ANDAMAN – Swaraj Dweep (Havelock Island)

All aboard the Makruzz !

Makruzz Booking | Ferry/Cruise From Port Blair to Havelock, Neil Island to  Port Blair |

We felt we were on a plane than on a ferry service (1150 rupees per ticket). It took us 2 hours to get to Havelock Island, or Swaraj Dweep as it is now called, from Port Blair (where we had a great time exploring the Cellular Jail and Ross Island. You can read all about it here)

With so much to eat (at the café) and so many people and things to observe, we enjoyed every minute of the ride.

We took a cab from the port to Barefoot resort. This place is far away from the din of the crowd; It is clean. The staff is polite. The beach is gorgeous!

After we checked in, we were served coconut water in coconut itself! We were requested to take off our footwear and walk around barefoot inside the lobby and the restaurant. (As the name suggests) . The world-famous Radhanagar Beach is just a short walk through a jungle of gigantic trees from this resort.

The trees were so majestic they looked like gods themselves had come down to meditate or to view the splendor of radhanagar. We were awestruck as the ‘curtain’ drew and the first glance of the beach was before us.

I felt so grateful for the blessing of being there amidst such serene beauty. I spent a lot of time in reflection.

Food was great at barefoot. We got complimentary breakfast but for other meals we had to pay a lot, so we explored eateries outside the premises and ate at the resort only when we didn’t have another option.

‘I’m living my dream’ I kept thinking as Chrystal (maybe it was her stage name) sang jazzy music and serenaded the visitors in the lobby at night. It felt so peaceful.

We saw a million stars in the sky when Prasad and I decided to take a walk by the ocean at night!

Time moved at its own sweet pace here.

We got into a motorboat one day and drove to the Elephant beach. The price we paid (around 5k) included snorkeling. But it wasn’t such a great experience. First we had to wait too long for our turn. And when it did come, we were taken in pairs and were told that if we wanted to explore further, to go deep-sea diving, we had to pay 1000 rupees per person or 2000 rupees per couple. What a big scam it all was! First of all they weren’t upfront about what options we had and how much everything costed. And later kept adding one charge after another. So please do your research and demand to be given all the details before you go. The place and the experience of looking at coral reefs is not to be missed though!

Be prepared to find yourself surrounded by honeymooners on this beach! At one point I felt like I’d throw up if I saw any more red bangles and coochie-cooing!

The next day we covered the distance to the Elephant beach on foot instead of taking a longer route on boat (We didn’t know it was at a walkable distance! See… Do your research before you go!). First we took a cab to a point on the road to the jetty. Then we trekked a hilly but not difficult terrain full of hard rocks and dry leaves. Accompanied by the calls of parrots and pigeons and the whirr of motorboats we made our way to the sandy beach. It was prickly hot. We played in the water and munched on fresh fruits and other snacks available at the stalls nearby. We wanted to give snorkeling another try after last time’s disappointment.

We wanted to go further into the ocean. So we paid 4k for the 5 of us.

It was a jungle in the depths of the ocean. Madhav was too small to accompany us. First my in-laws went and came back and they couldn’t stop talking about the experience. Then Medha, Prasad and I went together with atleast 3 guides. They strapped jackets , tubes and masks on us and took us floating. We spotted pink and blue parrot fish, sea urchins, zebrafish, starfish and clownfish under the turquoise water. Colorful corals with clamshells breathing in and out were the next to make an appearance. I tried stretching my hands to feel the aquatic animals whooshing past and to set my feet on the cool smoothness of rocks underneath but I couldn’t move a muscle.

I had the best time!

We were sunburnt from spending all our days on Elephant Beach.

As we made our way back from havelock Island (it looked and felt more havelock than a swaraj dweep to me for some reason) on Makruzz I didn’t feel too sad to leave. I’d had my fill of the island.

I was looking forward to the last 2 days of our vacation.

To be continued…

ANDAMAN- Cellular Jail & Ross Island

This post (& the next few) will be about a memorable trip we took 2 years ago. Thanks to copious amounts of notes I took in my journal, I’m able to recollect those memories and write them here. Prices, rules and the availability of hotels and services mentioned might have changed in these 2 years.

It took 2 hours of flying over Bay of Bengal to get to Andaman from Hyderabad. We got out of the tiny Port Blair Airport to a stinking hot climate in March, which is not the right time to travel there maybe, but that’s the time we get to travel due to holidays at school. Anyways, nothing bothers me as much when I’m traveling!

We stayed at Comfort inn, located quite close to the airport. The rooms were luxurious and comfortable. Food was pretty good but the service was sluggish.

On our first day we visited the cellular jail built by the British to hold Indian Political activists and Freedom fighters in prison.

I think rickshaws are the best way to get around in the city of Port Blair. We had booked our slots for the light and sound show beforehand, but we didn’t have tickets to explore the place which has a museum inside. The ticket counter had closed for the day. Thankfully, the guard still let us in.

