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Friday, September 23, 2011

Yuva Magazine calls me a Blogging Superstar

imageI am happy to tell you all that I have been featured by yet another magazine and this time in print. Yuva Magazine, a magazine house for Young India and headquartered in Mumbai India has featured me in their magazine’s September 2011 edition.

The feature is a part of their article ‘The Superstars of Blogging’ written by Bhavika Jhaveri, which profiles a few select bloggers from the Indian blogosphere who have followed their passion and have carved a niche for themselves. I have been profiled under ‘Travel’ as the area of interest.

Thank you to all my readers who have supported me throughout this fantastic journey. It is because of you that my blog is scaling new heights.

For links to PDF versions of the article, click the links below:
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For images of the article, continue reading.


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Guest Post: The 10 Festivals in India you don’t want to miss

India has a significant collection of religions within, resulting in a variety of festivals and holidays every month. The vibrant colours of red, gold, yellow, and soul-searching music provides a cultural experience unlike any other. All are welcome to try the sweet foods and admire the ornaments and deities set out for religious prayers.

The 10 most popular festivals are scattered throughout the year, attracting tourists who are passing through. It is easy to find cheap hotels for your budget and to compare cheap hotels on travel sites to get the best deals.

1. Uttarayan & the Kite Festival of Gujarat
clip_image002A day full of flying kites in a deep blue sky, the Kite Festival in Gujarat is full of people celebrating the decline of winter. Gujarat celebrates thousands of festivals every year and Uttarayan is the most exciting of all. People, young and old, fly kites from sunup to sundown, stopping only to feast with family and friends. The next Uttarayan is January 14, 2012, so don’t miss out!


2. Holi
clip_image004During springtime in India, Hindus celebrate the Holi spring festival, uniquely celebrated by lighting bonfires on the eve of the festival and throwing coloured, scented water and coloured powder at each other throughout the day. The famous place to celebrate the Holi Festival is in Barsana. Thousands of people gather to watch men and women act out traditional Indians performances. Depending where you are traveling, Holi can last from 3 to 16 days. On March 18, 2012, Holi will take place and you should be there.


3. Gangaur
clip_image005Gangaur is a celebrated by women, young and old, in Rajasthan. Gangaur runs for 18 days to celebrate marriage, spring, and harvest. Women commemorate by praying Gauri for blessings and decorating their hands and feet in designs before singing traditional songs and collecting small gifts for a feast after. Gangaur is March 25, 2012.



4. Rongali Bihu
clip_image006Rongali Binu is the celebration of the coming of spring and the Assamese New Year. This festival continues for 7 days and is full of good times and feasting. On the eve of Binu, the Indian people wash and worship cows, while on the day of Binu, the people dress in new bright-coloured clothes and jewels, feasting and celebrating the New Year with their families. There are fertility rituals and musical performances and afterwards, the Indian people clean and worship statues of their gods. Rongali Binu is April 14th of every year.

5. Krishna Janmashtami
clip_image007Hindus celebrate the birth of Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu, with the festival of Krishna Janmashtami. This festival is in place to worship the idols of Krishna. The next daybreak, the people draw child-sized footprints walking into the houses, symbolizing the infant entering their homes. Many cities also celebrate by playing games requiring family and friends to work together to symbolize unity. Usually celebrated in August, Krishna Janmashtami is August 9, 2012.

6. Onam
clip_image008Kerala celebrates Onam in the late summer and the festival lasts for ten days. One of the largest festivals, there are many elements to the celebration. Handmade, layered flower carpets in delicate designs expand every day of the festival. Large banquet lunches, snake boat races, games, and dances make this festival like no other. If you plan to celebrate Onam in 2012, it is on August 12.



7. Ganesh Chaturthi
clip_image009On September 19, 2012, is Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Ganesha. Ganesha is the God of Wisdom and Good Fortune. This festival lasts for ten days in September. Priests chant mantras to statues of Ganesha, while the people pay tribute to the god. On the tenth day, the people carry the statues through the streets while others dance and feast.





