2018 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Endangered Nilgiri Tahr in Pictures

The stare of a Nilgiri Tahr - Eravikulam National Park, Kerala

As a wildlife lover, one of the best perks of a holiday to Munnar is that you can get close to the endangered Nilgiri Tahr, catch a good glimpse of it and may even walk beside it. Sounds surreal right? Well, such an experience is possible at Eravikulam National Park, a gem located just 9 kms away from Munnar city center.

Close up of a Nilgiri Tahr

Endemic to the high mountains of the NIlgiri mountains in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, this handsome animal with its powerfully built body and pointed horns that face backwards is a sight to behold. And when it defies gravity by standing at cliff edges and precipices, it looks absolutely majestic. No wonder, it is called Varai-aadu (or precipice goat) in Tamil. This state animal of Tamil Nadu, is closer to the sheep family than the ibex or tahr family as the name suggests or the deer or antelope family, which a lot of people misinterpret due to their looks.

Endangered Nilgiri Tahr walks amidst the rare Neelakurinji flowers

While the Nilgiri Tahr exist across many places in the Nilgiris, it is at Eravikulam National Park that you can see them in close quarters. Here, these animals have gotten used to humans walking on the trails inside the national park and have overcome the fear of humans. Thus, the interaction with these rare, endemic and endangered animals becomes that much more richer.

Nilgiri Tahr trying to cross the walking trail of Eravikulam National Park, Kerala

Right from seeing the alpha protect his herd to them looking for threats by standing on precipices and from watching them feed on the mountain grass to simply resting at various steep surfaces, the interactions can be countless. Some visitors use this opportunity to take selfies, which I find to be stupid, but if you let the animal be, he will allow you to walk with him while he goes about his day to day business, which I think for a wildlife enthusiast is an unbelievable experience.

Eravikulam's Nilgiri Tahr in monochrome

These photographs offer just a sneak peek into the overall experience. In addition to the Nilgiri Tahr, Eravikulam National Park offers stunning mountain panorama, is home to some special flora and fauna and is also one of the best places to see the rare Neelakurinji flower bloom whenever it does. Do visit this national park on your next trip to Munnar and see it for yourself.

Nilgiri Tahr eating the Neelakurinji flower at Eravikulam National Park, Kerala

Early morning and late evenings are best times for photographers to Eravikulam National Park in overall, but if you are going specifically for Nilgiri Tahr, go between 9 AM and 3 PM as that is the time when these animals come down from mountain tops to feed.

The Nilgiri Tahr and the Neelakurinji at Eravikulam National Park, Munnar

Nearest city:
Munnar would be your closest city, but Marayoor offers an excellent off beat and budget option.

The stunning horns of a Nilgiri Tahr

Nearest airport:
Kochi, about 120 to 130 kms way

Nilgiri Tahrs standing amidst Neelakurinji blooms

Best time of the year:
All around the year except February and March when the park is closed. Do carry an umbrella or rain gear during rainy days.

Nilgiri Tahr standing on a rock amidst the Neelakurinji blooms while enjoying the morning sun

How to book a ticket:
Look up Eravikulam National Park website for all details.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Vattavada: The Vegetable and Fruit Basket of Munnar

The traditional Strawberry wine of Vattavada, Kerala

There are many off beat trails around Munnar. One of them happen to be the quiet village called Vattavada that is located on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Comprising of shola forests, Eucalyptus trees, 6,000 plus feet mountains and extremely fertile soil, this rain shadow area of the Western Ghats happens to be the vegetable and fruit basket of Munnar and may be for even many other places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The famous vegetable farms of Vattavada

Now, you might be wondering why I am talking about vegetable farms and fruit orchards when I should be talking about surreal view points, gorgeous mountain lakes and dams and pristine nature, especially near a popular hill station such as Munnar. Well, for starters, Vattavada and nearabouts is the place to indulge in some exotic fruits and vegetables that are tough to find in our cities. And since these are growing here, you get to taste them as fresh as possible.

The famous garlic of Vattavada, Kerala

Exotic fruits and vegetables such as passion fruit, strawberry, tamarillo (tree tomato), canistel (egg fruit), blackberry, peach, plum, turkey berry and many others are grown here. And then there are regular vegetables such as potato, cabbage, bean, carrot, radish, garlic and other greens and herbs that can also be found here.

