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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Upcoming Travel: Sri Lanka on a shoestring

I decided on Sri Lanka after a lot of deliberation and hair-pulling (not that I have a lot of hairs left Smile). When I started planning, the options in front of me were the Saurashtra belt of Gujarat, Jaipur and Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, Puri and Konark in Orissa and Sri Lanka. I even did a vote, in which Gujarat came first and Sri Lanka a close second. But, finally, I chose Sri Lanka as I want to spend my 30th birthday in the same place where I spent my first.

This will be my second trip to Sri Lanka this year, but this time around I am going on a hit-the-road and find-your-way kind of trip. The last one, back in April, was more organized as I had a group of 9 people and couldn’t take any chances. This time around, I am with 2 close friends, who share the same attitude as mine. I leave on the 27th night and return on the morning of the 3rd, which gives me 6 full days in Sri Lanka. Feels less, but I guess I can make it meaningful.

The plan is pretty simple. Take the local trains and buses as much as possible. Hit the destination and then search for decent, yet budget accommodation. The aim is to spend as little as possible without comprising my passion for travel and discovering new places. And since this is travel on a shoestring, I am traveling lighter than usual (not that I travel with 2 huge suitcases on my international travels Smile).

In terms of the itinerary, I have Colombo sightseeing and partying, heritage train from Colombo to Nanu Oya, Nuwara Eliya and around, a couple of wildlife safaris at Yala National Park (a place that blew me away during my last visit) and some relaxing times at Sri Lanka’s favourite surfing beach, the Hikkaduwa Beach. Somewhere in between, I plan to visit ODEL, Sri Lanka’s fashion store to pick up some T Shirts and then also pick up some of that delightful long leaf tea that I have become so addicted to.

While I am at Sri Lanka, I will have no access to the internet and hence, my pictures and posts will wait till I am back on Nov 3. My gut says this trip will be adventurous…

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post: Five great travel destinations to pick up a part-time job in

A great way to significantly extend your travel adventure, meet some new friends along the way and generate some much-needed income is to get a job as you go from one exciting destination to the next around the world. We’ve compiled a list of five major cities that are brilliant for spending a prolonged period of time in and ideal places to pick up a part-time job to earn money to pay for everything from your next plane ticket to the cost of worldwide travel insurance. It’s often a good idea to look at travel insurance compare sites before you go away to make sure you find the best deal as there are a lot of alternatives out there not all cheap ones.

Amsterdam
No whistle-stop tour around Europe and the world is complete without a visit to a city as culturally diverse and unique as Amsterdam. It really is a fascinating place, no matter what time of day or night it is. While much is made of the seedier side of Amsterdam and the infamous red light district, the Dutch capital is extremely tourist friendly and has much more to offer. There’s an assortment of charming buildings of architectural interest around a labyrinth of canals and a host of museums and attractions. The city’s vibrant nightlife is also a major plus point.

Las Vegas
Las Vegas is not called the entertainment capital of the world for nothing – and it more than lives up to its billing! Vegas is an all-out attack on the senses like no other and so ridiculously over the top that it’s somewhere you’ll be desperate to return to time and time again. Fortunes are made or lost in ‘Sin City’, though, so beware of the perils of gambling if you find yourself crashing in Vegas for longer than the usual stopover. With well over 100 casinos and just as many hotels, finding employment in Vegas should be pretty straightforward.

London
Due to London’s size – it’s made up of 32 different boroughs – it’s a popular place for overseas visitors to make a temporary home from home without much hassle, although be warned that rent can work out extremely expensive so it pays to be really pro-active in the search for cheap accommodation. The beauty of London is that it’s a city with so much to see and do. Getting around to seeing all the obvious attractions – like the Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus – can take a good few days, while staying for a few weeks or months will give you the opportunity to properly explore places like Camden, Notting Hill and Soho.

Paris
Did you know that Paris is the most-visited destination in the world? Well, it is if the statistics are to be believed as some 70 million tourists flock to the so-called ‘city of love’ every year. That means there are big bucks at stake for businesses there and plenty of potential employment opportunities. And what better way to spend a day off then heading up the Eiffel Tower or having a gentle stroll down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Sound good? Too right!