8. Navaratri
clip_image010Navaratri is a 9-day festival to worship the Goddess Durga and her different forms. Many different traditions happen during these holidays; along with the traditions, there are feasts, dancing, and worshipping of the idols. Navaratri is in October or November depending on the planet alignments.







9. Pushkar Camel Fair
clip_image011 Celebrated in October or November as a huge livestock fair that lasts for five days, Pushkar attracts people from all over India for competitions ranging from Best Camel to Longest Moustache. There is a large bazaar set up with a huge variety of handmade goods.






10. Diwali
clip_image012Diwali, known as the Festival of Lights, is an official holiday in Diwali in October or November to celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind from prison. There are many ways to celebrate Diwali, depending on where you are located in the country. Most places celebrate with dancing, colorful fireworks, new clothing, worshipping, and huge feasts. Lamps and lights of different colors hang as awareness of the inner light.



This guest post was written and provided by freelance writer and consultant for Expedia, Erica Gustafson.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wildlife Photography: Innocent look of a Young Gaur at Puduthotam Tea Estates, Valparai

An early morning walk in the tea gardens of Valparai’s Puduthotham Estate leads me to a large herd of gaurs. It is quite a surreal experience to see these magnificent creatures graze in tea estates. While I was admiring this large herd of gaurs, my eye caught the attention of a young one who seemed innocent and oblivious to the threat that we humans posed to them. This herd had about three calves, but I guess this one was the most photogenic.

Young Gaur Calf at Valparai Tea Estates 
This photo was shot in a hand-held mode with a EF 100-400 mm f4.5-5.6L lens on a Canon 7D body.

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Guest Post: Tips if you find yourself stranded in a Foreign Country!

If you are planning a trip to another country, it is important that you take the steps necessary to protect yourself in the event of theft, accident, illness, injury or any other event that can make it difficult for you to return home.

There are many things that can happen during your travels and it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to planning.

Tips if you find yourself stranded in a foreign country Planning for the worst
Before you leave on your trip you should make two copies of all of your important documents. Your passport can help you get a new passport quicker and may help in other situations.

Passport picture. This will help speed up the process of getting a temporary passport from the embassy.
Credit cards. You want to make sure to have the numbers you need to call for your credit cards in case of an emergency by having copies of the card, front and back. Sometimes these numbers are printed on the back of the cards, but if not be sure to write them on the copies.
Airline ticket. If you have the information on you flight such as the flight number and other details that help to define your flight, it will be easier to get a replacement ticket.
Traveller's checks. Keep a list of your traveller's check numbers and mark them off as you use them, so if something happens to them, you’ll know which ones you have left.

Before you leave, keep one of the copies of everything to take with you and give the other copies to someone that you trust here at home, for safe keeping. Never pack any of your valuables or important documents in your luggage.

Dealing with Losing your Documents
If you are on vacation and robbed of your money, credit cards, passport or other documents and items that make it impossible to function where you are, you’ll need a Plan B. The first thing you need to replace is your passport. You cannot travel, stay at cheap hotels or pick up money without your passport. Going to the consulate or embassy for your country is the first step you need to take.

If you don’t know where the embassy is you can ask the clerk at your hotel, or reference a telephone book. There are 24-hour emergency phone numbers that you can call for the US State Department in case you need assistance from the embassy after it has closed.

Where to go for Assistance
Your embassy can offer help when you find yourself stranded with no money and no passport, but you must go there in person. There are separate lines for citizens of that country and travellers who are visiting and need assistance. Making sure you are in the right line will save you time and stress. Once you are able to speak to someone, explain the situation with as much detail as possible.

If your passport is lost or stolen, they can help you obtain a temporary one. There will be a charge. The embassy personnel can help you to reach family or friends that may be able to help with the cost. They can pay the embassy directly, transfer funds via Western Union, or even directly to a bank.

