‘The Jungle Book’. It is the same forest where the story of Mowgli and Bhageera is based at, that we have all grown up watching and listening to.

There are a lot of scenic places around Pench that I can help you with if you are planning to stay over at one of the jungle lodges. We did not have the luxury of time as we had to drive back all the way as our stay was booked at Amravati. The Amravati region is home to several wildlife sanctuaries and temples that can be accommodated if you’re traveling on a luxury of time and an own vehicle, which we had to give a miss.

11. Chikaldhara: The highest point of Vidarbha region and the only hill station is located in Amravati. For a person like me hailing from the coffee hills, it was quite exciting to know that Amravati is the only coffee growing region in Maharashtra state.

Part 2: Food and Sweets to try in Nagpur

Talking about the highlight of this trip, it was definitely the FOOD!! The Varadi and Saoji are the two popular cuisines of the Vidarbha region. So, it was a culinary treat for our taste buds to experiment on something fiercely spicy and so rustic in taste. While our day started with delicious plates of ‘Poha with Tarri’ and ‘Samosa Tarri’ for breakfast at one of the several roadside tapris, lunch was a simple delectable Varadi thali at the ‘Gad Mandir Bhojanalay’. We managed to find space in our tummies for street food with several pit stops along the way that tasted heavenly and ended our day with a grand non-veg varadi menu for supper at a star hotel where we were put up for the night.

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The Varadi food that kept us going!

Nagpur is synonymous with oranges and the brand ‘Haldirams’. So, the visit would have been incomplete without trying the ‘Orange Burfi’ at one of the Haldirams outlets spread across the city. Do pick up a box of ‘Mango soan rolls’ from Heera sweets to please your sweet tooth along your return trip!

With the short time of a weekend that we had, this was the best we could accommodate in our schedule. Tell me what other things would you recommend to do, see and experience in Nagpur and Amravathi?

Explore the Best of Valparai on a Weekend

My friends and I had heard sufficiently about the rich wildlife of the region surrounding Pollachi, its beautiful sceneries and perfectly trimmed tea estates. Valparai is a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (earlier known as Annamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burnt out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savor a slice of nature. Here, as one ambles past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised if you happen to hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ during this trip of ours.

A weekend itinerary was primarily planned by one of my friends and a few must-see items were pushed into the plan by me. Since this place falls on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, we decided to make it a three states’ drive including Karnataka. Accordingly, five of us started from Bangalore on a Friday night. Since it is also a bio-diversity hotspot, I had listed 5 animals on my ‘to-spot’ list while at Valparai. Valparai is the end destination after driving through 32 hairpin bends. Being a hill station, Valparai weather is specifically delightful with a cool climate throughout the year. It is usually the road leading to Valparai that is enjoyable with scenic vistas and photo-points. I had enlisted them with day 1 in the Tamil Nadu side of the sanctuary and then spending the second day on the Kerala side of the forested land.

Itinerary:

Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (Own car)
Day 1: Reach Pollachi before sunrise. Backwaters of the Aliyar dam, monkey falls, Loam’s viewpoint, Carver Marsh viewpoint, Congreve falls, Vinayagar temple, Birla falls, Balaji temple, Iraichalparai falls, Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint, ChinnarKallar hanging bridge trek, Sholaiyar backwaters (night stay at a homestay in Chalakudy)
Day 2: Athirapally falls, Vazachal falls and return to Bengaluru via Ooty.

The details:

Part 1: Tamil Nadu

During the night journey, I had dozed away on the rear seat of the car. When I opened my eyes to the misty morning dawn, our car was greeted by beautiful countryside with tree-lined roads, emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. We waited near Aliyar park until 06.00.a.m. for the forest check post to open.

a. We registered our entry into the wildlife sanctuary there and proceeded on our journey. Our drive further towards Valparai, was an ascent along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

b. Four kilometers further from the forest check post, we reached the monkey falls. The waterfall is aptly named due to the many troublesome monkeys here. One even entered our car and happily carried away a bag full of fruits from the rear seat. Our drive continued…

c. Just as we approached the 9th curve (the Loam’s viewpoint), we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks.
We scored off the first member on our list of top 5 wildlife to see- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

d. Continuing our drive, we stopped at Carver Marsh viewpoint adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, we were told that one can see the Sholayar reservoir (2nd deepest dam in Asia) from there.

e. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

f. We covered Congreve falls (located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple (Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest and the grass hills of the sanctuary.

g. Ox-bow lakes situated inside the protected area is supposedly the highlight of this region for those who can manage to get permission from the forest authorities. We failed at it since we didn’t have insufficient information on the channels for the permits.

h. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

Just along our way, it was time to score off no.2: groups of ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ were walking all over the road and around. Even before we realized, we had reached the hilltop.

