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. ūüôā

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.

A South-Goan Vacation

1st March, 2018– We were on AirAsia. It took us an hour and 20 minutes to reach South Goa.

Our pre-paid taxi driver drove us through picturesque inroads. Fresh green fields bordered with tall coconut trees and homes which looked like they were from the Victorian era, added bursts of color to our journey. There were houses in shades of purple, sea-blue and mustard yellow. The women wore frocks. It made me feel like we were back in Mangalore, although Mangalore is losing its old-world charm quickly.

There were quaint little churches dotting our drive. As it got darker we could spot cafes and bars with outdoor seating shimmering like magical havens. We were exclaiming all the way which must have thrilled our driver who threw in a random bit of history and culture our way. We let out whoops of delight as we rounded into a compound with a huge building all lit-up. We had reached Radisson. We couldn’t contain our excitement as we got out. The ceilings are almost sky-high with arched railings for roof. There are huge murals depicting the history of Goa. The pool is gargantuan and inviting, everything here is King-size! As we were taking in the interiors like a bunch of school kids, I spotted the actress, Radhika Apte, talking animatedly over a phone and walking over.

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I could write all day about this hotel itself. We could spend the rest of our holiday right at the resort and still feel like we’ve had the best time! The rooms are spacious, cozy with beautiful paintings and lampshades. The bathrooms are big and clean. There are bathrobes and slippers. There’s a locker facility available. There’s TV. There’s a porch on which we enjoyed our morning coffee, which was delicious by the way.

We freshened up and¬† went to find a place to dine at. The avenue was chockful of shops selling swimwear, jewelry and other junk. I wasn’t interested in checking out the stores that were catering mostly to foreigners. I wanted to go to the local stores. After much looking we found a restaurant called “Mike’s Place”. Prasad, I and the kids loved its vibrancy immediately. There was live music. It was outdoors and prettily decked up. It smelled of sea food which was a bit of a turnoff for the rest of my family. The waiters were quite nice but the service was delayed. We were famished by then. And when the food did arrive, it was in smaller portion size. So we had to order more and wait even longer! But the taste was great! The food wasn’t spicy or oily. We ate Naans and Rotis, Babycorn crispies and Gobi Manchurian, Veg Jalfrezi, Kadai Paneer and Aloo Gobhi. Everything tasted finger-licking good!

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When the in-laws and kids left for their room, Prasad and I walked to the beach and had a quiet, lovely time.

We don’t care for a visit to the US or Egypt, we simply wish to explore the length and breadth of India!

2nd March, 2018– I scribbled in my journal to the sound of waves tumbling towards the White sand beach. Along with the sound of waves there was the cawing of crows and the talk of people, mostly Indians, early in the morning. We could not spot a single Indian at the beach or on the streets the night before.

I took off my sandals whenever we walked on the beach. The powdery sand felt nice under my tired feet.¬†Cavelossim is the name of the Beach. It is a private beach reserved for the customers of Novotel, Radisson and not sure what other hotels. There’s no litter here. There’s no noise and mess that’s certain to be found at the other beaches.

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Last night there was music, laughter, fireworks and the roar of the waves. It still felt calm and therapeutic just lying on the benches and do nothing but lose ourselves in the experience of being in a heaven-like place. I simply gazed at the stars above, trying to figure out the patterns they made. I never felt so in-the-moment as I felt that night. I’m so hurried, stressed and elsewhere most of the time.

We booked a 5hr tour around south Goa. It was for 3700 Rupees. People on the streets could be seen playing Holi, the Festival of Colors, even foreigners. We first climbed onto Baradi Hills. Then we took a walk outside a church that was closed at that hour. There was a scenic view at the top, of the ocean below. We tried freshly-picked Cashew Fruit which was oozing with juice but tasted funny. I couldn’t gulp it down my throat.

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Next it was time for Cabo de Rama Fort. It used to house a prison before but now is quite desolate, with graffiti on walls, overgrown trees and the path crackling with a spread of dead leaves and dry sticks. There was a beautiful blue-and-white church- the cleanest and freshest area within the fort. Beneath the fort there was unspoilt beauty. The sea looked clear and blue and the hills looked majestic. By the end of this jaunt we were parched. All of us rushed into a tiny place advertising the availability of fresh fruit juices. It costed us less than half the amount we would have paid in and around our hotel!