The famous garlic of Vattavada, Kerala

If you are a foodie, you can stay in this pristine environment and treat yourself to some of the freshest vegetables and fruits that you have tasted. You can either cook them your own way or ask a local chef to create local delicacies for you. And you can wash off this delicious farm meal with a glass of local passion fruit, strawberry or tree tomato juice or some locally made strawberry wine.

Yes! You heard me right! Strawberry wine is made the traditional way by the farmers of this region. They pick the fresh strawberries and squeeze their juice into an earthen pot kept just below the surface and next to the roots of the banana tree for a cooling effect. Then, this strawberry juice is allowed to ferment slowly and naturally. And with the passing of time, the alcohol content in the wine increases, but the freshness remains. So this strawberry wine tastes like juice but hits you like wine, a potent combination. This method of fermenting the strawberries can go for as long as two years, but I doubt the people let it stay for that long a duration as I believe the deliciousness trumps the fermenting time.

Wild Passion Fruit Flowers - Pazha Thottum, Vattavada, Kerala

So, while you are enjoying the gems of this vegetable and fruit basket region, you can also admire some of South India’s highest motorable roads that meander through Eucalyptus forests, tea estates and shola forests, a gorgeous rainforest in Pampadum Shola National Park, some surreal view points, some stunningly green treks and some traditional high altitude farm stays.

Scenic vegetable farms of Yellapatty, Kerala

One can either base themselves at Munnar and explore Vattavada as a day trip from Munnar or plan a totally cut off and off-beat holiday in the farms of Vattavada itself. Personally, I prefer the serenity, solitude, peace, lush greenery and pure atmosphere of Vattavada and would like to stay here any day. But, whatever your choice, this humble vegetable and fruit growing region of the mountains of Kerala packs a serious punch when it comes to an offbeat mountain holiday destination.

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Saturday, November 03, 2018

Detox yourself at these best healing destinations of India

The rejuvenating Panchakarma therapy during a healing holiday to India

Our fast paced lives, our changing lifestyles, the impact of gadgets in our life, our frequent traveling, the increasing effect of chemicals, synthetic products and processed foods in our day to day life and the overall state of increasing pollution (air, water, land and sound) all around us is having a much greater negative impact on our body and mind than we can fathom. Hence, it is of no wonder that our modern day hospitals are running full and lifestyle and other diseases seem to be knocking on our doors at a much earlier age.

Sometimes, exercise and good habits are simply not enough to reverse this damage to our body. We need something more. May be, some form of support! And which is where Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine comes to the fore. It allows you to retain your work, lifestyle and environment while giving you the opportunity to detox your body and mind from inside out. And the end result is a fully healthy bunch of organs and a rejuvenated body, mind and soul. I am a living example of this ancient healing!

I have decent habits, but my work ensures that I travel a lot, eat at different places, sleep on different beds and be exposed to the elements at a wide variety of places across the world. Pretty soon, my gut became sluggish and my active lifestyle slowly morphed into a slow and lethargic lifestyle. I tried modern day treatments, but to no avail. Finally, I went on a two week long customized healing Ayurvedic holiday that promised a slow, but steady recovery. Today, I am back to my crazy active lifestyle yet again and I did not have to change or sacrifice anything in my life. And not just that? I feel like I have been reborn and no I am not exaggerating. The feeling of having a totally healthy body and mind is like an elixir.

Traditional Kerala Ayurvedic Head Massage

Such customized Ayurvedic healing holidays, which take you to some pristine places in India, understands your body, your lifestyle, your ailments and creates a proper detox plan for you. This may include some or all of the following:

1) Panchakarma, the ancient form of detoxing your liver, kidney, colon and the overall body through a combination of abhyanga (herbal massages and steam therapies), basti (removing the toxins from your body using medicinal herbs), snehapanam (repairing your organs from the inside using medicinal herbs), nasya (rejuvenating your brain and sensory organs) and a few other ancient techniques.

2) Sattvic Food: While you undergo the Panchakarma detox treatment, you are treated to a rejuvenating diet of herbs, vegetables and fruits that work in tandem with the Ayurvedic treatment to allow you to heal completely.

3) Pristine and Peaceful Environment: Most of these healing centers are set amidst forests, mountains or pristine nature, where you are far away from the fast pace of life and chaos of our cities. Such lush nature plays its part too in our healing.

