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Of ‘Clayfingers’ and Creativity!

Ask me what it is to reach a state of perfect happiness; a point in life where you are oblivious of everything that has happened in your past and a brief moment when you are not worried about all the craziness that the future holds.

Kneading a lump of soft clay with our hands at the pottery studio with mellow music playing in the background and the pitter-patter of the raindrops falling on the highly aesthetic terracotta rooftop of a 70-year-old tile factory in Kerala set the mood for what I call ‘pure bliss’!

Just 17 kilometers from Thrissur, our trip to the Clayfingers was an impromptu one on a Saturday afternoon. We pre-ordered our meal and drove through a quiet village, into the sprawling 10 acres of land that this resort stood in, at around three in the afternoon for a late lunch. As we pulled into the driveway, we nearly forgot that we were cribbing in the car about almost fainting from lack of food.

A beautiful heritage structure with cream walls that was comfortable and mindful of the environment stood tall against the chilly, overcast sky marked by the grey clouds.

The surrounding greenery, those tiny droplets hanging on to the leaves and the earthy brown terracotta garden pots and vases in all different sizes and shapes were all that you needed to gratify your sight.

Before heading to the dining area, we decided walk through the showroom and take a quick look at the art studio next to it. We met some artists happily preoccupied in giving life to something new, while experimenting with clay. The showcases and stands around had earthenware pots and vases, ceramic mugs and plates, terracotta bowls and containers – it felt wonderful to see and experience how a slab of earth could be made aesthetically pleasing and functional all over again!

Strolling beside the display racks, through their work space and walking towards the dining space a little later, made me feel that pottery was given a celebrity status at Clayfingers; and that the clay models were all showstoppers that walked the ramp.

We enjoyed the goodness of a home-cooked meal while they served us some great tasting Kerala style dishes that they prepared with fresh ingredients from their organic farm. From the fish fry to Kaaya Upperi, Aviyal, Sambar, Puli Enji, Chicken Curry and Cabbage Thoran, the feast encompassed the length and breath of a typical Malayali lunch. The special Gothambu Payasam made with broken wheat and jaggery was the most traditional way we could have wrapped up an extremely appetizing meal.

With just 4 cottages, the spacious rooms ensure privacy and peace to have a soothing time while enjoying the natural beauty and charm of Kerala. We took a short leisurely walk through the garden beside the cottages before we headed towards the studio to attend a small workshop we had enrolled for.

Betsy, who is a graduate from NIFT, Bangalore was our instructor for the day. Hand building is one of the earliest methods of shaping clay and she taught us the basics of this technique, along with how to attach two wet pieces of clay to increase the size and length of the object we were creating, and how to score clay and mold them into the desired shape.

She told us about how carefully we should work our way through. Cracking and crumbling under pressure is easy but creating something out of this sticky fine-grained earth sure does need patience and precision.

We also met Bijendar, who sat behind the potter’s wheel to show us a demo. First, just wet clay that marred in his hands, it obediently took the shape he wanted it to take later. He put the soft clay, in the centre, on the flat disc while trying to squeeze it, lift it gently and shape it into a vase, when the disc started spinning.

It looked like he was an illusionist and we were those wide-eyed youngsters watching in amazement, when he created and moulded earth back to life.

In a world that feels increasingly wobbly, the scent of earth and the rain-kissed fresh green-look that the famous Kerala monsoons bring along with it is that ultimate story I would share with my kids, years later, when I tell them about those roots they may want to come back to and the reasons to stay and never leave.

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Posted in Hill stations in India, India, Ooty, South India, travel and living, travelogue, Uncategorized

Ooty and her Iconic Cafes on the Hills!

WARNING that the following content is not going to be that typical travelogue where I talk about the sights to see or those tourist attractions you mustn’t miss while in Ooty.

On the contrary, this is going to be a small narration about one simple weekend, two crazy foodies and the three heavenly dining experiences whose mere thought will excite our taste buds for the longest time.

With the sole objective of enjoying the serene beauty of Ooty, while munching on some of their famed homemade dark chocolates, we drove through what travellers consider to be one of the perfect circuits for that ultimate road trip.

While on the road, driving up the hill, we saw the ‘Queen of hill stations’ adorned with those faint purple flowers.

The freshly bloomed purple-blue Jacaranda florets fell so beautifully well on the green hills like an exquisite garland, while the clouds came down closer to the hills, as if to take a good look at the divine purple patch against the emerald green slopes.