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Since we’d loaded ourselves up with heavy complimentary breakfast we didn’t feel hungry for a long while. We also stopped at Agonda and Palolem beaches. It was getting hot by then and we were sapped. We had another hour’s exploring left but we cut our trip short and made our way back to the hotel.

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In the evening the kids splashed about in the pool with their grandpa. Freshening them up, we set out to find a place to eat. Our driver had told us about a hotel called Kinaara that served great vegetarian food, so we made our way there. It took us about 10 minutes by walk. The menu looked good and reasonable. In fact it was very cheap. We ordered Masala Papads, Veg Pakoras, Crispy corn, Cheese sandwiches, Egg Masala, Veg Kolhapuri and rotis. Everything tasted great, but again, since there was just one chef, the service was a bit slow. I had a chance to speak with the manager there. He told me North Goa is about 2 hrs away and there’s a great Saturday Night market and everything is much cheaper there. He told me most foreigners preferred South Goa over the North as it is less crowded and more serene.

3rd March, 2018– My pen was smooth, its tip gliding along the surface of the book as if writing by itself; like the ripples of water effortlessly making its way towards the shore. It was sunrise. A couple of dogs sat beside me as I wrote. There were shacks- Seaway’s, Q-Baa, Baywatch, on one side and the frothy ocean on the other. I sat snugly between them. I was enjoying it all. I could easily get used to this kind of life, I felt. A life of leisure. Waking up when my body decides to, and not when the alarm shrieks. Sitting on the porch sipping coffee and enjoying the peace all around. And then going for long walks or writing in a quiet place. Maybe if we save up enough money I’ll do just that. At least for a few months at a stretch.

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I prayed to the Sun God as he gently made his way up. Namah Suryaya… I felt grateful.

Our plan was to head to North Goa after a nap in the afternoon. Afternoons are kinda exhausting as it gets really hot around here.

But before that,¬†we gorged over the lavish breakfast and made our way to Kris’s cruise. Jack’s was offering us a 500 Rupees per head on a double deck boat. We went with Kris’s after reading reviews online. He was offering us 2500 Rupees for a private motor boat. We went for the Dolphin tour. We started in the backwaters, making our way towards the sea. The backwaters, smooth and the sun, balmy, lulled us to sleep.

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It was nice to watch the deckhands on the other boats going about their daily business- eating, bathing right on the boat, hanging clothes at the top to dry etc. As we entered the sea we were sprayed with salty water as our boat picked up speed. We began spotting Dolphins right away. They were jumping out and nose-diving back in. They seemed to be everywhere. Hey here here… there there… we saw them splashing about, their glossy exteriors sparkling in the sun. We returned to our rooms, parched and exhausted.

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After a siesta we were ready to explore North Goa. The taxi driver we found outside was willing to take us to Old Goa and Panaji Market (not the Saturday market, as he said it would be too crowded) for 3500 Rupees. We thought it was a bit too high, but we didn’t know how far and how long it could take us. It was a long drive. We went to the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Then the Se Cathedral. From that onto the Viceroy Arch, the gate of the palace of Adil Shah. It was closing time, so we couldn’t go to the museum where we could’ve learnt about the history and culture of Goa.

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I loved the cool interiors of the churches, where I sat and soaked up the calm and serenity. They were tall, majestic, awe-inspiring and even humbling. I sent up my prayers and gratitude to Jesus.

These historical places could do a better job of explaining the monuments to the visitors. Most of them were built before the 18th century, but their history and significance are not clear. Only the architectural style and the construction materials used have been mentioned. That’s not enough.

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At the Panaji Market we ate snacks, did a bit of shopping for souvenirs. We got everything for half the price they were charging in South Goa. We picked food for the grandparents and kiddos on our way back and they ate in their room. For ourselves we decided to check out one of the shacks by the sea. We googled a bit and went for Silverwaves, which had a good enough crowd. It was magical, just the 2 of us, a candle burning bright between us, the sound of waves giving a background score. The food was great. I was worried it would make me feel yuck. The veg fried rice with gravy, the tandoori mushroom, all prepared fresh and hot simply satisfied us. The experience was priceless!

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4th March, 2018-  It felt like we made the best use of this vacation. I was ready to go back home. But there was a small part of me that felt a tug, a pull to stay back and enjoy the good life.