Model of the jail
Inside one of the cells

I can’t express how it felt to see the huge expanse of the building that formed the jail. Just a sweeping glance of the dark cells as I entered the premises ran a chill down my spine. I could feel my eyes getting ready to burst into tears any moment. Kaalapani, as this episode in history is called, because it is surrounded by water on all sides, where no prisoner could escape alive and where some of our renowned freedom fighters were brutally tortured by the British. (Please read this brilliant article to know better) was an eye-opener.

The light and sound show at night presented the struggle, the humiliation, the despair the inmates went through during their solitary confinement in such a barbaric place. What all our forefathers (and foremothers) had to go through for us to be able to live in relative comfort now! I hope we don’t take our lives for granted!

Stories of Veer Savarkar , Mahavir Singh and riots like Mopla, Lahore and so many others that I learnt about as we walked inside the museum, stories that, I’m sure we didn’t come across in our history books (or even if they did, were not dwelt upon much), simply brought goosebumps and so much anger. I felt so achingly patriotic at that moment. This is something no Indian should miss visiting.

The next day we went to visit the Ross Island. A motorboat called Aryanrider, drove us from Aberdeen Dock to Ross Island for 2100 rupees. It wasn’t 10 yet but it was sweltering hot. After a short ride, we were on the island, called ” Paris of the East”. The British who tortured Indians to their bones on Port Blair went home to Ross Island for a luxurious life. They had everything to keep them entertained – swimming pool, bakery, clubhouse, tennis courts, a ballroom, church etc. The Island is now mostly deserted. It bore most of the brunt of Mother nature’s rage during Tsunami and protected Port Blair and other places from being hit. Only the tentacles-like roots of Ficus trees seem to be holding the crumbling remains of this once-glittery ‘paradise’.

Roots holding the building from falling apart

Even though it was quite a shock to find it at such close proximity to the cellular jail, the place reminded me of simple, sultry summer days of my childhood. The ocean surrounding the island was so tempting, it would have been nice to take a dip in it to escape the heat!

To be continued….

Australia Part 5

You can read the previous posts here.

Day 21 and 22

We drove towards Rainbow beach from Maryborough. It was a very lovely beach and we let Neel play for a while before having pizzas for lunch. From there we drove to Noosa and camped for 2 nights at BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa. At Noosa we were able to spend a day walking around the beach and the shopping area. Camp costed AUD 54 for 1st night & AUD 45 for the 2nd night.

Rainbow beach
BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa

Day 23

We drove to Lamington Park and decided to spend 2 nights at Binna Burra Lodge. Located in the southeast Queensland, Lamington is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which includes the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world. Binna Burra Lodge is located in the midst of the forest. We were lucky to find a camping spot as it was almost fully booked and we did not want to miss this experience. Lush rainforests, spectacular views and amazing walking tracks make this an outstanding place to visit. After parking our campervan, we did the “Rainforest hike” and further to Coomera waterfall. It was a 10 km hike. These hikes are not stroller friendly. I carried Neel in the Baby carrier. Caravan park at Binna Burra Lodge costed AUD 35/ night.

Binna Burra Lodge Campsite

Day 24

We woke early and did another hike of 7.5km to Caves circuit. We enjoyed this a lot. We spotted a lot of wallabies and bush turkeys. The view of the mountains and the caves was so beautiful. After lunch we did another hike of around 3.5km from our campervan to Possum track, Garden track, bellbird falls, cliff track and back. We had a perfect weather (not too hot for the season!) Only disadvantage of this park was there were no playareas for kids (Like in most of the caravan parks we visited so far), so entertaining Neel was not so easy.

Caves

Day 25

We left early morning and stopped at Coolangatta for breakfast. We had delicious toasties at Good day coffee.  We drove to Byron Bay. Byron bay is a coastal town known for its beaches, surfing and scuba diving sites. There were lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. I really enjoyed walking around this place. I was hoping to bump into Chris or Liam Hemsworth but was really disappointed 😦 ! We drove further to Coffs Harbor and booked into Big4 caravan park for the night. It was a huge caravan park with lots of amenities. Camp costed AUD 63/night.

Byron Bay beach

Day 26

We drove to Dorrigo National park. It was noon by the time we reached. We walked a few meters to the Skywalk lookout directly connected to Dorrigo Rainforest center. We enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view of the forest from the lookout. We did the Wonga walk (a hike of 6.6km) covering Tristania falls and Crystal shower falls. Entry to the National park was AUD 2 per adult and AUD 1 per child. We stayed for the night at Dorrigo Mountain Holiday Park which costed AUD 30/ night.

View from Skywalk Lookout
Crystal Shower falls

Day 27

We drove further down to Port Macquarie where we spent the afternoon walking around. From there, we drove to Tuncurry and spent the day at Reflections Holiday Park. We spent the rest of the day at the beach and were able to spot lots of dolphins swimming around. Camp costed AUD 75/night.

Day 28, 29 & 30

On the final leg of the journey before driving back to Sydney, we visited Blue Mountains. This was at the top most on my list of places to visit in Australia. We booked 3 nights in Katoomba Falls Tourist Park. We spent the first day walking around near our caravan park and the main town. The next day we visited Scenic World. It is highly recommended to do the booking online and be there quite early as it gets very crowded with lots of tourists especially during the holiday season. We spent the whole day here walking around the rainforest, echo point, Katoomba falls and enjoying the scenic views. On the last day in Blue Mountains, we drove to Blackheath and Jenolan caves and around the mountains. We stopped at Blackheath for lunch. In the evening, we finished all our packing as it was the last day in our campervan before driving back next day to Sydney and dropping off our van.