Assistance you can get from the Embassy
If your money has been lost or stolen and you are unable to find someone from home to lend you the cost of the temporary passport, the state department may be able to lend you money. This is a repatriation loan.

Whether they approve this loan depends on the funds available to the department. Also, it may be possible for your credit card company to wire you money, based on their regulations. Once you have reported your credit cards missing, certain companies may be able to offer expedited card replacement services.

This guest post article was written and provided by freelance writer and consultant Erica Gustafson on behalf of Expedia. She recently helped a couple in Australia who had had their things stolen from their rental car and set them in the right direction for home.

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Bird Photography: Silhouette of a Little Cormorant

I have this craze for silhouettes and find it very interesting to join silhouettes and bird photography together. The larger birds especially make for some great silhouettes and nothing beats the beauty of a cormorant with wings wide open and drying itself under the sun.

Silhouette of a Little Cormorant 
In this case, I heavily underexposed this picture as it was still early evening and tried to build a frame with the little cormorant and the leaf less tree. This was shot during a jungle safari at Kaziranga National Park in Assam, North East India.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Post: Top 5 Reasons to visit New York

Commonly referred to as the city that never sleeps, NYC is one of the busiest and most popular states in the whole of America. If you are still undecided on whether to visit this amazing city or not, then we are confident that this guide will help you make up your mind!

1. The Statue of Liberty
Located on Liberty Island (a 12-acre island within the New York Harbour), the Statue of Liberty stands for everything that Americans believe in. Popular among tourists and seasoned New Yorkers alike, this colossal neoclassical sculpture was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and is one of the world's most visited landmarks. Trips to NYC are not complete without a trip here. The nearby Ellis Island, which acts as the port where immigrants enter the US, is also worth checking out.
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2. The Empire State Building
Standing at 102-stories tall, the Empire State Building, is another world famous landmark situated in New York. It's stunning Art Deco architecture captures tourists imagination, and the observatory deck on 86th floor provides guests with some of the most amazing views of New York. From this outside deck, visitors have access to the stunning views of New York, stretching over 80 miles, so be sure to remember your cameras!
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3. Rockefeller Centre
Covering 22-acres between 48th and 51st streets in New York, the Rockefeller Centre in Midtown Manhattan is another of New York's world famous sites. Popular activities here include ice-skating on the outdoor rink, which opens during the winter season. During holidays the rink will become slightly more crowded, but it is generally busy throughout the entire season. Those of you who don't enjoy ice-skating can sit back with a cup of hot chocolate and soak up the warm happy atmosphere.
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4. The Grand Central Terminal
Even if you are not going looking to board a train while in New York, the Grand Central Terminal is a must see. Built between 1903 and 1931 in Midtown Manhattan, Grand Central is the largest train station in the world, with a whopping 44 platforms. Both the inside and outside of the building offers visitors the chance to see some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. There are also various tours available that offer an insight into the history of the station, including how it was almost destroyed and how it was restored.
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5. Times Square
One of the busiest areas in New York, Times Square has become increasingly popular among tourists in recent years. Many of New York's biggest hotspots, such as American Girl Place and the Hard Rock Café are situated in the heart of Times Square. Tourists flock from all over the world to take in the electric atmosphere and bright lights. Times Square is also the place to be when the ball drops on New Year's Eve.
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This guest post has been written By Ellis Green of LoveCruise.co.uk, a UK cruise company specialising in Last minute cruise deals and Cruise & maritime voyages.

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Guest Post: Buon appetito!

Fed up with microwave Bolognese or the same old choices from the pizza menu? Try sampling the food in Tuscany and Sicily, two of Italy’s most famous regions for foodies.

If you had to name one European region that had food and wine at its very essence, it would be hard not to choose Tuscany in the north-west of Italy. Tuscany holidays are all about spectacular rolling countryside dappled in sunlight and glasses of chilled Chianti, but they are also about fantastically authentic Italian food.