Having heard a lot about the Zostel, a hostel facility for travellers and backpackers, we decided to explore this budget-friendly space to stay for the weekend. Since we knew that tourists might flock to the hills during summer (like us, of course), we pre-booked two beds in a common six bedded dormitory.

We checked in to a small-cottage-converted-into-a-Zostel nestled in the Nilgiris which overlooked the innumerable shades of green. After leaving our bags in the room, we walked to the kitchen, made some coffee for both of us, sat on the wooden bench outside and watched the sun set against the valley with grasslands, paddy fields, plantations and orchards.

While basking in the fresh air on our faces and the light cool breeze brushing through our hair, we could hear worship songs being sung from a church faraway, on a hillock at some distance. And for a few minutes, we were transported into a whole new world where everything was pleasantly free from anything that caused restlessness and chaos.

The next two days in Ooty is what made me want to write about the three best places to chill-in-the-hills (Yes, was just trying to sound cool!).

The celebrated cafe – Earl’s Secret

You really need to try this place the next time you hit the hills. My foodie partner was raving about this place and had expressed her desire to go to this place for a meal when we got to the hill station. We decided to head to this fine dining place the same night we reached Ooty.

This vintage secret hidden in the wilderness had the perfect decor to celebrate the first evening in the dream city.

We ordered a cream of chicken soup and a portion of Honey Chicken with sliced ginger for starters, and their signature Lasgna Al Furno and a basket of steamed Chicken Momos for the main course from their exhaustive menu. We wrapped up our meal that was served in this warm British era bungalow with their chef’s special Earl’s Secret Brownie topped with some great tasting chocolate ice cream.

The cosy cafe – Cafe Diem

Sitting at this quaint cafe and watching it drizzle outside through the glass windows while sipping on some hot beverage is what dreams are made of.

Cafe Diem was an option our manager at the Zostel gave, before we stepped out for an early lunch on Day 2 of our stay there. Strangely, we were suddenly very determined to go to this cafe that he was raving about. So, after calling and booking a table, walking till the bus stop, hopping on to a bus, driving in a shared cab, taking an auto, and following the long winding pathway, we reached this Bohemian style cafe with a stunning view of the Nilgiris.

We were welcomed with a warm smile from Ms.Radhika, who we later learnt was the owner of this heaven on earth. From their vegetarian-only menu, we ordered a bowl of piping hot Velvety Mushroom soup and an appetizing Falafel Platter to begin with. And those we shamelessly polished as soon as it landed on our table. The soup was incredible and their generous serving was flavourful with great texture, yet so simple and uncomplicated. The Falafel Platter that came with dips – hung curd and hummus – couldn’t have tasted any better.

If a hardcore meat eater like me is telling you that she would highly recommend you try this vegetarian cafe the next time you are in and around Kotaigiri, then that’s something. Oh, yes! And don’t forget to try their classic French Lemon Tart, while clicking a few pictures of the cafe and the view that are sure to break Instagram!

The classy cafe – The Culinarium

As soon as we walked into the cafe, the familiar smell of freshly baked bread wrapped our olfactory senses. There is always something magical about that aroma and the exquisite decor of this cafe only added to the charm.

The puffs we tried were so sinful, flaky and stuffed with zesty minced chicken that I was so glad we didn’t miss this place while on our food trail through the hills.

The delectable Deviled Eggs, the winning combination of rice and chicken, perfectly grilled beef sliders – they were all showstoppers. But, yes, don’t forget to leave some room for their Chocolate Eclairs and homemade ice creams. You can thank me later!

There’s something about the hills, its silent deep gorge, the cool crispness in the weather and its delicious food that enthralls me.

If you haven’t got a chance yet, now is the time to pack your sweatshirts and track pants and head to this town to experience food coma. Trust me, extreme laziness induced after consuming food from these cafes are totally worth it.

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Floating on the backwaters of Alleppey!

What generally happens when you catch up with your longtime friends from college? Everyone suddenly starts planning for a trip that never happens. Yes, we have all been there, done that.

And, like everyone else does, we kept doing the exact same thing for the longest time too. But finally, we found the time to come together for a houseboat cruise through the narrow canals and the green-fringed backwaters of Alleppey, the town that’s fondly called ‘Alappuzha’.