Prague
Picturesque Prague is a real city on the up at the moment and now is the perfect time to go over and sample some Czech hospitality. There’s a real mystical and charming feel to Prague with its bridges, grand cathedrals, churches and towers, so much so that it feels like something straight out of a Hollywood film. It’s also in a prime location in central Europe and always for easy access to Germany and France in the west and Croatia and Italy in the south.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wildlife Photography: Muscular Gaur at Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India

Vegetarianism rocks!! This is not a motherhood statement that I am just saying, but am backing it up with some solid evidence. Most of the largest animals on land, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the Gaur, the Water Buffalo are all vegetarians.

A close-up of the mean looking male gaur at Valparai 
Not only are they very strong, but some of them are more muscular than may be Mr.Universe Smile. For example, check out the rippling muscles in this adult male gaur, which as per my estimate, should weigh more than 2 tonnes and all that in solid muscle.

Adult Male Gaur in B&W 
And for all you meat-lovers, I will share the photo of the stealthy tiger soon Open-mouthed smile

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Rainbow from the Channakeshava Temple, Belur, Karnataka

It was a cloudy monsoon afternoon in the Hoysala kingdom, but as I approached the Channakeshava temple in Belur, the skies opened up to let in some late evening sun. This bright sunshine and its soft glow made for a great session of photography at this historic site.

Rainbow from the Channakeshava Temple

And it got even better when a rainbow could be seen against the temple entrance. It was quite a sight to behold. A great natural moment against a great historic monument.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest Post: 8 Vintage Hotels to visit with your Significant Other

Are you looking for a good time with your partner? Or do you want to share a special time together? Consider visiting a vintage hotel that offers more than just a good night’s sleep. Here is a list of those vintage hotels that offer you a travel back in time.

1. Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon
In case you are a fan of the time period between 1940-1970, you will like for sure this hotel because it has that chic vibe through exposing TV and film icons of the period and through architectural preservation. The hotel has kept the same look and the decorations have been borrowed from the period of time we know as disco.

2. Hotel Jules, Paris, France
Planning a longer journey? Hotel Jules has been restored in 2009 and it has a mixture of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s décor. Also the location is one of the best in the entire city, just around the corner from the Lafayette Galleries. The most specific thing about the decoration of the hotel is represented by the saucer-shaped overhead lighting found in the lobby.

3. Riviera Resort & Spa, Palm Springs, California
This hotel has been restored in 2008 and it has been a $70 million investment. There are 406 rooms and the decorations bring us back to the 1960’s through using Hollywood Regency décor. The resort has been opened for the first time in 1959 and it offered peace and quiet to well-known stars like Elvis Presley.

4. Hotel del Coronado, San Diego, California
This hotel is the ideal place for those who want to enjoy the extraordinary beach breezes along with some fantastic fitness facilities. The location of the hotel is excellent and you can enjoy the ocean breeze and the amenities too are good. The most outstanding feature of this hotel is that it is one among the very few of the surviving wooden Victorian beach resorts. Throughout years, it has hosted royalty, presidents and many of the celebrities.

5. Hotel Shangri-La, Santa Monica, California
This hotel has been one of the specific buildings of the city, and a couple of years ago the 71-room hotel has received a $31 million makeover. The building itself has been built in 1939 and in the 1980’s Madonna and Sean Penn have been the guests of the hotel. The colour palette presented includes black, silver and rich brown, being the signature mark of the hotel.

6. Royal Hawaiian, Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
The restorations of the hotel have been completed in 2009, but the glamour of the 1930’s has been preserved. During this time, works have been added to 528 guest rooms and several kinds of public spaces. The hotel comes with private beach and several restaurants to serve a nice dinner at.

7. Hotel Valley Ho, Scottsdale, Arizona
The hotel has been reopened in 2009 and it offers 194 rooms, a spa, two restaurants, pool and also a bar with cabanas. It has been opened for the first time in 1956.

8. El Tropicaro, San Antonio, Texas
The style of this hotel combines the styles of the vintage Acapulco and 1960’s Americana. Initially it has been called El Tropicano Motor Hotel in 1962 when it opened for the first time, but it has been renovated in 2007 and reopened.

