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….

Sun, Sand and Serenity at Devbagh Beach Resort

After a short flight early (like very early!) in the morning, we were in Goa!

These are COVID Times- so we were given ppe kits to protect ourselves. Since the airports want as less contact with the passengers as they possibly can, boarding tickets are not handed out, which makes for a safe but chaotic experience.

We were ready to explore the sandy shores of Devbagh, a 2 hour drive from Goa. Our bus arrived on time. We got into it, stopped at Krishna restaurant for breakfast and off we went enjoying the scenic beauty (think tall swaying Coconut trees, blue waters and sloping roofs of village homes) of coastal Goa and the winding hillside as we entered Karnataka. At the border between Goa and Karnataka states, the police will check for alcohol and stuff, just telling ya….

We had to kill some time at the Jungle Resort Office as our boat that was to take us across the ocean to our resort hadn’t arrived yet. We explored the vicinity with the hot sun pressing down on us!

We climbed steps to see the beautiful and serene Durga Devi temple, with a stunning backdrop of mountains. Then we climbed even higher to see the Sadashivgad fort resort, where we were served kokum juice. We were so thankful, as some of us were parched and beginning to feel dizzy! And we climbed once again to reach the sea view point! (We’re quite an adventurous bunch you see!) and boy was I glad to have put my exhaustion aside and made the trek! The hazy views of the ocean, the hillside, boats passing by – all were absolutely breathtaking! I wanted to linger there for a while longer, but we had to make our way back down.

It was a short ride to our resort. We felt relaxed under the shade of the boat. The walk towards the lounge or the gol ghar was quite cool and sandy.

We had a good lunch of South and North Indian entrees. That’s the thing with Staying at one of the Jungle lodges, you don’t have to go around looking for good food. Everything… Snacks and tea/coffee and 3 meals are all included when you pay for the stay.

We slept like logs in the afternoon as we hadn’t slept much the night before, plus there isn’t much to be done on a beach when it is hot under the sun.

Beverages and Biscuits were served right beside the ocean in the evenings, Can you imagine that?!

Kids and adults alike enjoyed dipping and splashing about in the water. Kids took to water like Fish to the ocean! I was quite reluctant to get in, not wanting to get my new dress dirty, but the sight of the water and everyone else having a good time was so tempting, I told myself, damn my dress or having to clean up all our messes later, I was going to go home without any regrets!

I did have a great time!

If we weren’t in the water whenever we could, we hung about on hammocks, which were everywhere, napping or reading. It was hilarious (and painful) to watch some of us losing balance and falling off them!

And kids spent hours on the trampoline or the outdoor Rope courses hung between trees. We didn’t have to keep an eye on them all the time or entertain them as there was no time to be bored on our 3-day visit!

Our nights began with bonfire and snacks. Imagine eating barbecued veggies, potato fries or pakoras in the dark with the ocean lapping (more like lashing) at you, your feet sunk in soft sand, twinkling lights far away…. it couldn’t have been more magical!

I simply wanted to enjoy the quiet sounds of nature, but some of us had other plans. They wanted to play antakshari. We ‘competed’ with another group of visitors. They were a good sport too. We sang and sang and nobody lost, so we ended the game to have a quiet dinner, again by the ocean.

Prasad and I sat outside our cottage early in the mornings, listening to the sound of the ocean, sipping the coffee he would prepare for me. It was the best feeling ever as I wrote away and he sat in silence, both of us lost in our happy places!

On our first morning there, we went for a nature walk with the naturalist, Mr. Dilkush (a gentle old man, who was affectionately called so by everyone). As the case with most of our hikes in jungles, we learnt so much about the natural habitat we had come to explore. We learnt that we were on a peninsula and not an island and that it was about 90 acres size, and a 5 acres area was allotted by the Government of Karnataka to Jungle Lodges to build the resort.

Here we listened to Dilkush elaborating the medicinal values of plants like Sarpagandha, explaining the reason for the high biodiversity of the mangroves of Maavinaholla. Even though we have visited many mangrove vegetations, never had I seen such sharp breathing roots everywhere. We learnt to identify the loud, throaty calls of White-bellied Sea Eagles and enjoyed the sight of a Pond Heron lazing around (she is aptly described as ‘Gundiya Rani’). I had no clue that we shared the same state bird with Karnatake (Blue Jay)!