Blue Mountains
Katoomba falls

Day 31 and 32

We drove back to Sydney and checked into our hotel. We took a walk through Hyde park, Darling Harbour, visited Opera House and spent the evening with our family members who live in Sydney. The next day we booked a rental car and drove around the city visiting beaches. In the evening, we ate Pizzas at Pizza Antentico where guests dine in a group while they circulate the room with a never ending selection of pizzas and pastas for 90 minutes.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

We had an amazing time and an unforgettable experience in Australia during all these weeks. I almost had tears the next day when we had to fly back home. Taking the beautiful memories of our time in Australia, we said Goodbye!!

We really hope to visit again soon.

Madhurya

Kerala

You can read my sister’s detailed post from 4 years back when she took a trip to God’s own country.

Our trip began with a visit to an aunt who lives in Cochin. After a hearty breakfast and family time we made our way to Thekkady. By the Pandikhuzi waterfalls we stretched our legs and enjoyed watching the mountains and the milky water snaking down. There were shops thronged by visitors eager to try fresh fruit salads and other local delicacies. We too tasted some and drove on.

Pandikhuzi Waterfalls

Club Mahindra Tusker Trails at Thekkady is located close to the gates of Periyar Tiger Reserve. A trek was organized by the staff at Club Mahindra, who took us through the bustling streets of Thekkady and into the cool and calm interiors of the jungle. It wasn’t such a wild experience; there were people and a Devi temple too. It was a pleasant walk though; we got to bond with the other guests of Club Mahindra.

Then we booked an Elephant ride at Tusker Trail Elephant Ride and Jeep Safari where we rode on elephants on a muddy path strewn with elephant dung between coconut trees, banana plants and fig trees. We didn’t opt for the Elephant bathing experience. Maybe we should’ve tried that!

One chilly morning we went on a jeep safari into the Periyar tiger reserve. The jungle was too green and dense, unlike the dry grasslands we were accustomed to. A misty haze in the air, the tiny glistening ponds, all added to its ethereal beauty.

We stopped at Gavi, an Eco-tourism spot inside the jungle where we went boating on the emerald waters of kochupamba. We then climbed up a mountain, spotting a variety of birds all along, and reached the Sabarimala Viewpoint, where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Sabarimala temple. At the Valley view, we were treated to breath-taking views of the misty mountains and the wooded valley below. This perfect location impelled the kids to perform some Yogasanas right there! We took a tour of Cardamom plantations where we had to be very careful as the area was thick with blood-sucking leeches! I remember watching many guests at the dining area, warding off these bloody buggers with heaps of salt.

Breakfast, lunch and snacks were served right there and so it was a full-day event.

For a bit of culture, we decided to watch a performance of the ancient martial arts form called the Kalaripayattu at the Mudra Theater for Kathakali and Kalaripayattu. Before the stunts began, the members performed a ritual of prayer. It was dark inside the arena, so a bunch of lights lit at strategic locations provided a suspenseful glow. We watched with bated breath as kids (the performers didn’t look too old) performed acrobatics with swords and fire. They were swift and supple. We sincerely hoped they wouldn’t break their backs or set the whole place on fire!

Our next stop was Munnar, a hillstation, a honeymooners’ paradise. Well, we were in a big group with a bunch of kiddos, so it wasn’t such a romantic experience for us. There was fog all around, which made it difficult for us to see the road ahead or the edges beside. The hills were so steep, it was exhausting to get to our rooms from the reception at the Club Mahindra. But the green tea plantations on mountain slopes, the clouds hanging low, all made for some mind-blowing views and awesome pictures. I would wake up refreshed and do yoga on my balcony, overlooking the hills.

club Mahindra Munnar

There were roadside food stalls, serving steamed dosas and spicy maggi. Water gushed right beside the roads and underneath them which made me so uncomfortable whenever we got down from our vehicle. The poor visibility made me hold my kids closer to me. It worried me to find people posing for pictures on the middle of these roads, where the fog made it hard to tell whether there was a vehicle coming or not.

At the Sun Moon Valley Boating recreations by the Mattupetty dam kids had fun on the speed boats. We went to a beautiful spice garden for a tour. There was a stream running beside as we walked inside the garden packed with herbs and trees. We learnt a lot that day, about trees like cinnamon, (Did you know that bay leaves came from the same tree? I didn’t!), about cocoa sheathed in thick green coats, about medicinal herbs like Adulsa (used for cough and cold). We shopped for some spices and ayurvedic medicines at the store.

We went to Eravikulam national park, native of the famous nilgiri tahr- mountain goats. After a long wait for tickets, and the bus that would carry us up a mountain, we were dropped at a point from where we had to cover the rest of the distance on foot. It was drizzling almost the entire time which made it difficult to spot any wildlife, but the rain-soaked trees on hills and water gushing down them made our walk worthwhile. We saw the Strobilanthes kunthianakurinji or neelakurinji, that blossoms every 12 years. Nilgiri Hills, which means the blue mountains, got their name from the purplish blue flowers of Neelakurinji.

