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 ūüė¶ ! 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

A Weekend at Lermoos

We decided to spend our Anniversary in one of the most beautiful places in Austria- Lermoos. Mike gave the best surprise by booking 2 nights at Hotel Alpenrose, a top Family hotel in Austria. This hotel is ideal for families with kids.

When we checked into the hotel, we were given a tour around. We found out that we could enjoy many amenities together with our baby, Neel, inside the hotel. There are outdoor and indoor play areas, a movie theater,a  swimming pool (there is a separate warm water area  for kids), a child-care facility so the parents can have some quiet time, a huge lounge for the adults to sit and enjoy coffee or cakes while the kids play, and a Spa. A lot of programs for kids as well as adults are offered by the Hotel, some free of charge. One can use the hotel bikes, prams, a BMW car, golf carts as well for no charge.

Located between the alpine valleys, Lechtal and Ammergau, and the Wetterstein mountain chain, Lermoos is one of the oldest villages in the district of Reutte, known to locals as “Ausserfern”, in the Austrian state of Tyrol. It is a ski, hike and mountain bike paradise. So this village is quite popular with tourists during summer and winter. There are trails for mountain bikers and free-ride tours from the mountain to the valley! So there are many activities to do inside and outside the Hotel.

Our suite had a beautiful view of the mountains. It had a separate kids` room with double bunk beds. The staff had set out a baby bed, a changing table with wet wipes, creams etc for Neel and this was all inclusive in the hotel cost.

 

The best part of the hotel is its food…!! Our hotel cost included  breakfast buffet, lunch buffet and a 5-course dinner. Everyday we enjoyed different food. For Neel, we could order fresh food (puree of fruits or veggies) or buy the ready baby food from brand Hipp,  which was available all over the hotel. We did not have to worry about Neel`s food at all. Everything was taken care of.

Restaurant
Restaurant

On the day we arrived, we took a ride around the village on a Golf cart. We enjoyed beautiful views of the valleys and mountains, but sadly we had to cut short our outing as it started to drizzle and we did not want Neel to get drenched.

On our second day, we decided to leave Neel for sometime in the child-care while we took a walk around the village. We were given a mobile phone in case they had to call us¬† if he cried a lot and could not be soothed. I wasn’t sure Neel would be happy being left behind,¬†but we were told that he had a good time and even ate all his food without a fuss!

We walked for an hour around the village and enjoyed a nice coffee at il Ducatisti. I guess the owner is a Ducati fan. He had a few bikes on display  and Mike simply ogled away!

After picking up Neel in the afternoon, we drove the hotel BMW to Garmisch-Partenkirchenfor, a town in Southern Germany (next to Austrian border). It was nice and warm and we walked around the town for a couple of hours.

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Garmisch-Partenkirchenfor

Once we got back, Neel and Mike took a dip at the swimming pool while I dove into my book!

The next day, after a hearty breakfast, we walked around  the village. We were too happy and contented  to go back,  but we had to..

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Even though the Alpenrose is a tad expensive, it has everything for kids and the parents to have a great vacation!

-Madhurya.

Close Encounters with the Wild

It was our third visit to Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. (You can read about our first here and here) Shruthi, Ashwin and little Shristi (who were visiting us from the US) joined us along with other family members. We needed a couple of SUVs to carry us all to our favorite Jharana Lodge. After the welcome drink (refreshing), lunch (delicious) and watching a few resident male Turkeys woo a female (noisy and endless), it was time for one of our favorite parts of visiting a jungle РTiger Safari.

We’d booked 2 jeeps into the core area. No sooner did we enter the Jungle than we spotted a couple of bears foraging on grass and insects. They were huge and it seemed funny that they were feeding on bugs instead of something that would suit their bulky frames!

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While we were too busy describing the bears to one another, we barely caught sight of a Leopard, who crossed our jeeps and made a leap into the thickness of the Jungle, before we managed to click a picture of him.