It was a nice hour and a half walk around the resort. And then we had a great breakfast. I loved the paranthas with chole. And then we were off on a boat for dolphin safari. I could doze off on the choppy waters of Arabian sea as the boat sped by. It was that soothing. There was hardly anything to see but deserted islands like Sanyasi island, the Koormagad (Shaped like a turtle) or an island that looked like an elephant bathing in water!

We spotted a couple of dolphins that quickly sprang into the ocean before we could get an eyeful. We decided to do the tour and try our luck once again the next day. (This was included with our accommodation, so why not?!)

After the safari we tried a lot of water sports (Now this was not part of the package and they were all quite pricey, so we had to be careful!). I tried jet ski and banana boat. Jet ski was quite scary. I thought I would be thrown off the seat of my ski, so I held onto my dear life (or the lifeguard, rather!). I thought banana boat would be more scarier, where we would be tossed into the ocean, but it was ok. I actually enjoyed the feeling of anticipation of waiting for the cue to let go off our banana tube, the motor boat pulling us making a sharp turn and us being thrown into water! Who knew I had any ounce of daredevilry in me! Even the kids tried all of this! They wanted to enjoy every little bit!

The next day We had fun playing throwball cum volleyball at the beach in the morning.

Then we went for the dolphin tour. No luck once again. It was high tide, so we were tossed about on our boat. I was sprayed with salty water the whole time. It was a roller coaster ride for sure.

We went for a hike to kaalimitti in the evening. First we walked a gravel path to a village beside the resort, hopped onto autorickshaws, drove a long time passing through villages where I enjoyed peeking into the homes of locals, all the while the seductive coastline to our left tempting us to take a dip in!

It was a moderate hike. We climbed up a hillock and went down it and climbed across black stones to reach a small cove with black sand and water. It was difficult for some of us but we all managed somehow.

On our return we came via a different route, a little easier, but this one involved wading through water for a part of the journey!

It was nice to play in that water and watch the local kids playing cricket on the shore. But we were quite tired by the time we reached our resort.

The last night was bittersweet for me as I wanted to savor every bit of the time spent with my family and friends by the bonfire, the ocean ceaselessly continuing its journey in and out of the shoreline of Devbagh, not caring who had come to visit or who was leaving.

I didn’t want my vacation to end.

I looked around and wondered how everyone else was OK with leaving this beautiful place behind. I was crying inside like a baby! I didn’t want to go back to my daily routine! But we had to… The chaos at Goa Airport where it looked like almost the whole of India had turned up, didn’t make it any easier on us!

Every beginning has an end just as every end ushers in a new beginning….

Here’s to more traveling and exploring and learning and living in 2021… Thanks for being with us all these years, dear readers…

Love,

Manasa

(Before leaving, we shopped a bit in Margao, a city in Goa (Zantye’s is awesome for Dry fruits and other Goan snacks) and had a fabulous lunch at Antique Mardol, close to airport)

A Scandinavian Vacation

This is a blast from the past- one of the trips we made last year for a long weekend. Most of these places might be closed now due to COVID.

I was not so keen on visiting Sweden, as I had my heart set on a sunny location like Slovenia or Italy, but as it was peak travel time, we finally agreed upon Sweden.

It turned out to be a short but beautiful trip.

Where did we stay

We stayed at a lovely AirBnb in Saltsjö-Boo in a beautiful guesthouse located by the sea. It was a cabin which had a large bed, kitchen, bath and dining table. All the amenities were available. Neel was really happy as there was a huge lawn with toys right in front of our house which belonged to the family who owned the guesthouse. It was a perfect house located on a perfect location. We could take nice walks along the pathway by the sea. While Mike and Neel enjoyed watching all the boats and ships sailing, I had a good time looking at the gorgeous Scandinavian homes. We also spent time drinking cups of coffee on the lawn while enjoying the beautiful views of the sea.

Places we visited and things we saw

1. Unfortunately, on the day we landed in Stockholm, my mobile crashed, so I HAD to find a dealer who could fix it or buy a cheap mobile. So the first stop we made was to Kungsgatan, a central area in Stockholm full of shops, cafes and restaurants. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city. We also visited The Stadsbiblioteket (Stockholm Public Library) and spent sometime browsing the books.

2. When you visit Stockholm, you cannot miss the old town- Gamla Stan. It is filled with cobbled streets and 17th- and 18th-century old, colorful buildings.