4) Yoga Sessions: These Ayurvedic treatments last only a short duration every day, which means that you are free to walk in the forest, relax, read a book or even indulge in some yoga sessions and improve your overall well being.

5) Meditation: A hyperactive mind is the bane of modern day’s super connected world. Our brains need to switch off, but we hardly do that. We keep soaking in information thanks to our gadgets and our fast internet. We all know that we need to slow down in our head, but we don’t know how. Meditation is an integral part of these Ayurvedic holidays. They teach you everything from pranayama, powerful chants to making your mind a blank space. This learning then stays with you forever and can be replicated at any place and at any time.

Now that you have an idea of what Ayurvedic healing holidays entail, here are some of India’s best healing destinations. Catch a flight to any of these Indian Ayurveda hotspots and return home a reborn person.

Ananda in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand

Relaxing with a view of the Himalayas

One of India’s best luxury wellness retreats, Ananda in the Himalayas is a top place to embark on your healing holiday. It’s location under the mighty Himalayas, amidst the graceful sal forests and overlooking the Ganges valley ensures that there is no better place to detox and rejuvenate yourself. Ananda in the Himalayas is the kind of place where traditional Ayurveda, yoga and international wellness is married with fitness and sattvic food to restore your body, mind and soul to a rich state of equilibrium. This is where you get to experience Ayurvedic gourmet cuisine, yoga, meditation, vedanta talks, active fitness and wellness in one place and under the supervision of some of the best specialists in the business.

Location: Near Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Nearest Airport: New Delhi

Best Season: August to March

Cost: $$$$$

Nearby Attractions: River Rafting on the Ganges, Ganga Aarti at Rishikesh, Wildlife safari at Rajaji National Park

Somatheeram, Kerala

Lush green traditional Kerala style Ayurvedic setup

Considered as the world’s first Ayurveda hospital, Somatheeram is located in the blissfully peaceful nature of Kerala or God’s Own country as we know it. This place, which shares its space with the Arabian Sea and the tropical forests of Kerala, has been providing the traditional Ayurvedic treatment for the past 30 years. They specialize in detoxification, rejuvenation, stress management, slimming and beauty care amongst a whole bunch of other treatments. This self sufficient property that makes its own herbs and medicines is one of the best in the country for a healing holiday. And while you are getting healed, you can soak in some of that tropical sun and get yourself a nice tan before you head home.

Location: Kovalam

Nearest Airport: Thiruvanathapuram

Best Season: All year around

Cost: $$$$

Nearby Attractions: Kerala Backwaters, Varkala Beach, Kathakali Performance, Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Ponmudi, Elephant sighting at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady and many others

Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Shala, Kerala

With over 110 years of Ayurveda experience, the Arya Vaidya Shala at Kottakkal is one of the powerhouses of Ayurveda medicine in the country. What started as a small village unit is now a thriving brand all over the country. They grow their own herbs, they make their own medicines and they have their own hospitals, clinics and pharmacies across India. Not only do they offer rejuvenation and detox therapies, but they help treat some of the most distressed diseases on the planet. And unlike the other Ayurvedic wellness retreats in the country, the Arya Vaidya Shala at Kottakkal offers the best class treatment at the least possible budget.

Location: Kottakkal

Nearest Airport: Kochi

Best Season: All year round

Cost: $$

Nearby Attractions: Kochi Old City, Kerala Backwaters, Munnar Hill station and tea estates, Beaches of Kerala

The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore

Located at the foothills of the Western Ghats, the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy comes with a rich Ayurvedic heritage spanning 75 years that includes Ayurvedic hospitals, research and training academies. It’s Ayurveda village at Pathanjalipuri is a true delight when it comes to pristine nature, amazing staff and some of the best treatment in the country. AVP is not your wellness retreat, but is one of the finer places for Ayurveda based detoxification and rejuvenation treatments. One can also go here for special conditions or health issues.

Location: Coimbatore

Nearest Airport: Coimbatore

Best Season: All year round

Cost: $$$

Nearby Attractions: The hill station of Valparai, Athirapally waterfalls, Palakkad, Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

Devaaya - Ayurveda and Nature Cure Center, Goa

Another fine name in the world of luxury wellness and traditional healing techniques, Goa’s Devaaya – Ayurveda and Nature Cure Center offers everything under the purview of Ayurveda, Naturopathy and Yoga. Surrounded by the magical waters of the Mandovi river and lush green paddy fields, Devaaya offers its special Ayurvedic treatments in authentic mud and thatch huts. Through their panchakarma and wellness package, one can address their health conditions or simply work on preventive healthcare. Their naturopathy center offers you a combination of diet, exercise, massages, mud and hydro therapies to heal you from within. Their yoga and meditation classes are some of the best in the country.