The icing on the cake was that we weren’t just toasting great friendships but were also celebrating a friend’s birthday that day.

We walked into the exotic houseboat, made mostly from coir knots and bamboo roofing, at around 11 in the morning. The cruise began by them serving us a refreshing welcome drink and by us walking around to see the sheer brilliance of the design. The inside of this well-furnished houseboat, needless to say, was as great-looking as the backwaters it was floating on.

A short while into the ride, we stopped near a toddy (country liquor) shop, by the backwaters, in the village. What caught my attention was this small concrete building with brick red coloured Asbestos roofing sheet and the white board outside with “kallu” (toddy in Malayalam) written in bold black.

We got a couple of bottles with fresh toddy before clicking a few pictures and hopping back on to the boat to continue the cruise.

Known for its annual boat race that happens through the panoramic routes during the festival of Onam, and renowned for its beach sides, the candy-striped lighthouse and all the breezy open-air restaurants, Alleppey should be a must-visit place on every traveller’s bucket list.

But, beyond all these, what was most interesting was to watch the daily lives of the villagers unfold in front of you while you steer through the waters, across their houses, by the banks of the canal.

The women of the house were washing clothes and rinsing the vessels, while we saw some kids jumping into the river, bathing and having fun with friends. Some men were also sitting on the banks of the river, fishing while some were catching up with other men in the neighbourhood, and the others were busy in their daily chores.

Only while you witness all these firsthand do you realise that the people who live by the backwaters follow a very different set of rules. As there are no tarred roads to depend on for transportation, the rivers, canals and lakes make for travel routes.

The backwaters of Alleppey are not just a source of livelihood for the villagers. It is also the lifeline of the town.

The paddy fields and the fish from the river feeds the families living in and around the backwaters. We also noticed that most of the families had a boat or two of their own. Maybe the children here learn to swim as early as they learn to take their baby steps.

After sipping on the heady drink we got from the toddy shop, we went on to enjoy a great lunch served by the crew that cooked for us, exclusively, on board. We had some delicious fish fry cooked the Kuttanadan style, that was made from fish that was caught straight out of water.

All we had to do the entire trip was, sit back, cut the birthday cake, sing the birthday song, taste some exquisite Kerala cuisine, enjoy the enchanting maze, do some bird watching and get carried away by the serene and scenic ride through the beautiful waters of Alappuzha.

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Touring through Trivandrum!

Having heard a lot of stories from Amma’s early childhood unfold against the backdrop of this city – dotted with historical sites and structures known for its glorious past, the charmingly scenic beaches and the famous zoo Amma and her three brothers frequently visited, more for the tall glass of orange juice they got to drink (at a juice shop beside it) with a spoon full of khus khus (sabja seeds) floating in the brim than for the excitement at seeing some rare and exotic wild species there – I had to grab the first opportunity I got to visit the place. This thought became the elixir that gave me all the enthusiasm to explore the city that weekend.

What we saw!

Though the summers in Trivandrum is generally characterised by bearable heat, the weather wasn’t too favourable even after me being there way before the warmest season should have ideally decided to slowly set in.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple

Before entering the temple, I had to see the ‘Methan Mani’ (an old clock tower mounted on the eastern side of the road leading to the temple) that I remember my mother so fondly talk about.

The clock tower had a simple face of a bearded muslim man (methan) with two goats on either sides. Every one hour, the goats would lean towards the man’s face and hit him on his cheeks. This impressive beauty that majestically faced the Padmatheertham Pond is believed to have been built in the early 1800s to mock Tipu Sultan at his failed attempt at invading the princely state of Tranvancore.

When I finally looked up to see it, I think I felt the same eagerness Amma had felt when she craned her neck to catch a first glimpse of the masterpiece as a six year old girl.

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After keeping the phones and sandals in the locker, we joined the queue that was moving towards the main entrance to the temple. Since it was way crowded than we expected it to be, my friend went ahead and took two special entry tickets for us. This cut the waiting time to half an hour. Finally, when we got to the sanctum sanctorum, we saw Sri Padmanabha reclining on the five-hooded serpent Anantha and his right hand placed over the Shiva Lingam.

It is said to be the only temple in the world to have the principal deity in this pose.

Legend has it that this idol was made in black stone and adorned with eye-catching precious stones embedded in gold.

