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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Citrus Fruits from Honey Valley, Coorg

At first look, these fruits looked like an orange. In fact, all of us in the group thought that way. But, at closer look, these looked bigger than an orange, but had all other external attributes of an orange.

Tree bearing Citrus Fruits at Honey Valley in Coorg 
I spotted this tree and its Citrus fruits during my long weekend holiday at the Honey Valley Estate in Coorg. Apparently, the monsoons are the fruit season for these Citrus fruits.

Citrus Fruits at Honey Valley 
Any of you have an idea of the name of this citrus fruit?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monica Garden Tea Bungalow: A Colonial Holiday House at Valparai

It is is the perfect blend of remoteness, forests, tea estates, colonial lifestyle and nature. And that is when you thought it could not get any better at Valparai, the unsung hill station located in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu in South India. The Monica Garden Tea Bungalow is a British Colonial House that was built in 1925  and that is currently being maintained and managed by the Woodbriar Group.

The famous tea estates of Valparai 
When I was here with a group a couple of weeks back, I liked a lot of things about this place. First and foremost, I liked the colonial experience. I felt royal standing in a mini cricket field like living room and having a shower in a bathroom that is bigger than my bedroom in Bangalore city. Then, came the location of this bungalow. One side of the bungalow led to the tea gardens while the other side leads to dense forest to the extent that one can spot leopards from right inside the bungalow. The place was very well maintained with a sprawling lawn, and colourful flowers and fruits seemed to bloom all around. This attracted a whole bunch of birds, including the Malabar Hornbill, the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Woodpeckers and more. Now that reminds me of the brilliant whistling sound that I would wake up to every morning. Apparently, this Malabar Whistling Thrush used to live in the bungalow as I used to spot it roosting on a thin bar outside my room every evening.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai - 2 
Now that was about the place. Even the service here is top class. Since it is not a hotel or a resort, my expectations of service was minimal and I was pleasantly surprised when the local caretaker doubled up as our tourist guide for our entire stay. Not only was he knowledgeable about the terrain and history, but he also knew the best spots to see around. And all this when we totally did not see it coming. The food here was out of the world. There was not even one person in the group who ate anything without feeling joy. And all these delicacies were doled out by 2 chefs in the kitchen, one of them being a dessert chef. Oh my-oh-my, the taste of the caramel cake, the chocolate pudding, and the strawberry fruit custard still make my mouth water. The food (all meals) was a perfect combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare all cooked according to the palate preference of the group members.

Solitary tree branch against a soft blue mountain sky 
The place has a very rustic look n feel with its massive rooms, antique fireplaces in each room and creaky flooring. But, it also comes with some new age luxuries like spring mattresses, fluorescent lights and a hot water geyser in the bathroom. When we jammed up here at Monica Garden Bungalow as a group, all of us felt like we had found ourselves a new home for those 3 days. Except for the cooks and the caretaker, the entire place was just for us. 2 cars in the parking lot, a sprawling lawn for a sweet afternoon siesta, chirping birds all around and picturesque landscapes all around…Doesn’t this sound like heaven to you?

Lion Tailed Macaque Family at Pudhuthotham Tea Estate, Valparai - 3 
Then for the adventure seeker, multiple trails from the bungalow lead into tea estates and forests. So, whether you are a wildlife lover, birder or nature lover, you are definitely bound to love these different trails. We were walking on one of these trails one evening when a local passing by advised us not to venture here alone in the night as a leopard has just given birth to a cub and that too not far away in the bushes. Now, ain’t that a serious adrenalin rush to know that the mother leopard is watching you closely from the bushes??!!

Gaur at Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, Valparai - 3 
The best part about the Monica Garden Tea Bungalow is its perfect balance of civilization and forests. This bungalow, situated about 5 kilometres from Valparai town is one of the three bungalow properties managed and run by the Woodbriar Group at Valparai. The other two being the luxurious Stanmore Garden Bungalow and Villa Fair Winds. To reach the Monica garden bungalow, one has to take the take the Chalakudy Road from Valparai and at Mata Temple Junction (Mother Mary Temple Junction), one has to take a left on the road that leads to Kurungamudi. Once you cross the tea garden roads and enter the forest section, look out for a road that ascends to the right. This is the road that leads to the bungalow.