Our guide from Club Mahindra took us to a Cardamom plantation called Gudumbara, where we learnt how the plant is cultivated, harvested and dried to be used as spice. At an ancient, dilapidated building there was a furnace maintained at 60 degree for drying the cardamom for 18 hours.

We explored the plantation which was almost like a jungle with its packed vegetation and an eerie quietness. It was damp everywhere and with leeches festering the place, it was quite an adventure! All memories of this trip fade behind the singular memory of seeing blood oozing from our legs and having to clean out wet clothes and drying them with hair dryers in various rooms we stayed at!

There was ziplining across a small lake, which everyone tried. Trudging our way through wet, muddy roads on a jeep, we went to a windy point. The views of the farms below and the hills around were stunning!

Driving down from Munnar to Guruvayur temple in Thrissur was a feat in itself. The roads were dense with vehicles and fog!

We visited the beautiful but overly crowded Guruvayur temple the next day early in the morning. After the chaos of the visit we strolled about in the temple complex, visiting hotels and shops and purchasing traditional clothes and ayurvedic books to study.

Manasa

Australia Part 4

You can read Part 3 here.

Day 11

After breakfast, we drove towards Mt. Gambier in South Australia. The landscape changed from flatlands to dense vegetation. We visited the Blue Lake. As the name suggested, the lake was really blue and beautiful. We had a picnic right by the lake.

From there, we drove to Robe, a small beach town, where we set up our camp at Discovery Parks. After settling down, we spent the evening at the beach. It was so relaxing! We had some of the best pizzas at Pizza Project and ice-creams at Robe Ice Cream. The camp costed AUD 56/night.

Blue Lake
Caravan Park, Robe

Day 12

We decided to spend the New Year’s in Brisbane with my aunt and uncle. We made a detour from Adelaide and drove towards Brisbane. On the way, we once again entered Victoria and the scenery reverted to barren land/ desert. After a 7.5 hour drive, we reached Mildura where we camped at Golden River Holiday park. We made Quesadillas for dinner. The camp costed AUD 40/ night.

Caravan Park, Mildura

Day 13

We drove further (almost 6 h) and stopped at Forbes. We camped at Big4 Forbes Holiday park. Mike and Neel spent the afternoon at the pool while I enjoyed reading my book. We cooked Fried rice before resting for the night. The camp costed AUD 31.50/night.

Day 14

We left quite early in the morning and drove further to Warrumbungle National Park. It was very pretty. We decided to set up camp here for one night. After a lunch of Rösti and left over fried rice, we did a 5 km hike. So far on our trip, we had mostly seen dead animals lying on the road. It was nice to watch lots of kangaroos and wallabies roaming around the park. Though they feared us and tried to run away, every now and then they would stop and stare at us. It was very cute to watch. Dinner was Mike`s delicious Spaghetti. Camp costed AUD 32/night.

Warrumbungle National park

Day 15

In the morning, we had a simple breakfast of toast and Nutella and drove towards White gum trail where we walked around 500 m to see the most beautiful sunset view in the National Park (though we could neither capture the sunrise nor the sunset). We drove 500 km and stopped at Tentafield. We camped for a night at Tentafield Lodge Caravan park. Dinner was Tikka masala with naan. Camp costed AUD 31/night.

White gum lookout
Caravan park, Tentafield

Day 16 and 17

We finally reached Brisbane. We spent 2 amazing days with our family. We got to enjoy home-cooked meals prepared by my aunt; my cousin gave us a tour of her university (The University of Queensland) which I really enjoyed; we walked around South Bank; took a ride on a CitiCat (water taxi) down the Brisbane River while enjoying some of the city’s best views; ate yummy gyros and icecreams. We even drove to Mt.Coot-Tha where we enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view of Brisbane skyline.

South Bank
Brisbane

Day 18

After 2 wonderful days with my family, we left Brisbane to drive further north. My aunt had packed some nice food for the road. We drove another 350 km to reach Bundaberg. We booked at Bargara Beach Caravan park for 2 days hoping to take a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, it was fully booked (due to holiday season). Camp costed AUD 45/night.

Bargara Beach

Day 19

In the morning we walked along the beach. Mike made some delicious pancakes for breakfast. We drove around Bundaberg and Bargara. There was nothing special to look around, so we drove back to our camp and let Neel play for a while. We spent the day relaxing by the ocean. They grow a lot of sugarcane around here but, sadly, we could not find a single shop selling freshly squeezed sugarcane juice.

Day 20

We decided to drive back to Sydney. On the way, we made several stops. Our first stop was Maryborough. We camped at Wallace Motel and Caravan Park for a night. After Mike and Neel enjoyed playing in the pool, we took a walk around the city center. We made burgers for dinner. Camp costed AUD 34/ night.