When they got the news of Tipu Sultan approaching their kingdom to loot them, the then king, instructed his men to cover the entire deity in black soot.

Though the kingdom of Travancore was a target for Tipu Sultan and his army for the longest time, they were never successful in conquering their empire.

Puthenmalika Palace Museum

The visit to the Puthenmalika Palace Museum, popularly called the Kuthira Malika, felt more like a trip that took us back to a different era. Built by Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma in the 1840s, this two-storeyed structure has 80 rooms of which 15 rooms have been open to public.

Located in close proximity to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, this building was constructed in such a way that it gave the people standing at the palace a direct view of the temple. We loved walking through the reading room with wooden shelves and carved ceiling, the music hall where Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma, who was also a wonderful musician, composed songs, and the upper galleries with the palace collections, paintings, Belgian mirrors and other exhibits.

Swathi Thirunal unfortunately died at a young age of 33, after living at the then newly constructed Kuthira Malika for just about a year. The royal family decided to not stay there after his untimely death and his successors continue to stay at the Kowdiar Palace.

Though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the palace, we managed to take some shots of the building and its surroundings from the outside.

Thiruvananthapuram Zoo

Spread over 55 acres of land in the heart of the city, the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo beautifully achieves the combined goal of protecting the fauna while not forgetting about the flora. There are a variety of plants and trees in the premises surrounded by lakes and lawns.

Want to see successful models, smoking hot and compassionate at heart? Across the narrow space between beams, we saw them. Some of these animals living in captivity made me feel that they aren’t always unhappy with us for staring at them or disturbing them with our presence. We spent more than 2 hours under the green canopy admiring the animals and walking through the garden, while managing to spot a naughty lion-tailed monkey, a white tiger restlessly pacing his cage, a sleeping lion, a tired leopard, some poisonous and non-venomous snakes, and a lot of calm looking deer.

This zoo also taught me that white tigers live longer in captivity, that monkeys don’t run away if they get really comfortable in an environment, and that the smallest snake can be even smaller than the palm of your hand.

Shri Chitra Art Gallery

The art gallery was beside the zoo, but not seeing a lot of people go this side, we were a bit reluctant go in to begin with. We decided to enter anyway and from the moment we stepped in and walked from one hall full of beautiful artworks to another, we enjoyed every bit of it. The gallery featured paintings, both traditional and modern, of the famous Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Nicholas Roerich and Svetoslav Roerich to name but a few.

Nicholas Roerich was a Russian painter and globetrotter who fell in love with India and lived his final years at the Kullu Valley. Svetoslav Roerich, like his father Nicholas, was fond of India and her people.

Svetoslav went on to marry Devika Rani Chaudhuri who is popularly known as the first lady of Indian cinema. They were happily married till Svetoslav passed away at the age of 88 in Bangalore in 1993.

From Ravi Varma’s classic paintings of the royal family to Nicholas Roerich’s enigmatic depiction of the mountains probably recorded on canvas during his Indian expedition and his son, Svetoslav Nikolaevich’s landscapes and portraits, every single painting spoke volumes about the unique styles they had.

Where we ate!

For a city that appears to shy away from getting into the fast-paced bandwagon and continues to stay away from having tall buildings that aim towards the sky, she has wholeheartedly opened her arms to embrace food joints, big and small, with their great tasting food.

Devi Juice Shop

My friend and I were finally walking towards the car after a long day of loitering around the city, when we found this gem. Fortunately, we had 30 bucks in our wallet and could buy one huge mug of fruit sarbath. You would agree that nothing pairs with a hot summer day better than a scene where you picturise yourself sipping on a refreshing fruit drink, that cools down the body heat and quenches your thirst all at once.

Villa Maya Heritage Restaurant

This heritage restaurant is an Arumana Ammaveedu converted into an elegant eat out, painstakingly restored into what we see there today. The royals of Travancore belonged to the matrilineal society where the family legacy was passed on through the female heir. As a result of which, the men in the family married women from the Nair community and gave them a luxurious life at what was called the Ammaveedu.

The decision to have at least one meal over the weekend, at Villa Maya was there in the back of my mind. The wooden furnishing and well-tended garden blended perfectly well with the sun-soaked courtyard, the graceful-looking teal and beige coloured curtains, and the limestone rock walls.

It was extremely soothing to watch the fish move in harmony as if they were on a mission, as if they were patiently engraving musical notes on water.