Feeding time for the Grey Malabar Hornbill at Valparai - 6 
The special thing about all these three properties is one can rent out the entire bungalow and make it your holiday home for that long weekend or for the entire duration of your vacation. This is ideal is you are holidaying with a large group of family and/or friends. The per day cost for Monica Garden Bungalow and Villa Fair Winds for a group of 10 people is Rs 17,750 and this includes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Tea and Tax. The equivalent cost structure for the luxurious Stanmore bungalow is Rs 23,750 for a 10 person group.

Black Rumped Flameback (Lesser Golden-Backed) Woodpecker at Valparai - 1 
Smaller groups or couples can also rent out rooms here. The room cost for Stanmore, Monica Garden and Villa Fair Winds is Rs 7302, Rs 5220 and Rs 5220 respectively. This includes cost of stay, tax and cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening tea. For international travellers, do remember to carry your international travel insurance as this bungalow takes care of accommodation and food needs only and not your insurance requirements.

Waves of GREEN - Tea Estates at Valparai 
Valparai is splendid in all seasons of the year. The summer offers the best wildlife sightings. Winters give you that heavenly feel. Rains make this place come alive with stunning views and a lot of water all around. So, if you are interested in holidaying in this unsung hill station, do remember to check these bungalows out.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Shades of Monsoon from the ‘Scotland of India’

Coorg, the ‘Scotland of India’ is one of the best places in India to plan your monsoon holiday. Recently, I was there at Honey Valley, a great eco tourism initiative in Coorg. While I was there on my 3 day holiday, I was intoxicated by the steady monsoon drizzle, the fresh mountain air, the delightfully full waterfalls and the new shades of GREEN all over.

A natural moment 
Below are some of those monsoon shades in pictures. I know that these pictures are a far cry from feeling the nippy monsoon weather in the Western Ghat mountains, but I am hoping that it somehow is able to bring out the magic.

A tropical mountain stream near Honey Valley in Coorg
Millipede during the monsoons at Coorg
A green moment

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Exhibitor Magazine features my Tata Nano Superdrive Photos!!

Exhibitor Magazine, a Rochester, MN based media house that focuses on trade shows and corporate event marketing has featured my ‘Tata Nano Superdrive’ photos as part of their article ‘Nano’s Big Adventure’.

I was a part of this road show that was conducted last summer and have some very fond memories as I travelled through the heart of India across 26 days. Thank you Tata Motors and Shobiz for taking me on this great journey!! This road trip also helped me find great friends in Debarpita Mohapatra and Shrinidhi Hande, fellow photographers and travel bloggers.

This feature also ensured that all of us 3 travel bloggers got paid for our featured photos. It sure does feel good when your work gets published and you also get paid for it. Now, I am waiting to see my photographs in print. I guess I will have to wait for the package to arrive from the United States.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Monsoon Ride: Bangalore to Hogenakkal Falls

It had been close to 2 months since I had travelled anywhere and I was itching to get out of the city. And this itch came to an end when I planned a monsoon motorcycle ride from Bangalore to Hogenakkal Falls a couple of Sundays back.

Hogenakkal Falls from the Tamil Nadu side - looks like a canyon with water tumbling everywhere 
It was a nippy and grey Sunday morning when four of us on three motorcycles met at Silk Board to begin our journey.The route we had in mind for our day trip was Bangalore –> Attibelle –> Anekal –> Denkanikottai –> Anchetti –> Hogenakkal Falls and back.

Silky Niagara of India 
We were just ten minutes into our journey when a steady drizzle began and gave us company for nearly half our journey. The drizzle made us cold, caused us to drop our speed, but gave the ride a true monsoon flavour.

The wide and furious Cauvery tumbles here to form the wide and massive Hogenakkal Falls 
Breakfast at Attibelle was our first pit stop. Post our breakfast, we left the four lanes behind and took the 2 lane state highways, which were not in very great condition for a distance of 20 kilometres or thereabouts.