The gateway to discovering this wonderful gastronomic heritage is the city of Florence, home of the Renaissance and a destination that will spark a rebirth in your interest in great food, no matter how tired your palate. Forget molecular cuisine and gourmet meals, the key here is simplicity, and there’s nothing like filling a basket from a small deli with schiacciata bread, marzolino cheese and some Tuscan salami. Find a spot in one of the beautiful city gardens and soak up the flavours in the afternoon sun.

In the surrounding countryside, the famed wine regions of Chianti and Montalcino await. Most of the experiences here centre around the vineyards, and instead of the bargain bin at the supermarket, you can taste superbly-made Montepulciano and Chianti the way they were meant to be drunk – surrounded by the beauty of Tuscany. There are hidden Michelin-starred restaurants dotted around the region, but perhaps best of all are the family-run trattorias, where the most flavourful of dishes are served up in simple, honest surroundings.

You can choose from a host of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as a backdrop to your foodie adventure, from the cathedral and square in Pisa to the historic centres of San Gimignano and Pienza. The outstanding beauty of the region comes though in all of its best-loved dishes, from wild boar pappardelle to white truffles and Florentine steaks. With so much visual and culinary distraction around, it’s amazing that the famous artists of the region got any work done at all.

Good food and drink spans Italy, of course, and you can travel the whole length of the country discovering exciting specialities, even all the way down to the glorious Mediterranean island of Sicily. (If you look at a map, it’s the ‘ball’ being kicked by the Italian mainland.) Holidays in Sicily are just as appealing as those in Tuscany for foodies. Its very different landscape and culture offers uniquely interesting items to the menu. The warm Mediterranean climate means that fresh citrus fruits, olives and all manner of herbs and spices are readily available, and the diverse cultures that have influenced the island – Arabic, Spanish and Greek among others – have all left their mark on the food.

Wander around any of the markets in places such as Palermo, Ragusa or Catania, and you can pick up delicacies such as arancine (rice balls) or sfincione, which is a regional pizza with the distinction of being made without cheese. Many of the recipes go back hundreds of years as Sicily is one of Italy’s most historic regions. There’s even a strong argument that Italy’s most famous dish – spaghetti – was invented here.

Given the abundance of fruits, it’s no surprise that the desserts in Sicily are nothing short of spectacular. The soft texture of gelato ice cream is known across the globe, and here you can sample some of the most authentic flavours, from pistachio to floral favourites such as jasmine. Another diet-challenging sweet is cannoli, the long tubular pastry usually served with ricotta cheese and – in the best places – small chunks of candied fruit.

Again, there are historic attractions to explore and work off a few calories. Among them are the UNESCO-recognised Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale.

All of this adds to the sheer pleasure of eating Italian food the way it was meant to be eaten, surrounded by culture, sunshine and the odd carafe of wine. Buon appetito!

About the Author: Paul Oswell is a freelance travel writer based in the UK. Over the years he has visited and written about many European destinations. His favourite Italian food is Spaghetti alle vongole.

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Sikkim Earthquake: Let’s help the people of the hills

Today evening’s earthquake epicentred in Sikkim is a tough natural calamity to have affected the Himalayan Kingdom. My heart goes out to all the kind and helpful people of the hills. Even more so because the bulk of the population stay in the crowded hill stations of Darjeeling and Gangtok, making them even more vulnerable to a natural calamity of this magnitude.

I have very happy memories from this entire mountain belt having trekked the Singalila ridge from near Darjeeling on the Indo-Nepal border not far away from the epicentre of the quake. I am sure a lot of us have great memories of this place and would like to see things get back to normal soon. Hence, keeping that in mind, let’s try our level best to contribute to the quake relief and renovation efforts. Even a miniscule bit from each one of us will make a huge difference.

Let’s help the people affected in the Sikkim Earthquake!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wildlife Photography: Indian Rhinoceros crossing the jeep track

I shot this photo last winter during a weeklong jungle safari in the forests of Kaziranga National Park in North East India. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its Rhinos and I was able to see them in plenty during my visit.