Caravan park, Maryborough

Madhurya

Binsar , Uttarakhand

After Jim Corbett National Park and Nainital, our next stop was Binsar, about 150 km away. The journey was uphill and winding. Since almost everyone, except me and a couple of others, suffered from motion sickness, it was a quiet journey, punctuated with frequent breaks for vomiting!

On our way, we stretched our cramped legs and ran about in the lush green Golf grounds of Ranikhet. I was told that parts of the movie, Raja Hindustani, were shot here.

Ranikhet

We finally reached Binsar, located on the Jhandi Dhar hills of Himalayas. This was the summer capital of the Chand Kings that ruled over Kumaon between 11th and 18th centuries.

We fell in love the moment we set eyes on our hotel, the Club Mahindra Resort Binsar. The beautiful cottages with their sloping green roofs simply blended into the surroundings. It was a bird-lover’s paradise. We could simply enjoy the views of the mountains with tall oaks and pines, the motley-hued birds that made their homes in the gardens, the rich flowers in their full bloom attracting a variety of critters. We didn’t have to set foot outside the premises. We all had much to do right inside the cozy confines of our resort. There was karaoke, art and craft, zip-lining, rock-climbing and other activities. The food spread was delicious, but we walked the extra mile (literally) to find cheaper alternatives to our dining experience. We went exploring up the slopes of hills nearby to see the locals and their daily lives up close, and sometimes lost our way too!

One morning we drove up to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary where we stopped at KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Resort. We snuck up to its wide balcony and stole glances at the majestic snowy Himalayas. The clouds were being nasty, trying to hide the jewels behind, but we were still blessed with a few sightings. We were shooed away, as the views were solely reserved for the guests of KMVN!

To Zero Point

We hiked the winding path up to Zero Point with an awesome Guide who taught us so much about the flora and fauna of Binsar. We watched a noisy woodpecker building its nest, learnt about the medicinal value of Rhododendrons, watched the sunlight dapple our path through the shady branches of Oak trees, observed the spores dotting the underside of fern leaves and simply went crazy with pleasure at finding ourselves at such a divine place. At zero point (the highest point of Binsar) with the clouds still teasing us, we had the Darshan of Himalayan Peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul, Shivling and Kedarnath. Our Guide regaled us with tales of trekking some of its slopes. We began dreaming of the day when we would go on such an expedition!

After a relaxing stay at Binsar, it was time to make our way back down to Khatgodam. On our way we stopped at Naukuchiyatal Lake for a boat ride. Before I knew what was going on we were strapped with life vests and shoved into a boat without a driver! We were on our own! Only later did I learn that Prasad wanted to go on a pedal boat, while the others chose a motor boat that came with a driver! I spent half the journey fuming and fretting, refusing to join him in pedaling. I kept thinking what would happen if the boat overturned or something. Was the lake too deep? Would Prasad, who was the only one at the time who knew how to swim, be able to rescue us?! And then as I felt brave enough to enjoy the stunning views all around me, I joined him in pedaling. We made our way back. What an exercise we had that day! We deserved to gorge on plates of crispy pakoras and spicy maggi at the eatery beside the lake, while watching a flock of ducks putter about.

Naukuchiyatal Lake

We drove past Bhimtal with its Island Aquarium on our way to Khatgodam. There we spent the night at a cozy hotel before we caught a train to Delhi the next day. The Capital was eerily quiet as some kind of Bandh was going on. We were glad to be out of Delhi and on our way to Hyderabad.

Manasa.

Nainital, Uttarakhand

We booked a day trip to Nainital from our resort- Club Mahindra Corbett National Park.  I remember walking along Mall road with the Naini lake (lake shaped like an eye) on one side and the Kumaon hills on the other. It was vibrant; The streets were buzzing with people. Hawkers were selling colorful knitted shoes, scarves and hats at exorbitant rates.

We took the aerial ropeway to get us to the Snow View Observation Point. The cable car seemed rickety. With hearts in our mouths we made our way, trying to enjoy the magnificent vistas of Nainital and its vicinity.

 There was quite a bit of walking involved and that too at high altitudes. We felt heavy and out-of-breath. There was an amusement park and a lot of eateries. We hired traditional costumes for the kids and had their pictures taken. Then we spent some time at the observation point trying to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas.  

We went boat-riding on Nainital. It was magical! The unspoiled natural beauty on one side, the hills stacked with multi-colored buildings among towering trees on the other side, the emerald lake beneath our boats, all put us in a blissful mood, except when the boatman made us move here and there to get some good (& some weird) family pictures. The boat seemed to be losing its balance at such times. I don’t remember how much we paid for the boats, but I remember it being quite expensive.

We ladies were on a mission! Tibetan Market- that was our target. It was densely packed with tiny stores and gullible tourists willing to shell out high prices for beautiful clothes, jewelry and handicrafts. We loaded our bags with quite a few things, much to our husbands’ dismay, while they prayed to Maa Naina Devi at the alluring temple beside the market.

We visited the famous G B Pant High Altitude Zoo, where we had to do quite a bit of walking on uneven paths as the animal enclosures were scattered on a vast area.

Manasa.

Australia Part 3

You can read part 2 here.