Tumbling from all corners - Hogenakkal Falls 
Then began the winding ghat roads of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, which were perfect for a Sunday morning ride. This was followed by serene country roads and thinly populated villages.

Silky Smooth Hogenakkal Falls 
As we neared our destination, we could see the Cauvery flow to our right. We could see people picnicking on the river side. The traffic levels increased as we approached the city. Vehicles were parked on either side of the road for kilometres together. I guess this is a typical Sunday phenomenon. Luckily for us, there was enough space for our motorcycles to squeeze through.

Tourists admire the five falls on the Tamil Nadu side of Hogenakkal Falls - this is where the Roja movie was shot 
We parked at the edge of the river, appeased our hunger by treating us to a simple lunch at the Tamil Nadu Hotel and then got ourselves a nice coracle boat after haggling a lot. A three hour round trip for the entire boat cost us 1000 rupees.

A lengthy mass ofgushing water and waterfalls 
Thus began our journey on the Cauvery. A short trip downstream bought us to the first set of falls and we were supposed to disembark at this point. This is where we got to see the five falls and the larger Tamil Nadu falls. One can also get a stupendous view of the entire gorge by climbing up the view point tower for a measly charge of 3 rupees.

Coracles are the only things that survive in this Cauvery canyon 
This waterfall is called the Tamil Nadu falls as it comes under the purview of the Tamil Nadu state. The other speciality about it is that it has water throughout the year, though it looks best in the monsoons.

Hogenakkal in even half flow is a great sight 
While we were enjoying nature’s spectacle, our boatman had carried his coracle boat down a flight of steps to the bottom of the waterfall. This is where we embarked again and began our downstream journey again. First, in turbulent waters and then in much calmer waters.

The fast downstream Cauvery river 
It was somewhere in the calmer stretch that we got off on the right bank and began a 15 minute hike to the other side of the Hogenakkal waterfalls, which falls in Karnataka and is thus called the ‘Karnataka Falls’.

Our boatman Ramu getting the coracle ready to set sail again 
This Karnataka Falls is located in a deeper part of the Hogenakkal gorge and carries water primarily in the monsoons. During the monsoons, the Karnataka Falls beats the Tamil Nadu falls in terms of beauty, but the Tamil Nadu falls provides a more year-round show.

The green Cauvery surroundings 
At the end of our sweaty hike, we came across to a forest check post where we had to pay a entry fee of 5 rupees. Before getting inside the check post, we treated ourselves to some juicy cucumbers and sweet limes and regained some of our lost energies.

Hogenakkal Falls from the Karnataka side and hence referred to as Karnataka Falls 
Post this refreshing snack break, we took a small bridge that took us straight to the Karnataka Falls view point. There was no doubt that this waterfall looks extremely pretty in full flow and outclasses the waterfalls in the neighbouring state. Some daredevil tourists were trying to get a closer look by standing at the cliff’s edge and this grabbed our attention for a long while.  One can even see the Tamil Nadu falls from this view point.

Hogenakkal Falls - also known as the Niagara of India 
The Karnataka Falls view point offers a closer view and better infrastructure when compared to the Tamil Nadu Falls view point, but lacks in terms of height. After enjoying the view of the Karnataka Falls, we  proceeded slowly to the river bank, where our coracle boat was waiting for us.

Continuous series of waterfalls tumble down 
The return journey was through a circuitous route, partially upstream and then downstream. As we neared the boat yard, we noticed a corpse floating in the water and stuck between some rocks. I am guessing that it must have been some drunk guy who lost his head. The cops and the authorities advise caution to the tourists, but a lot of them hardly pay any heed and this can be seen by checking the death stats at Hogenakkal.

Locals told that 2 weeks back, the water was flowing over where these people are standing, which means the river was flowing above the waterfall level 
Except for this final unfortunate moment, the entire round trip was spectacular. There was so much of water in the Cauvery that each waterfall look stupendous. My boatman was telling me that two weeks back, the entire river was in flood and the waterfalls were then an amazing sight. But, he also mentioned that nobody was allowed near the river including the locals and the entire area was cordoned off.