Having dined here earlier, I loved the idea of enjoying food at a magnificent mansion which was once filled with music, dance and rich heritage. We ordered one portion of Beef Lasagna and Kerala Kozhi Roast with Parotta from the wooden multi-cuisine menu book.

Paul’s Creamery

I have always been on a journey towards finding the perfect scoop of ice cream. Though I haven’t really found it yet, Paul’s Creamery serves some great tasting flavours of ice cream in their shop at Kowdiar. The interiors are tastefully done and theme of the place and its lighting will definitely give you positive vibes.

Thank you, Trivandrum, for the wonderful two days, clean streets, pretty palaces, magnificent temples and tasty treats. Saying goodbye… until we meet again!

Posted in Asia, beaches, churches, India, South India, travel and living, travelogue, Uncategorized

Kanyakumari, where two seas meet an ocean!

Almost in a trance after having a flavoursome lunch from a small hotel in Balaramapuram, we headed to Kanyakumari. Kerala country-style chicken fry popularly known as the Naadan Kozhi Perathiyathu smeared with some freshly ground spices and dunked in coconut oil along with the authentic boiled kappa (tapioca), multi-layered parotta that melted in one’s mouth and puttu that was steamed to perfection, gave us all the verve we needed to drive; to the land in front of whom the three bodies of water met and merged into one another – the fabled Kanyakumari!

I’ve always loved road trips more, because then it is no long just about what we see at the end of the journey but also about what we get to catch a glimpse of and experience on the way.

And if you are lucky, it may sometimes turn out to be as breathtakingly beautiful as or even more stupefying than the destination itself.

While driving through what might seem like endless roads, it is not uncommon when every nook and cranny of this state greets you with greenery. But the reflection of the trees swaying gently beside the Paloor pond managed to delightfully multiply the different shades of green for us.

Nature’s palette sure does have a lot of tints and tones, way beyond our imagination, while we happily dabble our hands in some basic hues.

While embarking on a trip to the southern tip of mainland India, we forgot to check just one thing – as to when they close the ticket counter to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The last boat to this popular tourist monument leaves the shore at 4:00 pm.

Want to know how unfortunate we felt? The car pulled into the parking area at 4:01 pm. Enough said!

Yes, I did feel crestfallen because no amount of requests-that-turned-into-dramatic-pleas worked. Now don’t ask me why we didn’t check for timings and make me feel miserable all over again. 😏

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned it, and that’s okay. And when things don’t go as planned, you make new ones and click pictures of them. 😁 We decided to walk around, go to the small market beside the beach, take as many shots of the Vivekananda Rock from the shore as possible and leave only after sundown.

There was a clustered rock extension a little away from the main beach and we decided to walk up till the end. It was definitely a treat to watch how effortlessly the waves were approaching the shore at one moment and crashing against the rocks oh so, masterfully in another.

But while walking towards the tip of the rocky trail and sitting there for a brief time I kept wondering about how this place got its name, Kanyakumari – the virgin girl.

Rumours has it that, at one point, the Asuras (who battled constantly with the Devas) won them over. The Devas were driven away from heaven by the Asuras. Though the flustered Devas approach Lord Vishnu – the Protector of the Universe – for help, all he could ask them to do was to appease Goddess Parashakti as she was the only one who could destroy Banasura, the King of demons, and save the Devas from the clutches of the evil.

She is said to have appeared before them after a Yagna and promises to do the needful at the earliest.

Parashakti takes the form of a virgin girl and comes to the ‘end of the land’ to vanquish the leader of the rival group.

In the meantime, Lord Shiva who resides in the nearby temple at Suchindram falls in love with her. The news of their love story reaches Narada, who according to mythology is a Vedic sage and storyteller. Worried that the whole purpose of the Virgin Goddess descending to Earth might get lost, he plays a game on Lord Shiva, the night the two had planned to unite in holy matrimony. This results in the Lord not turning up for the ceremony.

Though she wins a resounding victory over Banasura, deeply saddened by her called off wedding, the Goddess vows to never get married again and to remain forever a ‘Kanyakumari’.

An engaging narrative, but it somehow does not sound like a complete story. I just hope that you will forgive everyone who played a part in knowingly or otherwise spoiling what would have been one of the best days of your life, beautiful girl! And I hope that, maybe someday, you will find the one who will watch every sunrise with you, until the final sunset of your life.