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We were on a roll! Thanking Goddess Luck, we drove on, now wishing we spot the Big Gun, a Tiger. By the shimmering lake, basking in the winter sun, who do you think we spotted?! No, not a Tiger, but a huge Crocodile!  We were exhilarated!

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There’s something about visiting a jungle- all your senses come alive! There’s nothing to distract- no phone calls, messages or TV. If you stay longer, your sensations are only heightened. You’ll listen to the warning call of a Sambar deer and know that the Tiger is around. You’ll see pugmarks on the ground and figure out which direction he’s gone. You’ll smell the carcass of a dead animal and prepare yourself to the possibility of spotting him. Digression aside, Luck favored us once again.¬† Around a bend we spotted a couple of Tigers with their prey. One of them was tearing at it (It looked like the limb of a Deer) , while the other seemed to have had his fill. This one stretched and ambled down towards us.

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He sharpened his claws on the bark of a Tree and sat upon a stone wall. He was close enough to give us a high five! The other one finished his lunch, licked his paws and regally made his way towards the ‘throne’ the other Tiger was seated upon. We learnt that they were 2 brothers- Tarachand and Chota Matka, the cubs of Choti Tara and Matkasur. It was adorable to watch them pat one another and unwind after a hard day’s ‘work’!

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A long queue of Jeeps and Tour buses had formed by now and the cubs seemed to be enjoying all the attention! We had taken several trips into the jungle before and went on multiple trips thereafter- into both the Core and Buffer areas, but never did we experience such a spectacle! It was a First Day First Show for Shruthi and Ashwin and they were absolutely elated!

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Prasad and I had to manage the kiddos who were all loaded into our jeep and now were clambering atop its railings to get a better view of the cubs. Their excitement (and ours) knew no bounds! We’d spotted almost all of the Big 5, except Wild Dogs, on a single trip! Did it lessen our enthusiasm to continue exploring the jungles of India? Not at all. It has only intensified our passion for Wildlife and Nature.

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So long, wilderness…

– Manasa.

PS- Photographs were taken by Shruthi and me..

Tadoba Tiger Reserve

To me, a good vacation is all about waking up early in the morning, sipping chai and talking life with loved ones, going for a nice, long walk, preferably beside a water body, eating good food cooked by someone else, sipping chai (again) while watching the kids play and writing about the day before dozing off. Visiting the Tadoba Tiger Reserve was one such vacation!

Tadoba Tiger Reserve is in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is one of India’s 43 “Project Tiger” Tiger reserves, and the oldest and the largest National Park in Maharashtra, according to Wikipedia. We got there by road (a 7 hr drive, 440 Km distance), the guys taking turns driving our Fortuner, but it is possible to take a bus (nearest bus stop is in Chandrapur, a 32 Km away), a train (the nearest railway station is in Chandrapur, a 45 Km away) or even fly (airport in Nagpur, a 140 Km away) to reach the park.

We always try to cover a journey early in the morning, when the kids are still sleepy and the traffic and sunlight are low.¬†There were 4 kids in the car, as we were traveling with a cousin and his family, and they kept themselves entertained by listening to good music, chatting and screaming the name “Tadoba” at the count of 3! We didn’t have to resort to using digital devices to pass time!

By noon we were at our resort “Jharana”¬†( wait for a review of it in another post) . After a delicious meal and a delicious-er nap in a cozy room, we were off to explore the area around our ¬†resort. The resident Naturalist, Yogesh, accompanied us on a bird-watching tour. We got onto a rocky road, apparently a State Highway, and walked amidst dense jungle on one side and fields on the other. Water cascaded gently beside the road and the jungle seemed to be teasing us to explore. A marsh nearby invited us to sit on fallen trees and watch the birds feed and frolic. We spotted¬†Black ibis,¬†Crested serpent Eagle, Seven sisters, Red-vented Bulbul and ¬†White-throated Kingfishers. We even saw droppings of a Sloth Bear with the exoskeleton of termites. I felt like we were learning ¬†something new every step of the way. Our guide cum naturalist regaled us with stories and information about the wildlife and the region we were treading upon; Even the kids seemed to be absorbing everything.

Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds
Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds

The next morning we woke up to steaming cups of chai brought right to our room, at 5 am sharp, for our Tiger Safari. We’d booked our entry online before coming and that’s the only way it is done. The Navegaon gate opens at 6:30 am. There is another entry gate but farther from where we stayed. After the gate-in-charge verified our details (carry an ID proof along), we made our way into the reserve on our hotel’ s Gypsy.

A baby and mama Langur
A baby and mama Langur

Langurs and Spotted Deer were the first ones to greet us. No sooner did we turn towards a lake, than we spotted Maya, a Tigress and her 3 little cubs. The young ones were jumping about while their mama relaxed. A veil of dry grass covered the family and prevented us from having a clear view of them. Just as we were waiting for them to come out of their hiding and cross the street in front of us, the bunch took off into the bushes.  Still, we waited.  When nothing happened for a long time and the kids began their own soundtrack, we left in search of the other Tigers and other beautiful creatures that inhabit the forest.

Maya and her cubs
Maya and her cubs

Bright-red, orange and yellow leaves on tall trees and on the ground and the chill in the air reminded me of fall season in the US. Picturesque landscapes and clean roads made me imagine we were driving through Yellowstone or some other National Park there. Tadoba lake, with its clear, shimmering water, blues of the sky offering a beautiful background and different birds like Pond heron, Lesser whistling Teal, Red busted Flycatcher and Snakebird strutting, fluttering or lolling nearby looked just like a painting.

 

 

Fall colors
Fall colors

Like a painting
Like a painting

We saw the lodge where Yogesh stayed as a kid with his family on trips to the park. We saw dilapidated buildings that once housed or educated the locals. The Wild has now reclaimed its ownership on them as the Government relocated people from within the park to without. The villagers have been compensated fairly by the Government of India, which makes me feel a tiny bit prouder of my country for taking care of its Wildlife just as much as its people. I sometimes feel there’s so much to see right here, in India, that I can easily spend all my life exploring its length and breadth.

The next day too we set out early in the morning for another Safari trip. Have you ever tried the early morning safari? Not yet? Please do! I guarantee you it is pure fun! Dark, deep forest all around, cold wind slapping against you from all direction and the gate opening to let you inside a whole new world! Just thrilling, I tell ya!

Get, set, explore...
Get, set, explore…

It was colder than usual and we were practically frozen but we enjoyed the ride and the beauty around us. It was our last safari in the Core area. I wanted to soak up every smell, sound and scene.

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Even though we spotted pugmarks, we didn’t see another Tiger. We almost drove to the other end of the park, near Moharli gate, but there was no sign of Choti Tara, Sonam or Maya (all names of Tigers!). But I wasn’t too disappointed. I watched 3 ruthless Wild Dogs chasing a Sambar Deer and a Sloth Bear slinking behind a bush. All of this happened so fast, I couldn’t capture them on my camera.

Everyday we’d stop for a quick breakfast and a break inside the park, in a designated area. The staff at Jharana would pack food for us and we ate it and stretched around a bit before the safari resumed again.

Breakfast inside the park.
Breakfast inside the park.

And we’d make our way back to the gate before closing time at 11. Some of us felt sad and angry when we couldn’t spot a Tiger, but what can be done?! It is all a matter of luck.

Rightly said!
Rightly said!

Like I always remind myself, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. And boy did I enjoy!

(The Safari into the core area of the park costed us Rs. 4500 (67 USD)  per trip per jeep)

We tried a safari into the Buffer zone as well. Buffer is the area between the Core of the reserve and the city. It prevents the Tigers from entering cities where there’s more likelihood of them being killed. It was a truly wild experience. The core area appeared well-manicured compared to this one! We drove through thick jungle, our jeep tyres crackling dried leaves underneath and making us feel as if we were being stalked. Thickets poked and brushed against us and there was no other vehicle in sight. At one point, the rickety jeep we were on seemed to lose hope of ascending a steep area and the guys had to get down and push it. We almost thought we’d have to walk back to the gate, which would have been an adventure (nightmare?!). Here too, we spotted some cool animals, the coolest being a Crested Hawk Eagle with its Mohawk and the bulky, muscular Gaurs.