Coracles are the only way to cross the swirling Cauvery river 
Once we were done with our boat trip, we went back to our parking lot, grabbed a small bite and sipped a hot cuppa coffee while it started to rain. We got all packed and ready and waited for the rains to ease.

One of the widest waterfall series in India 
As the rains let off, we began our return journey through Anchetti –> Denkanikottai –> Hosur –> Bangalore. Return journey was fairly uneventful as we had promised ourselves to get out of the forest and the winding ghat roads before nightfall. The only good thing was us getting treated to some chur muri (Jhal Muri in Hindi and Masalai Mandakki in Kannada) by a picnicking family at a pit stop in the forest.

 
We reached home by 9:30 pm to signal the successful completion of a brilliant Sunday Monsoon Ride from Bangalore to Hogenakkal Falls.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Joy of Monsoons – Furry Caterpillar from Coorg

There is no better way to enjoy the monsoons then be in the heart of it, which in my mind is best felt in India’s Western Ghats where it pours the most to the extent of being torrential. A couple of weeks back, I was at the Kakkabe side of Coorg and was enjoying nature at its vibrant best.

Furry Caterpillar 
This photo was taken in light rain and with half my body submerged in a mountain stream. This furry caterpillar, which can give a lot of people the creeps and the famous itch, looked particularly appealing to be in its black and white and with it clinging to a small plant growing by the side of this mountain stream. And all of it freshly drenched in the monsoon rains.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Post: Summer Rentals!

With Labor Day around the corner, there is no better time for people to plan a final summer getaway with friends and family! Renting a summer home is a great way to shake off work, get out of town and live like a local. If you own a summer rental property, understanding what renters are looking for in a vacation spot is of up-most importance. Whether your property is near a popular destination city or near some picturesque countryside or shore, what sort of summer home do people want to rent or what are you looking to rent?

The best characteristic of a summer home is that it is perfect for family and friends to enjoy time together. Having a house with an open concept is the new housing trend to make even the smallest of properties feel larger than they are. Having open living spaces, like the living room, dining room and kitchen, allow for friends and family to feel like they are never out of reach of each other. However, an open concept can seem overwhelming for those who crave privacy. A house with more closed off rooms can satisfy that craving but can also make a property appear smaller.

Renters want something different than what they're used to at home. No one wants to fight over bathroom time or struggle to fit in the kitchen like they do at home; having your property be very functional and luxurious will keep your guests satisfied and coming back year after year.

Having a property with a lot of bedrooms is great since people tend to vacation with family and friends. The housing trend today also calls for bigger, more lavish bathrooms. Owning a property with a lot of bathrooms or with the space to add one may not always be an option. Giving whatever bathrooms you do have a luxurious make-over to give them a spa feel would be a must have to make your guests feel very comfortable, no matter if they're sharing the bathrooms or not.

The hottest new trend of homes is having your outdoor space be another living space instead of just a patio with a table and chairs. People now want amenities like kitchens and living rooms to extend out to their backyards for more room to entertain. With Labor Day coming up, an outdoor kitchen is a great place for guests to host a barbeque.

When it comes to how you should decorate your rental property, work with what is around you. A house near the shore can have a beach theme and a cabin near the lake can have an outdoors theme. Remember to think of luxury when you're bringing your design inspiration into your space.

With these design tips, your property will be rented in no time and your guests can enjoy their last rays of summer sunshine in your beautiful space. Share any other summer home design tips here!

About the Author: Megan Gates is an active blogger who provides written work to the blogosphere pertaining to Long Island Real Estate, Hamptons Beach Rentals, home improvement and the latest architecture, design and fashion. Follow her on twitter @MEGatesDesign.

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Passion Fruit: The Exotic Tropical Fruit

The passion fruit is one exotic fruit that is known for its rich aroma and flavour. This tropical fruit is grown widely in the Western Ghats of India and is more commonly found during the monsoons. Hence, it was no surprise that I saw the passion fruit and vine during my recent trip to the tropical forests of Coorg in Karnataka.

The exotic tropical fruit - Passion Fruit 
This highly nutritious fruit tastes great with a pinch of salt and tastes even better in juice. The variety that is found in India is the yellow variety, which is also used to make home-made wine in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Do remember to taste this fruit when you are travelling to the Western Ghats this monsoons.