Location: Divar Island

Nearest Airport: Panjim

Best Season: All year round

Cost: $$$$$

Nearby Attractions: The churches of Old Goa and the famous beaches, forests, waterfalls and villages

Kairali Ayurvedic Healing Village, Kerala

Tropical forests are perfect for Ayurveda based rejuvenation and detox therapies

A name synonymous with Ayurveda, Kairali Ayurvedic healing village is 50 acres of solitude and nature that is surrounded by tropical jungles. With over 40 years of expertise, Kairali is a leader when it comes to Ayurveda training, making of Ayurvedic medicines and offering customized Ayurvedic treatments to its patients. They offer their clients the perfect Ayurvedic detox while educating them on Ayurvedic cookery and nutrition, yoga, meditation, astrology and palmistry. Their detoxifcation programs ensure that you find relief from stress, migraines, arthritis, obesity and other lifestyle diseases of the modern world. Their guests enjoy all these programs in a modern holistic luxury villa that follows the principles of vaastu shastra (the Indian version of feng shui).

Location: Palakkad

Nearest Airport: Coimbatore

Best Season: All year round

Cost: $$$$

Nearby Attractions: Nelliyampathy, Silent Valley National Park, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve

CGH Earth Ayurveda, Kerala

A typical Kerala style Ayurveda campus by the backwaters

Pioneers of responsible tourism in India, CGH Earth Ayurveda has more than half a century experience in providing top class Ayurveda treatments to people across the globe. Through its Kalari Kovilakom and Kalari Rasayana healthcare facilities in Kerala, they offer the best of breed traditional and authentic Ayurvedic system of healing. Their Kalaripayittu (ancient martial art form from Kerala) trained therapists help with cleansing, rejuvenation, weight management, anti stress, healthy ageing and treating specific ailments and conditions. Both their healing centers are set amidst ancient palace grounds in a lush tropical setting, thus allowing you to be comfortable, de-stress and heal quickly.

Location: Kollangode

Nearest Airport: Coimbatore

Best Season: All year around

Cost: $$$$

Nearby Attractions: Nelliyampathy, Silent Valley National Park, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve

Soukya, Bangalore

Named by Forbes as one of the top 5 wellness retreats worldwide, Bangalore’s Soukya is one healing center that has received a lot of domestic and international acclaim. After all, its Ayurveda, Panchakarma, homeopathy, naturopathy, yoga and overall wellness programs are second to none. It is one of those top Ayurvedic healing centers that is located right in the city unlike the others, which enjoy remote location. They offer everything from spa and traditional beauty care treatments, rejuvenation and detoxification therapies to ayurvedic deep tissue massages and therapies to combat neurological disorders.

Location: Outskirts of Bangalore

Nearest Airport: Bangalore

Best Season: All year round

Cost: $$$$

Nearby Attractions: Bhoga Nandeeswara Temple, Vineyards of Chikkaballapur, Coffee Estates of Coorg, Temples of Belur and Halebid, Mysore Palace

So, if you are one of those who require a rejuvenating healing holiday, all you have to do is book a deal on those flights to India, choose one of the above destinations based on your preference of location, budget and services offered and be ready to be amazed at the healing properties of the ancient science of life that calls itself ‘Ayurveda’. And if you are booking your tickets using Nanak Flights, do remember to opt for their 20 CAD seniors discount and the 100 CAD price drop on all flights. May this trip heal you completely and may you return home with a brand new body, soul and mind.

Photo Courtesy: A couple of photographs in this article have been borrowed under the Creative Commons license. Each photograph has been linked to their host page.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

11 Motorcycling Gear that are the backbone of my rides

A Colorful Pit Stop enroute to Munnar

Motorcycling gear is all about comfort, reliability, usability, safety and some bit of style and fashion. Back in the days when I started riding, the concept of motorcycling gear was limited to the brands imported into India at high prices for the owners of the superbikes. But, today, there are a plethora of options to choose from. Home grown brands such as Cramster, Mototech, Rynox and Scala Gears have started coming with with great designs at Indian prices and then there are offline stores and websites such as Big Bad Bikes for those bigger international brands that come at expensive prices.