Day 5

We drove to the mouth of Snowy river, a major river in South-eastern Australia. At a cool picnic spot by the river, we cooked Tandoori masala. Neel enjoyed running around the place.

On our drive to Lakes Entrance, we saw a lot of wallabies. After checking in at our caravan park –Eastern Beach holiday park, we headed to the beach and took a long walk before heading back and cooking Pizza toast for dinner. Park cost AUD 43/ night.

Snowy river

Day 6 & 7

We drove from Lakes Entrance to Wilsons Promontory National park. It was a 3.5h drive. We stopped at Yarram to have an amazing lunch at Yarram coffee place. When we reached the National park, we booked a spot by Tidal river inside the park. It was peak tourist season, so we had to pay around AUD 62/night. We took a walk along the Loo-Errn track. Dinner was pasta for Neel and Maggi for us with delicious mangoes for dessert.

Tidal river campground
Loo-Errn track

On our 7th day, after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, we took a long hike around Lilly Pilly nature walk and Lilly Pilly circuit. As Neel was still too small to make such hikes, we took our stroller. It was a 6 km hike and so beautiful, we really enjoyed it. Once we got back, we spent sometime on the beach, letting Neel play on the sand. In the evening, we took another hike to Pillar point. It felt like we were walking into the sets of Lord of the rings. And when we reached the lookout point, the view of the beaches and the river was so surreal, it was magical!!

Lilly Pilly Nature walk
Pillar Point

Day 8

We drove towards Phillip island hoping to stay there to watch the penguin parade. Unfortunately, it was fully booked and we also found out that they came out only after 7pm which we thought was too late with the little one. So we visited the Phillip Island Wildlife park where we got to see kangaroos, wallabies, emus etc. We even got to feed them. Neel was happy and so were we. From Phillips island, we drove towards Mornington Peninsula and from there to Sorrento, where we took a ferry (AUD 85/adult) to Queenscliff and stopped for the day at BIG4 Beacon Resort Queenscliff which cost us AUD 100/night.

Phillip Island Wildlife park
BIG4 Beacon Resort Queenscliff

Day 9

We drove through Great ocean road. Anyone visiting Australia must take a trip along this road. The views are to die for! After stopping to take pictures, we drove to Lorne where we had lunch at an Indian restaurant. Lorne is a seaside town popular for surfing and beach cafes. We camped for the night at Bimbi Park in Great Otway National park. After setting up, we took a 2h walk to the Lighthouse. It was really hot, full of mosquitoes and the lighthouse was about to close. But it was still worth it! We had a great dinner with burgers and fried potatoes. Camp costed AUD 40/ night Plus an additional AUD 2 for shower.

Great ocean road view
Great Otway National park
Walk to the lighthouse

Day 10

We drove to visit the twelve Apostles. On the way we stopped at Ottway Bistro to have breakfast. It was amazing! I had eggs on toast, avocados, roasted tomatoes, hashbrown, mushroom and spinach. Yumm!

Twelve Apostles was just as I had imagined.

Breathtaking!!

Twelve Apostles

From there we drove to The Arch and then to Bay of islands, all the while driving along the Great Ocean road. After another short drive, we drove to Warnambool. It was very difficult to find a free camping spot as every caravan park was fully booked and the reception was closed (due to Christmas holidays) and so we could not contact anyone. We drove to Port Fairy and finally found a spot available at Southcombe Port Fairy caravan park.  I made Dum aloo curry for dinner and after eating it with naan, we walked around a small but beautiful reserve near the park. The camp costed AUD 55/night.

The Arch
Bay of Islands

More to follow…

Madhurya.

To the Land down under..

I’m back after a long, long time. This post is about “ONE OF THE BEST TRIPS” we’ve made so far!!

It was almost a year ago and honestly, we never thought we would take this trip so early after Neel was born. We wanted to wait another year or 2 till he was old enough to enjoy the trip. But the decision was made on the spur of a moment. We were having dinner and Mike looked at me and said “what are we waiting for? We can always go back another time in another few years, there is so much to see.” And I agreed. And so after 3 months of planning, preparing, shopping and getting ready, we finally boarded that plane which took us to the land down under, Australia!

I am keen to share not only our experiences but also some tips to plan the trip, especially with a toddler.

When and for how long ?

We did not want a short trip. We wanted to go for a month and travel around a bit. We were able to extend our Christmas holidays and take an additional 3 weeks of vacation in December. So in total, we spent almost 5 weeks in Australia.

How did we fly?

We had a lot to consider here..

  • We had to find out where we wanted to start our trip in Australia. We checked for different options like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
  • Our preferred flights were Etihad, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
  • We did not mind having 1 or 2 short stops in between in order to freshen up and let Neel get some play-time.
  • As we were travelling in December which is also Summer vacation in Australia and a peak season for tourists, we had to book the tickets way in advance in order to get good deals.

In the end, we came up with the best solution of flying to Sydney on Emirates.

Visa & Immigration?

It was easy for Mike and Neel to apply for Australian visa, they had to just fill an online form and that was it. I had to fill not only a form but had to get many supporting documents and wait almost a month for the visa. Visa information is available here.