3. An Archipelago tour with a guide was a perfect sightseeing tour on a boat. For a duration of almost 3h, we got to see a beautiful collection of islands, learnt about Scandinavian culture and history and also spotted some amazing homes. Depending on the tour you take, it costs around 610.00 SEK (1 SEK= 0.12 United States Dollar) for 2 adults and for children under 5 years it is free.

4. All you Music lovers, do not miss Abba The Museum. It takes only a couple of hours to get the most out of this museum dedicated to the famous Swedish band.

5. Vasa Museum– Honestly, I was not such a fan of this museum, but Mike and Neel (die-hard boat-lovers), were really impressed. So do visit this museum if you want to know more about the history of Vasa (a Swedish Warship).

6. We also visited a beautiful archipelago town, Vaxholm. We had to take a ferry to reach this town. Wooden homes and fishing cottages beautify this quaint place. We really enjoyed spending time walking, eating Swedish lunch and lazing around while having coffee. Mike even bought an authentic handmade wooden boat from here as a souvenir.

If we ever visit Sweden again, I would love to explore more of its natural parks and nature reserves.

Madhurya.

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.

JimCorbett National Park

The Tiger is  a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated – as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support- India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.

-Words by Jim Corbett, a British hunter, tracker, naturalist and an author of several books. He played a key role in establishing the Corbett National Park in the 1930s.

This was 4 years ago. I was going through pictures of our trip to the World famous Jim Corbett National Park. We flew to Delhi from Hyderabad and drove to Club Mahindra Resort in Uttarakhand, about 240 kms away. It was raining cats and dogs and the city was clogged with traffic. Boy were we glad to leave the crowds, the sludge, the air thick with pollution behind! 

Our rooms were spacious, cozy and clean like all Club Mahindra Resorts. The Resort is situated on a riverbed, so we simply splashed about in the water or relaxed on boulders beside the river in the mornings. There was a big pool at the resort that kept the kids busy for hours. And the food? It was quite a spread. There was too much food! And so expensive too. So now and then we tried other dining options like the dhabas and other little eateries. The Resort provided good entertainment for the whole family in the evenings. There was bonfire, music, dance, laughter and good socializing with the other guests.

We booked a guided walking tour to the nearby Garjiya Devi temple which took us beside a river, across an old bridge, through a jungle, on a narrow path hugging a hill and down across the river (Kosi river ?) again with a hop-skip-and-jump on boulders. It was quite an adventure with the little ones. Our guide was very helpful as he led us. A long queue of devotees was snaking its way towards the temple situated on top of a hillock. We simply bowed to the goddess from the outside and headed back to our rooms, this time in auto-rickshaws. 🙂

Apart from a visit to the Jim Corbett Museum, where we had a glimpse into the life and times of Jim Corbett, we even went on an eco-tour of a Kumaoni village, where a local family served snacks and beverages. We explored the village, watched locals carry pots of fresh mountain water from a pipe where we took a refreshing sip or two, visited the spooky temple and enjoyed the beautiful views of river Kosi flowing down below

One morning we even went on an Elephant Safari in the Seethavan, about which I have already written at length here. It fills me with joy to look back on that memorable event, even after all these years.

And then the Jeep Safari…. I can’t get enough of it. I mean we’ve gone on so many, yet it thrills me every. single. time.

I simply enjoy waking up early in the morning when it is still dark outside, bundling up and making our way into one of India’s enchanted jungles. To my mind it feels as if we’re about to enter the Jurassic Park. A wave of awe and fear washes over me. Jai Shree Ganesh, We send up our prayers. We are determined to spot a Tiger or a Leopard or an Elephant, but you never know what you might find. Or not. As the gate closes behind our jeep, we leave the world of men and enter the abode of the untamed wild.

It is refreshing to breathe in the cool, unadulterated air of the Jungle; The environs look like the fresh face of a child as it wakes up; The sky still, but vibrant, the early morning sun splashing colors as it takes center-stage. What’s not to love about an early morning foray into a Jungle, especially if it is one of the oldest, most prestigious Jungles of India?!

We did not spot a Tiger or a Leopard, but we had a great time watching a variety of birds like the Bee- Eaters, Black Drongos, Common Flameback Woodpeckers, Red Jungle Fowls. A playful Jackal wished to walk only on the paved road, instead of limiting itself to the rough woodland. It kept following us for quite a distance.

Book I’m currently enjoying

We went on to explore Nainital and Binsar about which I plan to write next. So please humor me.

Manasa.