Crested Hawk Eagle
Crested Hawk Eagle

We spotted pugmarks on the road and our guide heard grunting noises; Gaurs dashed deep into the jungle and an owl hooted to alert everyone. There must have been a Tiger somewhere! We waited awhile, as long as the kids let us, and drove on. I believe there’s a mystery in wondering whether the Tiger was watching us from behind a bramble as we waited for it to come out. I still wonder…

(The Safari into the Buffer area costed us Rs. 3200 (about 47 USD))

Though I felt like my body was going to crumble into million little pieces after a jeep ride, spending time in the jungle, away from the din of the city, truly energized me.

I enjoyed every bit of the Tiger Reserve, and I’m sure you will too!

Love,

Manasa.

(Wait for more in my next post!)

Bidar Fort and Guru Nanak Jhira Sahib

Way to the Bidar Fort

Before going to the Black Buck Resort, we visited the Fort in Bidar. The Entrance was free and open for all. Even vehicles could be seen entering the place without a fuss. No one seemed to be looking after the more than 30 monuments within the Fort.

The Entrance

As we walked inside, a man claiming to be a guide, asked us whether he could show us around for Rs. 500. We thought it was too much and said so. Actually he didn’t look qualified enough to be a Guide. He began bargaining with us, coming down to about 300 bucks. We ignored him and walked on.

The entrance was huge with heavy, aesthetically-pleasing doors (with a few sections broken). There were mostly-destroyed, partly-worn-out monuments and relics all around us. We couldn’t make out what was what. There were no maps or markers around the complex to help us. And there was no authority we could inquire. As if he knew we would reach this helpless state and seek him out, the guy calling himself a “guide”, was just hanging around nearby. And this time, he agreed to a fee of Rs. 200. Some information (not credible though it might be) ¬†was better than no information at all, I thought.

Within the Fort

It was hard to follow him as he spoke too fast, but he told us what certain buildings were used for- Stables for Horse, Prison Cells, Court, Guest Rooms etc.. And a bit about the Architecture and the History of the place. Probably built by the Chalukyas in the year 977 AD, the present-day Fortress was rebuilt by Ahmed Shah of the Bahamani Dynasty using red laterite stone (in abundance in the area) in the year 1428 AD. The Architecture is mostly Persian-style.¬†(Source : Wikipedia and our “guide”).

Takht Mahal, maybe?

Bidar Fort apparently has¬†a number of monuments within the fortress complex. Prominent among them are the Rangin Mahal (‚ÄúPainted Palace‚ÄĚ), so called because of its elaborate decoration with coloured tiles; the Takht Mahal, or throne room; the Jami Masjid (‚ÄúGreat Mosque‚ÄĚ) and the Sola Khamba Masjid (‚ÄúSixteen-Pillar‚ÄĚ mosque), according to Wikipedia, but sadly, we didn’t enter any of those.

Rangin Mahal?

I wish I had done more research before visiting the place. I’d have demanded to know where everything was and asked to be taken inside. All I did was walk around, clicking pictures and admiring the beauty and the serenity of the Fort area, without a clue whether we were passing the Rangin Mahal or the Jami Masjid. It was August 15th, our Independence Day, but at that moment I felt least patriotic for the kind of Country I lived in, that didn’t honor its rich heritage and ensured its preservation for future Indians to enjoy.

Beautiful but poorly-maintained

The “guest room” had been closed, but the guide asked us to enter through the back door (which might have been a window, not sure, because it was too narrow.) and one could climb down a couple of storeys (?!?!) into rooms where (apparently) there was enough lighting and ventilation. Prasad came out drenched in sweat, but full of admiration for the ingenuity of the builders centuries ago. I thought it wasn’t right, going where one’s clearly not supposed to go, but HE didn’t mind; He was too happy to have seen an Engineering marvel!