How did we go around in Oz?

We wanted to go on a road trip with a Caravan/ Campervan in Australia (Something Mike had always wanted to do). As we were only 2 adults and a toddler, we did not need a big caravan. We decided to rent a Campervan.

The main advantages we found by travelling in a campervan were:

  • We did not have to book hotels in advance (December is a peak season for tourists, finding proper hotels can be impossible sometimes and even if we do find them, they are very expensive)
  • Additional costs for rental car could be avoided
  • With a campervan, we were more flexible with our plan and we could change it when necessary. Many times we did that after talking to local people who advised us to visit some nice places around (which were not in our original plan)
  • Our toddler could feel at home during the whole month. He was so excited and happy to stay and travel on the campervan
  • We did not have to eat outside all the time. Our van had a kitchenette and we could easily cook in there.
  • When we were tired, we could just find the next caravan park and stay for the night

We decided to rent this Campervan from Maui. We had to do a thorough research on the rental company and their deals before choosing this van.

Our Campervan

What we made sure to carry for this trip?

We were travelling with a toddler to one of the most expensive countries / continents in terms of food and cost of living; Considering these facts and also the fact that we would be staying 5 weeks in a van, we had to pack more efficiently.

  • Clothes: As it was summer in Australia, we made sure to take enough shorts and t-shirts for all of us but not overload our bags with clothes.  Caravan parks usually have all the utilities including washing machines. We were able to wash and dry our clothes whenever we wanted. We also carried our swim wear.
  • Food: We had a kitchenette (Including utensils) in our van and made use of it quite a lot. We decided to take many items from home like coffee powder, milk powder (For Neel), Neel`s baby cereal, Indian masalas, pasta, rösti (hashbrown) and snacks. Though we bought veggies and fruits in Australia, we were happy to save a lot on food stuff by taking them from home. Beware of the Custom regulations on what you can carry and what not.
  • Care kit: Shampoo and soaps, medicines (Especially for Neel), sun-screen lotions for all of us.
  • Others: Proper hiking shoes and swimming shoes, diapers, wet wipes, garbage bags, our camera, Neel`s Stroller, chargers and most importantly, my kindle.

Though we knew we could always buy them in the cities there, we made sure that we had enough of our supplies in our campervan as there were days when we would drive for hundreds of kilometers and still find no stores or restaurants.

Where all did we travel in Oz?

Australia is a very large country. 5 weeks is too short a time to see even 25% of the country. I came up with an itinerary after I referred to some interesting websites and spoke to some friends who had done such trips:

  • Arrive in Sydney
  • Drive from Sydney through coastal route towards Melbourne and Adelaide
  • Cross Mildura and drive towards Brisbane
  • Drive further ahead to Bundaberg to see the Great Barrier Reef
  • Drive back through Queensland`s Sunshine coast back to Sydney

Beaches, charismatic little towns and beautiful national parks were part of our itinerary throughout.

Our Itinerary

More about our trip in the next post.

Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

It was the month of May. We wanted to get away from the heat and our daily routine. We’d heard about Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra on our last trip to Tadoba, so we decided to check it out. We knew the place would be hot, but we were so not prepared for quite literally an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” kinda experience!

Tipeshwar is about 5 hours from Hyderabad, which is awesome. It isn’t as far as Tadoba, but is on the same route. We booked our stay at a newly opened resort right at the entrance to the sanctuary. We left home around 1 pm and reached by 6:30. We would have reached earlier had we not stopped to change our punctured tire. That took us nearly an hour as we had to figure out how to get the spare tire out of the car and find that there was no air in it. Thankfully there was a petrol bunk right opposite to where we had stopped. Our men rolled the huge tire across the highway like a couple of 6 year olds having fun along the way, pumped air by themselves and rolled it right back. We didn’t stop anywhere after the fiasco.

We got onto a rocky terrain after the smooth highway, to make our way towards Sunna gate. There were low-roofed squalid huts, tiny stores that seemed poorly stocked and women walking around holding cans to attend to nature’s call in the fields nearby. It wasn’t a pretty picture. In fact it made me realize how granted we take basic facilities like a comfortable home, a restroom etc. After much driving we finally reached our destination. It was sundown time, yet it was too hot, the air thick and hard to breathe in. It took a while for our bodies to get used to the heat.

The rooms (tents) made of canvas were spacious and clean. Since it was hot outside, it was hot inside as well, despite the fully functional ACs in every room, but I did not mind. I sat and read and wrote and slept whenever I could, as the kids were with their cousins in the other room. When the power went out, which was quite frequently, the Generators were turned ON. Food was delicious and healthy throughout our stay. With so many kids in the group, the cooks even customized our food to suit our varied tastes, without bickering. I don’t know if the exceptional Customer service was because there weren’t any other guests in the resort!