Motorcycling packing for the open road

Any true rider would know that gear is a matter of personal choice and it has to suit your kind of riding, the weather you ride in and the kind of motorcyclist you are in overall. While we all want to carry the entire kitchen sink with us, we know that is not feasible for long motorcycle rides. And while we could get our motorcycles and us outfitted with all the latest motorcycling gear at one offline gear shop such as Moto Cafe, we would not know its true worth till we actually experience it in real time actual riding conditions.

Monsoon Motorcycle Ride to Bisle Ghat, Karnataka

And this is why I am sharing a list of my favorite motorcycling gear that I have picked up over the past 20 years and that have been tested in over 200,000 kms of different riding conditions. All of this do not belong to one particular brand, are easy on the wallet, are extremely reliable and do not compromise on safety, which is the main requirement for any kind of motorcycling gear.

1) SOL Off Road Style Helmet

A Dash of Yellow and a Lush Manchinebele Dam View, Karnataka

Since I mostly ride in tropical conditions, I prefer helmets that offer the best air circulation. And it has to have clear visors for those early morning, late evening and night rides. And I prefer it to have off road style sun and rain shades to protect my visor and my eyes from the elements. And the overall comfort and safety has to be there. I find all of this in my SOL off road style helmet. It is moderately priced between 6000 and 7000 INR. Other decent options can be found in LS2 and LS3.

2) A Classic Leather Jacket

Decked up in full motorcycle gear

I do understand the importance of an armoured jacket, but nothing beats the charm and comfort of a good old classic leather jacket. Whether it is a bomber jacket, a short hip motorcycle style jacket or a classic dinner jacket, I feel every motorcyclist needs to have one in their wardrobe. I own a few in different colours that I flaunt with different looks. These kind of jackets can cost you anything between 5000 to 20,000 INR depending on quality, type of leather used and brand.

3) Cramster Eclipse Armoured Jacket and Harbinger Gloves 

Fully decked on the motorcycle and the open road

I am quite partial to leather products, which is why you will find me looking for leather even in those protective jackets. Even though I like the summer jackets of Scala gears, I use the Cramster Eclipse leather armoured jacket for those long motorcycle rides. This multi weather jacket makes you look dapper when you are riding the motorcycle and it protects you from all kinds of elements. It costs under 10,000 INR.

When it comes to gloves, I prefer half palm gym gloves to full finger motorcycle gloves. The reason being they offer a much better grip, don’t come in the way of using your phone or your camera shutter button, give you much better control and are perfect for the tropical weather of our country. I use Harbinger leather gloves. I think they cost about 1,500 INR.   

4) Berghaus Trekking Boots and Classic Leather Boots

Chilling next to a railway crossing

It is for my footwear that I don’t opt for motorcycle boots at all. Instead, I prefer high ankle trekking boots for long rides and high ankle leather boots for lifestyle rides. I use Berghaus trekking boots that are waterproof, super light and can serve in many conditions other than riding, which makes it perfect for all kinds of trips. For those lifestyle rides, short rides and city rides, I use high ankle quality leather boots.

5) Ray Ban and Oakley Polarized Sunglasses

Posing on a off road track near Manchinebele Dam

A lot of people prefer tinted visors on their helmets, but I am old school in that department. I prefer clear visors and good quality sunglasses. As day rides are usually super bright in the tropics, it is best to protect your eyes with good quality UV and polarized sunglasses. The only catch is to find sunglasses that are snug and fit well inside your helmet. My Rayban Aviators and Oakley Holbrook glasses do the job admirably well and each one of them costs below 10,000 INR.

6) Cramster Saddle Bag

Cramster saddle bags - a great motorcycle travel gear

I have used my Cramster saddlebags for more than 100,000 kms. It has seen its fair share of abuse and tears, but given its simple and rugged construction, I was able to fix it at any small tailor shop. It has kept my bag contents dry even in the rainiest conditions and even when I drove through water. I have always packed the contents inside the saddlebag in trash bags, but that has hardly been tested thanks to the good construction of this Cramster saddlebag. Also unlike the Rynox saddlebag, the Cramster one is a single piece which gives it more stability and control. I am also a fan of Enduristan saddle bags and waterproof duffels, but they are a bit on the expensive side. Cramster sadde bags should be below 3000 INR. Rynox one should be below 4000 INR and Enduristan ones start at 7000 INR.