Author Bio: This is a guest post by TheTravelersZone.com. The travel blog contains useful tips and information to make your vacation a memorable experience.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Valparai…the unsung hill station of India

Imagine waves of green tea estates interspersed with thick evergreen forests. Imagine a town tucked in the hills of the Western Ghats that has refused to burgeon like the other hill stations of India. Imagine a place where you can get a perfect mix of pristine nature and old world charm. Such a place is Valparai!

The heavenly Valparai landscape 
Valparai is a British era hill station that is situated in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu. It is located on the Pollachi-Chalakudy road, being about 64 kms from Pollachi and about 33 kilometres from Chalakudy. It’s moderate altitude and heavy monsoons give its its green look and its near perfect weather.

 
The hairpin bends and its winding roads make this place a favourite with cyclists and motorcyclists. The rich wildlife and avifauna make it a hot destination for wildlife enthusiasts, birders, photographers and naturalists. The tea estates, dams, view points and umpteen nature walks make it a preferred choice for vacationers. In simple words, it is a well rounded destination with much to do for different types of tourists. 

A cloudy afternoon at Nirar Dam, Valparai 
One of the best attributes of Valparai are its people. The people of Valparai are very helpful, kind and always have a smile on their faces. The bulk of them work in the tea estates or in the surrounding forests, while the remaining find employment in the town and its markets. The people here predominantly speak Tamil, while Malayalam, the native language of the neighbouring state, Kerala is also understood by many. English is also understood well, though in smaller pockets.

Green Western Ghats, Waterfalls Galore and the Kerala side all visible from the Nallamudi Pooncholai View Point 
As is true with all hill stations in India, Valparai is also blessed with great vistas and view points. The view points are dime a dozen here, but the best ones can be seen from Nallamudi Poonjolai, about 12 kms from the town bus stand. It is here that one can see umpteen waterfalls fall into the gorge below from the neighbouring state of Kerala.

Sholayar Dam near Valparai is surrounded by tea estates making for a fantastic sight 
And since this place gets so much rain throughout the year, it has some of the biggest dams in the country. And since most of these dams are surrounded by tea gardens, they make for a very scenic sight. The Sholayar Dam (27 kilometres towards Chalakudy), Nirar Dam (7 kms from town bus stand) and Aliyar Dam (30 kilometres towards Pollachi) are the best and are a must-see. Do not miss the views of the Aliyar Dam from the top of the hairpin bends.

Lion Tailed Macaque - Mother and Baby 
Though Valparai is referred to as a hill station, it is in my mind just a forest settlement. The reason I say this is because the entire town is surrounded by the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and forms an integral part of the wildlife migratory path. This ensures that wildlife sightings are very common here, especially in the summers when the forests are teeming with mosquitoes. Elephants, leopards and tigers are quite commonly seen in the summers. But, if one wishes to spot wild animals during all times of the year, then the place to visit is Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, about 4 kms from Valparai town. It is here that the Indian Gaur can be seen grazing in huge herds and it is here that one can spot the extremely endangered Lion Tailed Macaque playing in healthy numbers.

Feeding time for the Grey Malabar Hornbill at Valparai - 2 
Valparai is also great for birders. The Great Hornbill, the Malabar Pied Hornbill and the Grey Malabar Hornbill are regularly seen here. A lot of other birds endemic to the Western Ghats are also spotted here throughout the year. Top Slip inside Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and Parambikulam Tiger Reserve are also pretty close by for those who want an immersive jungle experience.

Waterfall that flows from Nirar Dam and into the state of Kerala 
Finally, a trip to Valparai gives you the opportunity to explore Athirampally falls (a location for a lot of popular Indian movies like Guru, Raavan, etc.) and its surrounding forests. And all these are over and above that colonial style holiday spent sipping a hot cup of fresh local tea, relaxing and exploring the lovely tea estates of Valparai.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grey Jungle Fowl from Nagarhole National Park

It was early in the morning and I was on one of the first jeeps to enter the Nagarhole National Park for the morning jungle safari. We had just left the forest check post when we chanced upon this beautiful grey jungle fowl basking in the early rays of the sun.