Closed "Guest room"

We were told some “facts” like “this is where a scene from the movie “Dirty Picture” was shot” and some such. But we thanked the guy anyhow; He hadn’t exploited or harmed us. We paid him and explored the place by ourselves for a while. The weather was good and the long leisurely walk was energizing.

Perfect Weather for a walk

Wow! Let me try that pose!

The next day we visited the famous Gurudwar called the “Guru Nanak Sahib Jhira”. At the Resort we’d learnt the story behind this religious shrine – Guru Nanak visited Bidar between 1510-1514 AD on one of his missionary tours and seeing the plight of the residents who didn’t have proper water supply, shifted a stone and removed some rubble from underfoot, all the while praying, and out sprang cool and fresh water, which flows even to this day.

Entrance to the Gurudwar

We went inside, covering our heads with scarves, and spent some quiet minutes with the other devotees.

Looks Cute, doesn't he?

Later, we bought some Kadas for the kids and Roasted Corn-on-the-cob for everyone from the stores lined outside near the entrance.

It’s only after we returned home, did I realize how little we had seen. Not only had we missed looking at a number of monuments from up close at the Bidar Fort, we had also skipped a viewing of the Amrit Kund, the holy spring at the Gurudwar. How could we?!

Anyway, Bidar isn’t too far from Hyderabad. We’ll probably visit again. But…

The Big Fat lesson I learnt from this experience is that I need to thoroughly research a place before visiting, especially while traveling in India.

Jungle Retreat

This post should’ve seen the light of day a long time back, but here it is, 8 months later. I HAD to put the bits and pieces down somewhere, before I lost them in the depths of my unreliable memory.

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Last October, we decided to spend our vacation in Jungle Retreat, a resort nestling in the foothills of Nilgiri (Blue Mountains), in close proximity to Mudumalai Wilidlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu.

Prasad covered the whole distance (more than 800kms between Hyderabad and Masinagudi, where the resort is situated) driving  in our car. To make the drive and a long journey with a couple of kids manageable, we stopped in Mysore for the night.

Mysore, during the festival of Dasara, sadly, is a bad place to stay in. I wanted us to visit the Palace where the famous procession with the Elephants happen. I thought walking around a real palace would bring joy to Medha, who is fascinated with Princes and Princesses. But the roads had been made one-way for the occasion, and they were crowded too. We feared we might lose the kids in all that hullabaloo. Even getting to a restaurant was such a hassle! As our car inched along, we took in the Glittery-gold beauty of the Mysore Palace, without getting out.

We were anxious to get away from the crowd and noise that is Mysore and into the lap of nature. There are quite a few resorts in Masinagudi, but we chose the Jungle Retreat, as they were offering us a good deal for the stay.

On our way to the resort, we visited an ancient temple of Lord Krishna, built by the Hoysala King, Ballala, during 1315 AD (according to wikipedia) at the top of Gopalaswamy Betta. Thank Goodness we were driving an SUV; I don’t know how we would have managed driving on a narrow, 2-way unpaved road.

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There was no place to make a U-turn and return to safety. At one point, we had to stop for a while, to let the cars returning, pass us. When my in-laws became nervous about what we’d gotten ourselves into, Medha panicked too. It was difficult to calm her down.

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Our efforts weren’t worthless as the views at the top were breath-taking. I found myself singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music”,¬†a soundtrack from the movie The Sound of Music. The hills were so unspoiled, so green, I thought we were in Austria or somewhere else…

We still had a lot of distance to cover but we had to make our way down slowly…

The road got narrow and muddy towards the entrance of the resort. Again, we were glad to be driving an SUV. The weather was perfect, cloudy and cool. We were beyond thrilled as we walked towards the “lobby”, which is an outdoor dining area/ lounge.

Jungle Retreat is “tranquility” personified. Everything, the rooms, the swimming pool, just blended into the surrounding Forest. We heard nothing but Birdsong and saw only greenery and wildlife around.