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Daredevil Tourists at Hogenakkal Falls

Copious amounts of water was flowing into the Cauvery that Sunday morning and thus the waterfalls made for a very pretty sight. This spectacular sight, coupled with the fact that it was a holiday drew a lot of tourists to Hogenakkal Falls both from Tamil Nadu and from Karnataka.

Daredevil tourists try to get a closer look. I am hoping that they were sober 
While we were all enjoying the beauty of these mighty waterfalls from a safe distance, some tourists chose to be adventurous and perched themselves at cliff’s edge wherein, they were just inches from falling into the water. This, for sure gave them an impossible view point, but this view came at the cost of an extremely minimal margin of error, post which their life would be history. Personally, I don’t understand why people wish to jeopardize their lives like this. To worsen the situation, some of these tourists are in a state of inebriation. No wonder, Hogenakkal records a lot of tourist deaths and I guess most of it is because of stupidity on the part of the excited tourists.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Upcoming Travel: Long Weekend to Valparai

It has been a long while since I have posted anything on my blog. Loads of work at office and wedding preparations at home have left me with very little time to write and that reflects on the site, which hasn’t seen any update for over a fortnight. But, this doesn’t mean, I haven’t travelled anywhere.

A couple of weeks back, I did a monsoon ride to Hogenakkal Falls, which was in full flow and unbelievably pretty. Then, last week, I went on an office team trip to Coorg, which is always special in the monsoons. And this upcoming  long weekend I am headed to Valparai, the unsung hill station of India.

This Valparai trip will be a combination of lazing in a colonial bungalow located within tea estates, spotting the endangered Lion Tailed Macaque, Great Hornbill and other wildlife species in the nearby Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and visits to the umpteen waterfalls, dams and reservoirs located near and around.

So, this means I will have loads of photos and experiences to share once I am back. So do stay tuned and remember to check the updates. And this time I promise to be more frequent with my updates.

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Getting away in super quick time

Getting Away For a Weekend Trip Abroad? Here’s How to Get from Your Office to the Plane in Super Quick Time.

Some people always seem to be jetting off here there and everywhere at the drop of the hat. If you aspire to be able to leave your office on a Friday afternoon and be at the airport ready to board a flight for a weekend of relaxation then here are some handy hints to make the transition from office to departure lounge as smooth as possible:
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1. Get organised! The whole beauty of these weekend trips away is that you should be able to travel light and get to and from your destinations quickly and without too much hassle. If you pack light and make sure that you condense everything you need into a small weekend bag that will fit into the overhead locker then this means that when you land you won’t have to wait for your baggage, you can just disembark the plane and get on with your city break. When you are only away for the weekend you don’t want to waste time waiting for your suitcase, so be a savvy traveller and leave with your bag in hand as soon as you get off the plane.

2. Think about your transport to the airport and then home again. The last you will want to do is to get stuck on a Friday afternoon commute, as this could increase the chance of missing your plane. If you work in the city where you are flying from then hopefully there will be a quick and pain fee train straight to the airport terminal. However if you don’t work in the city and you need to get in a car then you will need to make sure that you book somewhere for your car to stay too whilst you are off enjoying yourself. You will need to book Airport Parking. This way you will be able to make your way to the airport (traffic permitting) and make sure you park right by the terminal.

3. If you want to make it as stress free as you can then you might like to consider one step up from the park and ride option (which is where you make your own way to the car park and then get on one of the free shuttle buses that will take you to the airport) and use the valet parking service. Whilst this may cost you a little extra it will help you shave even more time off your journey so you can spend more time relaxing into your holiday. With the valet parking service you will meet a driver at the airport and they will then take your car and your keys to a secure place so you can make your way to check-in straight away. When you return you will be met with your car at the arrivals building.

It does not matter which of the major UK airports you are travelling from, you will find that you are able to find airport parking at them all. Heathrow Parking, Gatwick Parking and Liverpool Airport Parking are all searchable online and will all give you options to help you go from worker to travellers as easily as possible.

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