Our Walk in the morning took us through barren lands, cracked open, yearning for Rain water. A couple of workers from the hotel accompanied us along with a house-dog (There were a lot of Dogs at the resort, but they were a harmless sort. They barked at the wild boars, which were a menace. Take care of your shoes and snacks though!) We crossed ploughed fields, climbed atop a mountain full of dry teak trees and leafy tendu trees (that are used in making beedis. Apparently the fruit is a delicacy around here). It felt a bit breezy atop the mountain. Madhav walked bravely and earned the affection of the staff, who kept calling his name and going out of their way to help him cross the slippery dips and climbs. The way back was a bit scary and exhausting, but everyone enjoyed the adventure, even the less-prepared ones wearing slippers instead of shoes. On our return, we tried climbing the machaan (a wooden platform used for viewing wildlife). Madhav and I struggled while Medha climbed like a monkey. She kept going up and down, up and down.

IMG_0655

IMG_0669

Our Safari into the jungle was HOT! It was 3 in the afternoon and the Sun was overhead. We were loaded with quite a few bottles of lemon juice and water, but we realized, that pretty soon we would have a shortage, no, a crisis at hand!

IMG_0698

We drove through rocky roads, ascended hills, turned curves and everywhere the landscape was barren- bald trees and parched soil. We could spot the birds and animals easily. Usually I suck at sighting, but this time I pointed out all the creatures left and right. We saw the usual monkeys, Peacocks, spotted deers and nilgais. Indian Rollerbirds with their blue, wide wingspan became a hit with the adults and kids alike. They were everywhere and provided such cool bursts of color amidst the brown and muddy landscape.

IMG_0872

All we did inside the jungle was park our vehicles by the Tipeshwar lake and waited, for hours. Kids began getting restless as they weren’t allowed to talk or get out of the vehicle, play or eat snacks as that would make them even more thirsty. They took turns and sometimes squabbled over whose turn it was to see through the binoculars we had. There were herons and peacocks and other birds by the lake. Nilgais and Spotted deers could be seen quenching their thirst too. A few jeeps left, but we were told to wait as the tigers would come out for water. And they did, just as it was time for us to leave. There were 3 cubs and a mama tiger who all came, one by one, to take long swigs from the lake and just loll beside it. All the animals, except a few birds, had vacated the premises by then. All of this happened quite far from us. I had to zoom in through my camera to see them. Although we enjoyed the sight of the Tigers and were reluctant to leave, I felt that we were more worried about whether we would have enough water to drink till we reached our hotel! We asked other people if they had any water to share. Some lent us, some didn’t. And when it was time to leave, our guide brought us a bottle from somewhere which we simply gulped down. fighting over whose turn it was to drink! We’d lost it! I feel so ashamed of myself just thinking about it now.

IMG_0765
Can you spot the 3 cubs?

IMG_0745

We made our way back in the dark. It was Medha’s birthday and the men had gone and bought a cake, so we got Medha to cut it during dinner. Someone said the cake looked a bit funny. Tipeshwar is not a big city to house a fancy bakery, of course the cake would look and taste funny! But Medha was happy she got to celebrate her birthday in the jungle with her cousins! Thank God we were fine the next morning, despite all the things we subjected our bodies to!

What a rough night it was! Medha dozed off right away. Madhav slept with his grandparents in the other room. Somehow I couldn’t sleep, so I just read. It felt like there was a knock on the door every few minutes. I thought the dogs were just playing. Then I heard the wind howling. It was picking up its intensity, almost pushing open our locked doors. Then came the thunder. I thought our tents would be blown away or get burnt due to lightning. I simply read on…. Then I heard Madhav’s voice. “Mama”, “mama” he called out. I ran out, all panicky, my wildly-beating heart in my mouth, assuming his tent had blown off and that he was getting drenched in the rain with his grandparents! But…

He was just having a good time while the grandparents were out checking what was going on! That kid! I was worried sick! After a rough night through which we hardly slept, I thought our safari in the morning would be cancelled, but it hadn’t. It was 5 when we were woken up by the staff. We were late! There was quite a throng of visitors already lined up by the gate to the jungle! We got ready and left. And then we were told that one of our jeeps had broken down and there was just one. We thought of taking our Fortuner inside, but decided not to. The roads were not suitable for our car and we didn’t have a spare tire. All of us, that is 6 adults and 5 kids, squeezed into a single jeep and crawled into the jungle once again. It looked beautiful in a bent-but-not-broken kinda way! The rain that had scared us last night hadn’t ruffled most of the jungle’s feather! Everything still looked dry and barren, but there was beauty in it, or maybe, it seemed to me to be so. I understand that nature goes through these cycles called seasons and now it was time for summer, peak summer that too.

IMG_0860

This time we were well prepared with lots of water bottles, but we weren’t as thirsty. We waited a long while by the lake again, but this time had no chance. Someone said they spotted the Star male (the sole male, the father of the cubs we saw) in another location. We went there but he had left by then. We were a tad disappointed, but It’s all a matter of luck we know. We got back to our rooms, got ready, settled our dues. (About 45,000 for 3 rooms for 2 nights i.e 7500 Rupees per room per night inclusive of food. ). The jeeps were paid separately- 950 for permit, 2000 for drivers. We had to pay for 3 jeeps as the fourth one had broken down. We thanked the folks at the resort wholeheartedly and left.

Tipeshwar is so close to home, we will surely pay a visit in the cooler months.

-Manasa