P.S: This time it’s thanks to an iPhone X and its owner for the photo quality. ☺

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Forest bathing at Masinagudi!

Bangalore, famously referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, is definitely a crowd puller and her nightlife experience is what a lot of youngsters clamour the city for. But we wanted to move away from all these and absorb everything about nature.

 

It was January and thus, it might not come to you as a surprise if I said that I was in a be-more-adventurous-live-life-to-the-fullest-new-year-new-me mode. The long weekend was approaching and we really had to confront the undesirable “always indoors”, “always plugged in” epizootic.

A few friends and I decided to take the vacation vibe to the wilderness, take in the forest atmosphere and bring those memories back to the concrete jungles. This might just calm our minds till the next trip.

We worked out the per head cost estimate for the 7 of us, reserved a huge single room at a recently developed property called Singaras Coffee Country that promised they would comfortably accommodate us, booked a Zoom car, stocked up on water and snacks and began our journey from Bangalore at around 6:15 on January 26th morning.

Two of my friends who were working on a project had a conference call, with their boss, they couldn’t miss. We managed to reach a beautiful vegetarian restaurant on the Bangalore – Mysore Road before their call at 8 and had to spend close to two hours at De Parathzzaa Cafe because their meeting got extended, way drawn out than it ideally should have and way longer than we had agreed to halt to have breakfast. But none of us regretted it one bit. The specialty of the place was what they named their cafe after – ‘parathzzaa’; a pizza with the famous Indian flatbread, paratha, as its base. From the classic Hawaiian to Farm fresh to DPC special parathazzaa, they had them all. They also served a variety of parathas, from aloo paratha, aloo cheese paratha, paneer paratha, onion paratha, mooli paratha to dil pickle paratha.

 

With a lot of parking space in front, the location was beautiful, the interiors well done and the food beyond delicious.

Once the tummy was happy, the kids started playing and exploring the surrounding while I walked around and clicked a few pictures to show you. The cafe had a huge patch of land extending over an acre, behind their facility, where they grew their own vegetables. I fell in love with this self-sufficient eatery a tad bit more and decided to pack some parathas to keep our spirits high while maneuvering through the long road ahead. 😁

 

We had expected to reach the resort before lunch but instead of steering us through the road that runs through the Karnataka – Tamil Nadu border, the maps I had had saved offline (since we weren’t sure about the network connectivity in those areas) decided to navigate us through a seamlessly endless route.

We lost a couple of hours finding our way back and managed to reached the mountain facing room by late evening.

 

Being tired from the road trip and not finding the premises of the resort as appealing as we had expected it to be, made us go a little low on mood. Unfortunately for us, the restaurant we chose to have dinner that night, the poor quality of the food they served and the amount of time we had to wait for it only added fuel to the flames. When we got back to the room and saw our beds, a thought inside me cried about sleep like it did in Shakespeare’s Macbeth –

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

Maybe sleep will put this day to rest, I thought. Slightly late in the night, but I had a hot water shower, kept the phone for charge (as it had its battery drained piloting us to Masinagudi like the drive did to our liveliness), and got under the soft and velvety blanket for a goodnight’s slumber.

 

Woke up fresh next morning and walked out while sipping on some coffee. Ah, Sleep sure is a magician!

The air was a bit nippy and wearing the sweatshirt helped. A person at the resort had suggested another vegetarian place and we decided to try that for breakfast. Nava Ruchi was run by a friendly gentleman named Madhusudhan. We loved the place, the food and their hospitality so much that we ended up having our lunch and later even dinner from there.

 

As we had booked for a safari ride at 4 in the evening, when they came to pick us up, we hopped on to the jeep. The driver cum guide took us through the tarred roads in the beginning and then gave us a small off-roading experience. Off the paved roads, he took us to a hilltop with a temple and a great view in the background. The gang spent some time clicking pictures before heading towards the Mudumalai National Park, which was declared a tiger reserve by the Tamil Nadu state Government in April 2007.

 

While reading about the place online before headed for the trip, I had read that there are 15 species of cats in India and 4 (Leopard, Bengal Tiger, Leopard Cat and Jungle Cat) out of those 15 were spotted in Masinagudi.

Must confess that I got a little excited as we drove into the cool depths of the inviting woods in the hope of seeing at least one of them. As we drove in, the sounds, smell, sight and stillness of the wilderness soothed me.