Grey Junglefowl - one early morning at Nagarhole National Park - 1 
This jungle fowl was standing on a dead tree trunk and was making a loud Ku-kayak-kyuk-kyuk call that really caught our attention. Apparently, the grey junglefowl makes such loud calls in the early mornings and at dusk. This one that we spotted was a male decked in beautiful colours. Below are some more pictures of this wild relative of domestic fowl that is endemic to India.

Grey Junglefowl - one early morning at Nagarhole National Park - 2Grey Junglefowl - one early morning at Nagarhole National Park - 3

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Famous Tanjore Paintings

Tanjore paintings, as we all know is a classical form of South Indian painting native to Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. A lot of South Indian households would have at least one of them in their houses either from their grandparent days or as a recent acquisition from an art shop. These paintings are pretty ornate and are vivid in colour composition. The popular themes of these paintings are either Hindu gods and goddesses or episodes from Hindu history. This art form dates back to about 1600 AD, a period when the Nayakas of Thanjavur promoted art across their empire.

This guy made all these beautiful Tanjore paintings 
The Tanjore paintings can be seen pretty much in all art galleries across India, but if you wish to see where it is made, then you have to head to the South side of the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur. It is here that this dwindling art form is still practised in the small households where it has been passed on in the family through generations. I made such a visit during my last trip to Thanjavur. A chat with the locals around the temple about Tanjore paintings will lead you to these traditional Brahmin households where the artist or his family would take you to the workshop or their own small gallery.

The famous Tanjore paintings in a local house at Tanjore 
If you are lucky, you can actually see parts of the painting development process: making of the preliminary sketch of the image on a cloth pasted on a wooden base, use of chalk powder and a mild abrasive to make it smoother, decoration of the art with jewellery like Jaipur semi precious stones, pasting of gold foils and finally the usage of colour dyes. One can also buy these Tanjore paintings straight from the artist, though sometimes, the finish of the end product (framing, quality of glass, etc.) is not up to the mark. Though, I would recommend you buy just the painting and frame it elsewhere to the quality levels that you wish.

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Tamil Script’s Evolution

We all know that nearly all scripts have evolved over long periods of time, but I was not aware that there are many scripts across the world that have changed at least once every century. The Tamil script (Dravidian language for South India), is one such script that has changed every century for the last 2000 years. The older scripts are way different to what we read today.

How the Tamil Script has evolved

I found this fact out while exploring the Brihadeeshwara Temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, India. While explaining the inscriptions on the temple walls, my temple guide showed us this piece of paper and drew similes between current Tamil scripts and the then Tamil Script during the Chola era. I was so impressed by this piece of paper that I took its photograph for safekeeping and for ready reference. Hope this comes in handy to all those who are planning to explore the history of Tamil Nadu.

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

‘Chess’ from the Chola Era

Have you ever wondered how the game of chess was played in the Chola era? May be in wood, may be in ivory, but definitely not plastic, like these days. But, did it even cross your mind that the chess pieces were given a true depiction during the yester years.

Let's play Chess from the Chola era

For example, the rook is depicted like an elephant, the knight is depicted sitting on a horse or a camel, the queen ornately decorated on an elephant, the king on a larger elephant and foot soldiers for pawns. I got a sense of this when I was scouring the shops near the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur. It was during this visit that I spotted such a rare collection. All the pieces were ornately designed and looked brilliant. I would have bought the set, but for two reasons. One, it was very expensive and second, it was too bulky for a game of chess. May be, the people of the Chola era were used to such large size and weight while playing their game of Chess!

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Magnificent Antlers of the Spotted Deer

The spotted deer is one of the most common wild mammals found in India and though it is easily seen across all the wildlife sanctuaries of India, I feel that it is still one of the prettiest species. It’s spotted coat and its magnificent antlers are a sight that make their sightings interesting throughout.

Maginificent antlers of the spotter deer 
I spotted these young male spotted deer on one rainy morning at Kabini National Park. It was the beginning of the rutting season and nearly all the males were sporting new antlers.

Young spotted deer males pose for the camera 
All of them were happily grazing before I broke onto the scene and like all good posers they stopped all their work and focussed all their attention on me and my lens to help me capture these beautiful moments.

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