Madhav and Medha splashed about in the sea. They made a happy sight. Even though Madhav coughed a bit, we let him play. Things like this don’t happen often. We wanted them to enjoy the sparkling ocean to the fullest.

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We had to check out at 12 pm but our flight was in the evening. We¬†requested the concierge to give us more time but they couldn’t, as the hotel was totally packed.¬† And there was a wedding party coming along that day. But the staff were considerate. They let us place our bags at the concierge and told us we could use the pool and shower facilities. Prasad and I headed out even though the sun was high and we were quite drowsy. The kids and grandparents hung out by the play area. We thought of checking out the scooter ride as we hadn’t tried that one out yet. The guy told us it would cost us 500 Rupees and a deposit of 2000 Rupees and we could use it all day, but return with the same amount of fuel. We tried negotiating with him saying we needed it just for an hour or so, but he went down only a 100 bucks. Anyways we didn’t have the deposit money at hand to begin with nor the energy to roam about. It was crazy hot and it felt like we would be scorched. We dragged ourselves to the nearest shack on the beach, ordered a couple of drinks and lay on the beds provided. There was a big umbrella shading us from the sun. We spent time relaxing, sipping juice, people-watching, and, in my case, having a pedicure done. It was lovely!

 

It felt surreal once we landed in Hyderabad, as if Goa had never happened. We were brought back with a thud , quite literally, to reality, as we’d lost our house key and had to break in into our own home!

-Manasa.

 

A Day trip to Chikmagalur

One of the best trips we took last year was a One-day trip to Chikmagalur. Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law who made this outing possible for me and Mike.

Chikmagalur is a town located in the Indian state of Karnataka. My sister-in-law is well-acquainted with the place as she worked there for a few years; So SHE became our special tour-guide for the day.

We began our journey early in the morning at about 5.30am. With a distance of 150 km from Panemangalur (where we were staying), it took us around 2 and a half hours to reach the town. It was one beautiful ride! India is at its prettiest, very early in the morning, when there is less traffic. Driving through the majestic Western Ghats during Sunrise was absolutely breathtaking!

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Western Ghats

We were quite starving by the time¬†we reached our destination, so we made our way¬†to the¬†Town Canteen. Trust me,¬†we ate one of the best Dosas we’ve ever eaten in our lives (Mike was eager for more!)

After our breakfast, we drove to Mullayanagiri. Located 15 km from Chikmaglur, Mullayanagiri is the highest peak in Karnataka. Standing tall at 6330 ft, it is also one of the highest peaks between the Himalayas and the Nilgiris. After parking the car at the foothills of Mullayanagiri, we began our trek up the hill. Enjoying the panoramic view of the Western Ghats and the beautiful Coffee estates of Chikmaglur, we climbed up further. Talking, regaling one another with our stories, singing and falling (just me!), we trudged on for another hour!

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View from Mullayanagiri hill

We took breaks in between for fruits and biscuits (Again thanks to my sister-in-law, who’d packed every essential needed for this trip!).

After climbing the steep hill, we came across a muddy road used for vehicles, which was closed for construction purpose (Mullayanagiri can be reached through road as well). Another hour and a half’s trek took us to the foot of a temple. A 600 steps later, we finally reached the Shiva temple, which is at the highest point of Karnataka. (Lord Shiva is called Mullaya around here, and that‚Äôs how the hills got the name Mullayanagiri). The views atop were awe-inspiring!!

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Steps to Mullaya Temple

A couple of hours later we were back where we began.

And then we drove from there to Manikyadhara, where there is a beautiful Waterfalls (As we were too tired by then, we did not walk down to the falls). The view of Bababudangiri hills from there was Impressive!

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After resting at Manikyadhara, we visited the Bababudangiri shrine, named after the Sufi saint Baba Budan, who was and is still revered by both Muslims and Hindus.

Then we drove to Belur. Located in Hassan district, Belur is one of the major tourist attractions in Karnataka. The beautiful temple sites of Belur and Halebidu, at the heart of the Hoysala Empire, form the richest sources of Hindu art and sculpture in the country. I was too young to appreciate this amazing wealth of art when I came here the first time, so I’m happy I got another opportunity to visit this place. The geometry and design of the Hoysala Temple architecture and the beautiful carvings left me¬†dazed!