Indian Rhinoceros 
This is one such moment when we waited for this Rhino to cross the jeep track. I still remember the stare this Rhino gave us and the snort I heard before it disappeared into the bushes. This one was a Kaziranga special moment for me, even though it lasted just about half a minute.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guest Post on Cancun: Don’t just beach it!

In the last decade, Cancun has become famous as one of the planet's most relaxing destinations. A relatively recent arrival on the map of Mexico (it barely existed until the 70s, when its location was ear-marked as the ideal place for a new tourist enclave), this sunny hotspot on the north-east corner of the Yucatan Peninsula delivers everything you would expect of an easy-going oceanfront resort-town – soft sands lapped by warm waves, endless good places to eat, and nightlife that keeps going well into the early hours. But there is much more to this laid-back Latin American hideaway than long beaches and late-night bars. You can also find glorious historical monuments and excellent sites for scuba diving and snorkelling – while several family-friendly theme parks lie within easy reach. Flights to Cancun are also in good supply. Many airlines fly to the ultra-modern Cancun International Airport, with several operators offering direct services from European cities.

Mayan Majesty
Cancun is the gateway to a world of genuine historical wonder. Some 2000 years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula lay within the realm of the Maya, a civilisation whose golden era lasted from around 200 AD to 1000 AD. And evidence of this advanced people's presence is still writ large across the Riviera Maya – the coastal strip that ebbs south of Cancun. Most notable is Tulum, a Mayan port 80 miles distant, where ruined fortifications are gathered on cliffs above a picture-perfect beach. These sturdy defences reportedly impressed the Spanish conquistadors who came ashore here in 1518 – as did the towering structures at sister site Coba, 25 miles inland, where lofty temples rear amid rainforest foliage (especially the 140ft Nohoch Mul, the tallest temple on the Yucatan Peninsula). Then there is the celebrated Chichen Itza, which, 100 miles west of Cancun, issues a siren call to intrepid travellers. With its epic buildings – the poster image being the four-sided temple El Castillo – it was voted one of the 'New' Seven Wonders Of The World in 2007.

Scuba Sensations
The Riviera Maya stretches out for 75 miles – and much of it is adorned with the sort of powdery beaches that you might think only exist on cinema screens or chocolate-bar commercials. But more importantly for those who love the feel of life under the ocean waves, this dreamy shoreline also provides many fabulous opportunities for scuba diving. The Riviera plays host to the northernmost part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral system on the planet (after the Great Barrier Reef) – which flows south for 600 miles, down the Yucatan Peninsula, before continuing along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. This diverse ecosystem is abuzz with sea life, not least off Cozumel, an island that lies 12 miles east of the Riviera – as well as near Playa Del Carmen and Puerto Morelos. Dive operators – and breath-taking moments – are numerous.

Go with the Theme
Cancun and the Riviera Maya are not only fertile turf for sun-seekers or those who wish to stroll hand-in-hand on the beach. Families are also well catered for – especially in the 'eco' theme parks that make use of the Riviera's jungle-clad landscape and waterfront beauty. These include the popular, child-centric Xcaret Park where a clutch of water rides (lazy rivers and water slides) are laid out around Mayan archaeological ruins – and a host of exotic creatures, from sleek jaguars to blubbery manatees, are on display. Xel-Ha Water Park plays a similar card, catering for adventurous youngsters who want to splash about with dolphins, go snorkelling with sea turtles, or even pet stingrays. Xplor Adventure Park meanwhile, focuses on energy and activity. Visitors here can keep low to the ground, exploring limestone caves and underground waterways – or hit the heights, taking to the treetops and rushing back down to earth by uber-speedy zipline.

This guest post on Cancun has been written by the Virgin Atlantic Airways editorial team.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tropical Trek to Chingara Falls, Coorg

The Chingara falls is one of the bigger waterfalls in the Virajpet side of Coorg in Karnataka. This waterfall, tucked between coffee estates and tropical forests is an ideal place for a tropical trek and that too especially in the monsoons. But, for those who are not in the mood for a trek can still enjoy this waterfall by taking the small concrete road that turns left from Kabinnakad junction on the Virajpet – Madikeri road.