And the staff… we’d never felt so welcomed in all our travels. Mr. Mathias, along with his crew of passionate people went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. One of them, Rhea, told me how she used to visit the retreat as a kid every year. She looked happy to be working there now. I imagined Medha working there and saying the same things to their future customers.

Their Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner spreads included dishes that were mostly Indian but palatable for people from different parts of the World as there were Foreigners all around, lounging as if there was nothing else to do or nowhere else to be. Time seemed to stand still here. The food was healthy and tasted good too. I looked forward to their desserts. One, Biscuit Pudding, still makes my mouth water.

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Unless you book a Dorm room, Meals are not included with the Accommodation. But the folks that run the resort assume that you will dine with them unless specified otherwise. Make sure you let them know if you’re planning to skip a meal, to avoid charges.

The lobby was a fun place to hang out and meet people. Even the House-pets hung out there, providing entertainment to the kids. Every evening the hosts organized a presentation to bring the guests up to speed with the Retreat, its rules, its inhabitants and the surrounding Forest. Knowledge-Junkie that I am, I attended them both the nights that we stayed there.

The rooms we chose were comfortable and clean with a rustic feel to them. And they came without TVs, thank god! The noise would have driven away the wildlife, I suppose. We were not allowed to walk outside after dark. The guards led us to and from our rooms.

There’s much to do in the area apart from just enjoying stunning views of the Nilgiri mountains, sipping Coffee. You can watch a herd of Deer grazing beside your room or dip into the swimming pool that transforms into a watering hole for the beasts at night or get a Thai massage done.

We went on a Bird Tour with a well-informed Ornithologist who set up his spotting scope to show us a host of birds, like the White-cheeked Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Spotted Dove, Plum-headed Parakeet, Long-tailed Shrike, White-bellied Drongo, Brahminy Starling, Purple-rumped Sunbird and many more within the resort. Even the kids enjoyed watching the birds and catching insects!

We watched a herd of Elephants being fed at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp.

We went on a Safari by bus into the neighboring Bandipur Forest. Although we didn’t¬†spot anything wilder than a Tusker, a lone male Elephant, the excitement of making our way into the thick of a forest and waiting in anticipation of finding a beast was enough. The open Jeep Safari was even better.

On our last day, at the break of dawn, Prasad and I went for a walk to the temple at the top of Vibudhimalai. It was an hour and a half’s trek that took us beside farms and a village to the top of a mountain. The walk wasn’t draining at all, just the opposite, the clean air and the breath-taking views at the top, boosted our energy.

Every outing, each activity brought us so much joy, but our fondest memories of the trip remain spending time in the resort itself.

I have promised Mr. Mathias, the owner of Jungle Retreat, that we’ll be back there soon.

Here’s how much we spent for food, accommodation and recreation at the resort:

Accommodation – Rs. 15,996 (approx. 250 dollars for 2 nights and 2 rooms)

Food – Rs. 11,696 ( approx. 183 dollars for breakfast, lunch, coffee+snacks and dinner for 4 adults)

Walk+Jeep tour – Rs. 2528 ( approx. 40 dollars)

Total – Rs. 30,220 (approx. 472 dollars)

I hope you visit them too…

Traveling with Children

Traveling isn’t just exploring a new place, gaining a fresh perspective, having fun, relaxing, trying exotic food and buying local, handmade goods, once you have kids. It is all of that and more- like planning ahead, stocking baby food and diapers, chasing kids up and down aisles in a plane, visiting dirty toilets, schedule thrown out-of-whack and a lot of pain-in-the-butt!

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject of “Traveling with Children”, but I’m a mother of a couple of kids, both under the age of 5 and I’m a frequent traveler and that, I think, gives me the license to dole out a bit of advice to new moms and moms traveling with kids for the first time on having a stress-free, no, that is highly impossible, less-stressful is apt, vacation.

I

1. try to limit the luggage when I’m traveling with the kids without my husband or another adult. Even with my husband around, I still limit our luggage to mostly the essentials. It is hard to pay attention to a number of bags, when the kids take off to explore, usually in different directions.