Sadly, we were already short of time and had to head back home, so we skipped visiting the temple of Halebidu.

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But I must say I had one of the most wonderful experiences in India and I’m proud to come from a country so rich in Heritage and Beauty!

Love,

Madhurya

Tirupathi – other attractions nearby

We had booked a couple of days at Tirumala, thinking we might be able to “see” the Lord Venkateshwara the next day, if we were turned away on the first, due to the presence of a large number of devotees. Fortunately, we had the Darshan right away, which opened up a lot of time for us to spend in and around Tirupathi.

We visited the Sri Vari Museum, which is at a walking distance from Sri Venkateshwara temple. I’ve visited Tirumala many times, but had never set foot in this museum or even heard of it before. We just happened to notice it as we walked out of the temple, and decided to take a look. There was no entrance fee. We walked through rooms lined with sculptures of Gods made centuries ago.I got an idea of how the art of sculpting has evolved over the ages from idols that look a bit knobbly to the latest, more shapelier ones.

There were paintings and pictures of temples hung on walls along with the other artifacts. Even though it was free, not many seemed to be visiting it, which, thankfully meant, we could walk around and gaze at the life-like idols for however long we wished to, and in peace.

We booked a cab for the next day, to cover as many places worth visiting as we could, before we had to board our train at night.

We went to see one of the very few Natural Arches in Asia, whose picture we had seen at the museum and decided we HAD to pay a visit. This Natural Arch (also called Silathoranam), caused by erosion, isn’t as awe-inspiring as the ones we saw at the Arches National Park, Utah, but it is beautiful in its own right, especially because it is said to have been a doorway through which the Lord himself entered, to take his residence at the temple.

20150112_094818There was a mini zoo within the premises, which the kids enjoyed.

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A small hike led us through a waterfall and a tiny temple.

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We went down to Tirupathi to visit the beautiful Iskcon temple. The realistic idols clad in rich, colorful clothes inspired me. But the downer was the way in which the people who worked there were trying to get us to make donations or buy a product, like salesmen. That felt jarring within a temple.

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Our next stop was Kapilatheertham, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, at the foothills of Tirumala. Right beside the temple is a waterfall that supposedly swells during the rainy season, but when we were there, it was nothing more than a trickle or two. We sprinkled a few droplets on our heads as it is said to wash away all our sins.

20150112_121637The temple looked very old and left me humbled to be walking on the very stones where the Kings and Queens once graced their feet upon.

Sadly, it didn’t look well-maintained.

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20150112_121327Our last stop was the SriKalahasthi temple, located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which is a 40 min drive from Tirupathi. From the outside, the temple looked pretty small, and dirty too; The river, Swarna Mukhi, looked like she had been transformed into a sewer; The surrounding area was crowded with shops, speeding vehicles and people, making it hard to reach the entrance of the temple; A snake charmer scared the little ones with his poor snake, which itself looked really scared. It felt like a Circus and not a place of immense religious and historical value.

Sadly, I couldn’t capture the grandeur I saw and experienced, once I set foot inside the temple premises. We had to leave our cameras/ cellphones behind in the car, as they were not allowed inside.

Built centuries ago, in an architectural style that kind of shows Man his place in the grand scheme of things, it truly made me feel small and of no consequence, whatsoever. The ceiling was high, the pillars supporting it, tall and imposing, the chambers dark and a bit claustrophobic. It stirred both, an eerie feeling and reverence, at the same time in me. The whole experience was other-worldly. And our walk within the temple felt never-ending, so huge is the temple.

But one thing I will always remember about this temple is our descent, 20 feet below, to see the Pathala Ganapathi. The entrance was small and we had to crawl through it to reach a narrow staircase, which plunged down into a dark chamber. There lay the Pathala Ganapathi, who seemed mysterious, due to the inconvenience he imposed on the devotees who longed to pay him a visit.

Descending¬†seemed easier compared to climbing 20 huge steps up a staircase with no wiggle-room. It truly was an adventure, especially with a couple of kids. But the kids themselves seemed to be thrilled about the “adventure”.

There’s so much to see and do in India, I never thought visiting some of our historical and religious places could come so close to the adventure we experienced hiking through the National Parks in the US.