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

i. We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills… pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary.

While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not to proceed further. She pointed at a herd of 8-9 elephants feasting around at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on my list.

j. We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek. In spite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250 Rs. per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest check post. This place is among the highest rainfall receiving areas in India. No doubt that the Valparai weather is pleasant all through the year and is an upcoming weekend destination among the urban crowd of the nearby metro cities.

We put our car in reverse and just then… no.4: The giant flying squirrel (a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road. We were excited…!!

k. After covering places in the Tamil Nadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of its crystal-clear waters.

And right there. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly

The Common map butterfly

Part 2: Kerala

We registered at the border check post and prepared to enter the Kerala land. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have been through. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.

We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset. We got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river. It was soon dark, and we checked into Maria cottage (a local homestay) where we were made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food.

Next morning, we walked past the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but rapids of the water there. We took a refreshing dip before returning to our homestay. We checked out of the place after having a good filling Malayalee breakfast.

Post this, we went back to the Athirapally waterfalls. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there. We had to then continue our drive, as our target was to reach Bangalore by night. After a quick stop at the Vazachal waterfalls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall), we decided to say goodbye to Kerala.

Athirapally waterfalls

Part 3: Karnataka

The original plan was to drive through the route covering Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore to reach Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule, we could not reach Bandipur before the forest gates closed (the forest gates are open only between 06.00a.m. to 06.p.m.). So, we decided to drive back through the curvy stretch of Pollachi road again.

We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India. Thousands of windmills dot the stretch on either side which is a sight to behold. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach our offices on the following morning.

Thus, ended our 50 hours’ drive, covering 1000 kms across 3 states!

Up, close and personal with wildlife at Bannerghatta

I believe that we develop interests based on the environment and the social circles that we are exposed to. Born in a small hill-dwelling community whose lineage takes pride in hunting games, it once got me to think where my interests towards nature and wildlife conservation came from. Although I couldn’t join too many dots, one significant period was my high-school days where I would have long conversations with a friend, about animals’ health, their behavior, their habitat etc. Her father worked in the Karnataka forest department. I thus chanced upon once, to stay for a couple of days along with her, in the official quarters located inside the Bannerghatta Biological park.

A stay dating back to June 2007: Five friends and I embarked on this memorable trip (yeah, I can call it life changing too.. It probably changed my perspective about zoo keeping and keeping animals in captivity).

Day 1:
After bracing through long traffic jams and burping on our pre-booked lunch at the Jungle resorts within the park, it was Safari time for us. Even though I’ve been to Bannerghatta innumerous number of times in the past, this was a nice experience. On my previous visits as a normal visitor in the zoo, I would have to buy separate passes for each section. But this time, I was exploring the place with special privileges. The herbivores safari, tiger safari, lion safari, bear safari all done by sunset time and we unwound at the quarters.. You have 6 chatter-box girls in one house and what do you expect? A lot of gossip 😛 The evening thus passed by. The cook served our dinner and post that, we all geared up for one of the most memorable nights of our lives.

Photos of wildlife taken at Bannerghatta National park
Deep inside the jungle

We were all set for “The Night Safari”. The forest guards would go on their regular night beats in the forest and this time, we would accompany them. Apart from being the first experience for all of us out at night in deep jungle, what was more exciting was that we were going in an open pick-up vehicle. As the eeriness of the deep dark wild started to excite us more and more, we got a better understanding of such places at night. While we were being attentive and soaking in all the sensuousness of mother nature, we spotted some wild animal that crossed our path.. and then came back and stood infront of our vehicle. I thought it was some sort of a wild cat and my jaws dropped in awe. I shouted in excitement, “Cat, Cat!”. Then noticing the weird glances I received and the silence of others, I realized I had to shut up. A friend was quick to realise what it was. She shouted “Leopard, Leopard!”. Imagine a LEOPARD, totally untamed and WILD.. right infront of us…!!! The driver halted the vehicle. Another friend yelled out, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.. Move move..”. But the driver took the jeep in reverse and closer to the cat. The leopard had now walked past our jeep and come to the rear side. At a distance of less than 10meters or so.. Instead of pouncing on us and grabbing one of us, strangely the leopard ran away within a few seconds. PHEWWW… still feels like I just woke up from a dream..!!