 

While we drove towards the viewpoint next to a dam, we managed to spot a few wild elephants, grey langurs, sambar deer, peacocks and wild boars. The viewpoint, a church next to it and the village around gave us some impressive shots. After strolling around for a while, we realised that the sun was setting and so were our hopes of spotting a wild cat.

Even though it was a missed encounter with the cats, the two hours’ drive through the Nilgiris was definitely a glorious experience.

 

The night was clear, cool and starry and the resort arranged a bonfire on request. We nibbled on some starters that had been parceled from Nava Ruchi and sipped on some fine Hardy Stamp wine through the night, shared random jokes, listened to music on a friend’s JBL Speaker (oh, I highly recommend you carry on during trips), discussed about astrology (yes, things we discuss, I tell you) and exchanged some mandatory office gossips.

Around 8 the next morning, we were ready to leave with the hope of coming again but for a better prepared and planned trip. Less adventurous but nevertheless, it was definitely a weekend well spent.

 

 

P.S – Try not to carry crates of beer, bottles of expensive wine or even breezers. We had to get rid of them at the check post. 😑 Oh, yes! They must love their drink, I guess!

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A tale from the Avalabetta trail!

Distance: 91.2 kilometres (one way)

Route: Banaswadi > Yelahanka > Devanahalli > Peresandra > Mandikal > AVALABETTA (Phew!)

Mode of transport: Ola Outstation (Yeah, we didn’t have a choice!)

The Team: My adventurous colleague, her excited 9 year old son and I

Since it was warmer during the day, we decided to leave home and hit the road at around 5:30 on an early October morning. We had pre-booked the trek through the Myecotrip website run by the Karnataka Ecotourism Board and were pretty pumped up about the whole thing. The weather was quite pleasant and the idea of trekking an unknown trail, thrilling.

As we were approaching Mandikal, we saw a small pond beside which a flock of sheep were being given a bath. One man took them to the pool and another young man, deep in water just enough to float the sheep, swung the happy herd (one at a time) to and fro in the water. While a grey-haired man who looked like he would have been in his late 60s was overseeing the entire operation and its flawless execution, the photogenic elderly lady who was enjoying all this and her betel chewing encouraged me to take pictures of her and of her cheerful family. 🙂

We were asked to report at the Yerraganahalli village anywhere between 6:00 am and 9:30 am. Upon reaching the mentioned start point began our ordeal. Neither did we see any signboards or organisers at the location they had wanted us to be, nor were we able to reach them on the phone numbers given because of the dropped signals and spotty connections on both our phones. While questioning our decision of not reading the reviews about them before paying about INR 450 per head, we decided to ask around for the concerned people for about 15 minutes but in vain.

We had woken up earlier than usual, on a weekend, rented a cab and came this far. Does it make sense to give up so easily, head back home, waste a Sunday and feel bad about it – definitely not! We decided to get to where we wanted to anyway and were also determined to find our way to what we came to see – the great hilly retreat that was said to make for a serene weekend getaway – the Avalabetta Hilltop.

With the little one hiking for the first time, we had to make sure that he didn’t have a painful experience. Though the well-laid out roads and walkways made it less adventurous for us, it made the walk up a pleasurable one for him. That’s all that we wanted.

On our way up, we strolled amidst the leafless trees and to capture the beauty of these bare branches against the bright blue skies was a magical affair. I tried my best to seize the moment and let the light help me emphasize the stark shapes that looked like the neurons in our brain. It was definitely a challenge and I don’t think I could do justice to the divine-looking place. Maybe I will go here again, with a better camera and some improved photography skills, to take some shots and freeze the frame to posterity. 😉

While proceeding towards the hilltop, we saw the Lakshmi Narasimha temple I remembered reading about in the Ecotrails website while going through the trek details. It is said that the rural dwellers in and around the village offer the first milk of their cows to this temple that is considered to be the abode of Goddess Lakshmi. For our youngest hiker’s benefit, we found a small stone bench to sit, sip on some water and catch our breath before continuing our walk ahead.

By the time we got up to our final destination, it was about 10 and the viewpoint was extremely crowded with people who wanted to click that typical picture, standing and sitting, on the tongue-shaped cliff that now lacked originality. I must confess that, for a moment I wanted one of those cliche snaps, but luckily my colleague convinced me out of it. 😀