2. carry a back-pack instead of a hand-bag, even if that makes me look frumpy. A back-pack frees my hands to hold onto my kids in crowded places, balances the weight on my shoulders and comes with enough space to contain everything I need to manage the kids on long journeys.

3. Buy new toys and books that I don’t show the kids until we are inside the train/plane. Plus, I don’t give them all at once. I give one, allow them to savor the one thing in their hands till they get bored, then give another… Sometimes I just bring along the old, forgotten ones. Their fascination with something new or that which looks like new keeps them busy for sometime.

4. look for someone that appears trustworthy and friendly to help if I’m traveling solo with the kids. I once asked a friendly co-passenger to keep an eye on Medha on the plane when I had to use the restroom. Of course, an airplane is much safer if one is traveling with kids without the aid of another adult.

5. was told by my Pediatrician in the US that the airports are the most unhygienic places and was advised to keep the kids safe when in one. If airports are dirty enough for the kids to fall sick, then he would’ve certainly called the Indian Railway Stations Death-traps. But airport or train station, I always let the kids play, burn some pent-up energy and get dirty. Then just before boarding I get them cleaned thoroughly. They are better able to sit through the long journey after they have had their share of play.

6. always carry a Hand Sanitizer, Children’s Tylenol or Crocin to soothe aching tummies, a bottle of vicks to clear congestion in the nose or chest and a pain-killer for myself, thank you very much.

7. carry a good baby carrier (mine is this one) or a stroller.

8. carry Ear plugs along for plane rides.

9. ALWAYS pack a camera along.

10. remind myself to take a few deep breaths and take everything in stride, even missed flights or lost purse (both have happened to me).

“This too shall pass”, I remind myself. And not just the difficulties, even the happy, magical moments. ¬†That’s enough to make me enjoy every bit of the vacation, even the journey.

 

Hawaii part 3

At the mountain town of Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island we visited a couple of breathtaking waterfalls called Rainbow falls and Akaka falls. Rainbow Falls (not sure why it is called so) was pretty. More than the falls itself the climb up a set of steps for a view of the water from above was an experience. A large banyan tree with its hanging roots and other trees with their roots creeping above the ground gave the whole place a Hogwarts-like ambience. The lake below was pristine and glistening and lent itself to beautiful photography.

On our climb up for a view of the lake below Rainbow Falls.
On our climb up for a view of the lake below Rainbow Falls.

The lake {not sure what it is called!)
The lake {not sure what it is called!)

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

Akaka falls was pretty too. A short hike descended into lush Rainforest that was intoxicatingly green. Akaka’s height and the ferocity with which it plunged into the pool below filled me with awe.

A short hike to the Akaka Falls led us through Rainforest.
A short hike to the Akaka Falls led us through Rainforest.

Akaka Falls.
Akaka Falls.

Another highlight of our trip was shopping at a Fruit stall. It stood on our way to Akaka Waterfalls. Colorful fruits hung from the ceiling and beckoned us to make a stop. We each had a cup of Sugarcane juice that was so out-of-this-world! Then we bought a bunch of fruits like Guava (which was hard with a nutty texture like the ones we find in India, but tasted bland without some chilli powder and salt sprinkled on it.), Papaya (which the lady at the store cut in half and gave a spoon to scoop up its flesh to eat. It was melt-in-your-mouth soft and so sweet!) and star-fruit (juicy and succulent!) .There was coconut water too but we were too full to try it, but it was fun to watch the lady break it open at one go with a huge knife!

We were delighted to shop at a fruit stall!
We were delighted to shop at a fruit stall!

Our last day in Hawaii felt bittersweet. We were glad we decided to visit. The prospect of leaving the US and relocating to India kicked our butts to plan this trip. I also felt sad to be leaving a place as serene and lively as the Big Island. But I’m happy We were able to create such beautiful memories to take back with us. I‚Äôm sure they will remain with us for a long long time.

Winding down with a glass of Mai Tai.
Winding down with a glass of Mai Tai.

So long, Sweet Hawaii!!!
So long, Sweet Hawaii!!!