We were then told that the leopard had littered cubs somewhere in the vicinity and hence, ran away. The forest guards know their forests and its inhabitants. The leopard was frightened about a threat to its babies and hence ran away to protect them. They are usually in defensive mode during these time unless attacking is an absolute necessary. The Safari continued.. We spotted bisons, antelopes, spotted deers, neelghais, wild cat, black bucks, mongoose, rabbits, so on and so forth… The nigh safari was indeed an experience in itself!

Day 2:
Next morning we all woke up before sunrise and again, headed towards the jungle. This time, it was a morning ride with a hope of spotting a few wild elephants. As we travelled deep, deeper and deepest into the forest, the terrain got more bumpier and rocky. The painful ride however, did not yield any good sightings apart from fresh elephant dung everywhere. But, some wonders of the jungles that we had missed in the darkness of the previous night, made up for the disappointment of our morning ride. Picture these little scenes: hundreds of butterflies flying out of a bush, all at once; the glittering clear waters of the lakes lost in the deep jungle; many more.

After reaching back to the quarters, we immediately headed to a pond located behind the quarters. It was bathing time for the pachyderms at the zoo… Two majestic sweethearts walked past us, with a calf: Vanaraja, Darshan & Baby Nisarga (Those are the names of the elephants at Bannerghatta). We too stretched ourselves to give them a scrub and in the process, got all wet with the ever playfull little Nisarga.

Photos of elephants taken at Bannerghatta National park

It was our zoo time post breakfast. In a separate area, an elephant calf named Geetha was in deep slumber. The calf who was barely as old as a month-and-a-half was guarded by her mother. We accompanied the mahout to feed them and spent. During this, the little one woke up and we got lucky to spend some time playing around with her. She would nod her head and playfully chase us. We would run around the tree until both of us got tired, and then start the cycle again. While at this, the vetinerary doctors of the zoo welcomed us to the backyard of the Vet-hospital. Under their supervision, we got an opportunity to touch, carry and care for wounded or sick animals that were being treated there. Among them were an alligator, civet cat, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.

Later in the afternoon, we visted the SOS centre. I didn’t even know such a place existed within the premises despite coming to the zoo several times in the past Special privileges! This is a rehabilitation center for wounded lions, tigers, bears etc. These animals are mostly rescued from circuses, bear charmers etc. treated here before letting them into the actual zoo area. This is a public prohibited zone. The handsome Siberian tigers were my favourite.

Sloth bears at the SOS center in Bannerghatta National Park
At the SOS centre

Next was the drive uphill- to Udige bande. We got a nice view of the ‘Bannerghatta National Park’ from here. You can find innumerous dolmens here, believed to be the place where the local tribes once laid their dead ancestors to sleep. There is also another large rock, called as the Barber’s stone which is believed to have been featured in Dr.Rajkumar’s ‘Gandhada Gudi’ movie.

Views of the forest cover at Bannerghatta National park
From Top left: 1.The view from Udige Bande, 2. The Barber’s stone, 3.The Dolmens atop Udige Bande, 4.View of a small check dam constructed by the forest department as a watering hole for the wild animals.

Day 3:
We were taken to the tiger and lion conservation area. The pictures taken here are something that I would be flaunting for the rest of my life. Not all get a chance to touch and play around with tiger cubs 😉 The big cats that are ready for their breeding / mating are brought here. After the cubs are born, the parents and the cubs are nurtured here until the cubs are of a suitable age to go back to the wild. Here, there is no wild as such. They are let in the safari area to mingle with the other cats in a controlled space, which is also another form of captivity.