Chingara Falls in full flow 
When I was here with my friends sometime back, we preferred to do the tropical trek in the rains from Honey Valley to Chingara Falls. The total round trip for the trek was about 5 kilometres. One side of the journey is a steep descent, while the other one is an ascent that will send the heart racing for even the fittest. The trek is fairly straight forward except for a knee deep stream that needs to be crossed to reach the waterfall. This stream crossing adds some excitement and variety to the trek.

A happy bunch enoying the monsoon experience at Chingara Falls, Coorg 
And as is norm in the Western Ghats, a lot of leeches gave us company during the trek. One can get a lot of views of this waterfall during the trek. At certain points, the waterfall will look like a mighty dam of milk that is falling amidst dense greenery. And equally synonymous with this beauty is the thundering roar of this waterfall, which carries excess amounts of water during the monsoons.

Enjoying the rains and the waterfall at Coorg

The special part about this waterfall is that it offers the trekker the opportunity to go right under it apart from the tropical trek, a spectacular sight and the ability to take a dip in the mountain stream. So, if you are carrying your swimming trunks, you can have a great time at either the stream or the waterfall, both of which will give you a refreshing experience.

Chingara Falls in the monsoons 
If you wish to indulge in photography here, do remember to carry some plastic covers or other rain protection gear for your camera lens as the waterfall spray can carry quite a distance. And if you do not wish to get drenched in the rain, do remember to carry your rain wear. This is one waterfall I would definitely recommend for a high energy and fun-filled half day trip around Virajpet.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Reptile Photography: Bronze Grass Skink at Valparai

I am generally not into photographing reptiles, rather, as you would know I am more into capturing wildlife and birds in my camera’s lens. But, when an opportunity presents itself, I tend to photograph it irrespective of the subject type.

Bronze Grass Skink (Aranai Lizard) at Valparai, Tamil Nadu - 3 
In this case, this off beat moment took place in Valparai when I saw this Bronze Grass Skink (locally known as Aranai Lizard) taking a sunbath not far away from me. And all this happened while I was sipping a hot cup of local Valparai tea and was going through the pictures that I had taken earlier in the day.

Bronze Grass Skink (Aranai Lizard) at Valparai, Tamil Nadu - 2 
And when I say that the Bronze Grass Skink was not far away from me, I actually mean that it was about 2 feet from me. Its bronze body and scales were gleaming in the afternoon sun. Initially, there were a couple of them sunbathing, but one of them chose to hide, while the other was kind enough to pose for the camera.

Bronze Grass Skink (Aranai Lizard) at Valparai, Tamil Nadu - 1 
The Bronze Grass Skink or the Bronze Mabuya is a species of skink that is found in Asia. It’s scientific name is ‘Eutropis macularia’.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Malabar Grey Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai

I was there at Woodbriar Group’s Monical Garden Tea Bungalow at Valparai for three days and on each of these three days, I got to hear and see the Malabar Grey Hornbills. Though, they are not as rare or massive as the Great Hornbill, they are equally beautiful.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai - 5 
These fruit eating birds would keep hopping from one fruit tree to another in groups of three or more. And since the bungalow was surrounded by dense forest cover and fruit bearing trees, these birds were easily seen both during the early morning hours and the late evening hours, which is their primarily feeding time.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai - 4 
The Malabar Grey Hornbill, which is endemic to the Western Ghats and the associated hills of Southern India lives in healthy numbers in the hills of Valparai where deforestation is not as severe as other places. Their loud cackling call is easily recognizable in these hills.

Feeding time for the Grey Malabar Hornbill at Valparai - 1 
These birds are important to the preservation of the forests of the Western Ghats as they are the main seed dispersal agents for many species of fruit bearing forest trees.

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