A tiger cub at the animal breeding center at Bannerghatta National park
Playing with a tiger cub at Bannerghatta lion and tiger conservation area

We took a walk around the museum and got a few insights into preservation and conservation of our natural heritage. We then headed to the last part of our long weekend. The butterfly park was newly set back then and it was a good crowd puller among the public.

To my experiences of going on wildlife safaris and what I had watched on discovery & Nat-geo, I guess this trip gave me a new insight into wildlife conservation. Until now I had only been hearing and watching it. This trip gave me an opportunity to EXPERIENCE it. You cannot connect with nature unless, you get up, close and personal with wildlife.

Studying ‘Bachelor of Cycle-logy’ at IIT-Madras

This trip to Chennai is going to be a memorable one. Because, this was my first solo business trip. Apart from traveling alone in a land that spoke a language I barely understood, I managed to pretty decently pull-off the audit at a vendor company, all by myself. Some small little personal milestones! So, here’s a peek into my first solo business day, without business :p

I landed at the Meenambakkam international airport at around 8.00.a.m. and hired a taxi to the vendor’s place. This is when my tryst with Tamil started. The driver did not know my language and I did not know his. But, one thing I learnt quite fast was, being a Kodava really helps while roaming around in South India. I could mix up bits of Malayalam and a little more of Kodava thakk and make it sound pretty much like Tamil. The driver managed to understand the basic instructions. And the rest, sign language it was. But yeah, it was a lucky start for a solo stint.

But imagine finishing work ahead of schedule and having a late night flight to return! Especially when you don’t have a backup plan in hand and do not know the local language. Even if I googled for some place to hang around, I was not able to communicate it to my driver.. The sign language wouldn’t be of much help if I had to spend a longer unplanned day. Hell! I felt stranded in my own country.

That’s when a friend studying at IIT-Madras came to my rescue. I rang him up and he guided the driver in Tamil to reach his campus. The plan was that he would show me around the campus and then drop me back to the airport. Fair! So that’s what I did..

What if I did not crash the GATE (The toughest entrance exam in India) ?? That did not stop me from learning at the prestigious IIT-M..!! Thanks to my friend pursuing research at IIT-M, this was where I completed my “Bachelor of Cycle-logy” which I had left unfinished way back in primary school. He suggested that cycling around the vast campus was the easiest way of getting around and I agreed to his suggestion. He got his bicycle out and borrowed one for me from one of his classmates. Then, we had gotten pedalling on the roads of the vast 600+ acres of lush greenery on the campus of IIT-Madras.

IIT madras campus
Top: Gajanan circle at IIT-M premises; Below: Bonn avenue at IIT-M

IIT-Madras is located adjacent to Guindy national park(the 8th smallest in India)- the last bit of the tropical dry evergreen forest in India. There is so much greenery in the entire canyons, that our cycling stint was indeed refreshing. This allowed me to witness the harmonious co-existence of man and the wild, in an urban setting. While the Black bucks, spotted deers etc. walked around fearlessly on the campus, the humans went about their businesses without coming on the ways of these wild animals.

Wildlife at IIT Madras campus
Wild animals walking around freely inside the IIT-Madras campus

After we had pedalled around almost all corners of the campus, we checked in to the ‘cafe coffee day’ on their campus. Since restaurants are heavily subsidized in such institutions, this was the “Cheapest” CCD I had been till date. It was 5.00.p.m. something and we still had so much time left. So, we decided to hit the “Elliot Beach” in Besant nagar about 6.kms from IIT-M.

We had some corn, I bought a Rajnikanth mask, flew a kite etc. on the sea shore. We did all that which helped us to kill time. The beach was a wee bit dirtier than the ones I had seen all my life (in Mangalore and Kerala). Meanwhile, I waited patiently to see the sunset. I waited and waited… and it was dark already. Only then did I realize that the sun only rises in the East coast 😛

Besantnagar beach in Chennai
Top:The Karl Schmidt memorial; Below: A corn vendor at Elliot’s/ Besantnagar beach

It was going to be 6.30.p.m and we thought it would be wiser to leave, because we had to brave through the Chennai traffic so that we made it on time to the airport.

All in all, a day well spent. Looking forward for many more business trips 😛