7) Mototech Knee Bionics

The scenic Pothamedu road of Munnar

I am one of those who don’t prefer dedicated motorcycle wear like motorcycle pants that get connected to the jackets. I don’t like them as I find them to be inconvenient in conditions where I am doing much more than just riding. Which is why I prefer to carry separate knee bionics instead. These serve well for those long rides and for those off-road adventures. My choice for such knee support is Mototech’s knee bionics. They cover the entire knee and shin and are super comfortable, snug and safe. They cost less than 4,500 INR.

8) Mototech Rain Jacket

Independence day motorcycle ride through the rainforests of Agumbe

Most of the motorcycle gear companies label their apparel as waterproof, but what I have found during my rides in heavy rains is that water somehow or the other finds its way inside. Hence, I usually wear quick drying clothes and cover them up with a fully waterproof no-zip jacket that is totally sealed at all ends. For this, I prefer Mototech’s rain jacket. They do the job admirably, are easy to carry and do not smell like the other rain jackets. Its cost is 1500 INR.

9) Casio G Shock Watch

The 3 beasts that chased the Neelakurinji across Kerala and Tamil Nadu for 10 days in 2018

I find Casio’s G shock watch to be extremely rugged, shock proof and water proof and they have ridden with me admirably in different conditions. They are handy to see the time at all times of the day and night, are convenient if you wish to set an alarm and some models even have altimeters, thermometers and barometers for those riders who wish for it. These watches usually cost below 10,000 INR.

10) Mototech Mesh Style Bungee Cords

Bikers and their beasts take a break in lovely rural setting

Bungee cords are that dream accessory that come handy in so many situations, especially when you are carrying that additional piece of luggage, which cannot be fit into your saddle or tank bag. While individual bungee cords do the job, I prefer Mototech’s mesh styled bungee cords that strap your luggage efficiently from all directions. These good quality nylon bungee cords with fiber and/or steel hooks cost about 450 INR.

11) North Face Lumbar Pack

I carry my wallet, phone, sunglasses, important documents, DSLR camera and any other essentials in a lumbar pack that is strapped to my back. A lot of riders prefer fanny or waist packs, but I like the comfort of lumbar packs. They do not come in the way of my riding, but they don’t allow you to take a pillion rider. For this, I have been using a 15 year old trekking style lumbar pack from North Face. It should cost you less than 6000 INR.

My Custom Motorcycle at a vineyard in Rural Chikkaballapur, Karnataka

I am a bit old school in my ways. Hence, you will not see those RAM mounts on my motorcycle. My GPS is either my intuition, my conversation skills with locals or a good old paper or book based map. Likewise, you will not see those Go Pro mounts on my helmet or on my jacket. I have been tempted quite a few times to get myself a motion camera, but for some reason I have stayed away from it. I prefer to stay in the moment and when tempted to click, my DSLR is strapped right to my back.

Enjoying the beautiful forest view during a pit stop near Munnar

As you can see, my motorcycling gear is fairly simple and basic. They are fairly cheap, easy to maintain and fix in case of issues and most of all, they serve the purpose in our testing Indian conditions. I hope this article helps you in buying the perfect motorcycling gear for you. Do let me know in the comments below if you feel I should try out some awesome motorcycling gear product in the market.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mind blowing Rainforests of Pampadum Shola National Park

The scenes that greet you on the trekking trails inside Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala

The rainforests of our planet are not just life givers, they are also an immense treat to the senses. If I feel like an oxygen rush, I head to the rainforests. If I feel like listening to nature’s music and cacophony, I head to the rainforests. If I feel like being amidst some soothing green colors, I head to the rainforests.

Gorgeous Western Ghats near Pampadum Shola National Park

Rainforests and I have some kind of a unsung bond and which is why I was extremely happy when I discovered Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala’s smallest national park. This gorgeous tract of ancient shola forests (montane rainforests and grasslands) is tucked somewhere in the Western Ghats between Munnar and Kodaikanal on today’s Munnar – Vattavada mountain highway.

The beauty of Shola Forests is unparalleled - Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala

There is a British era highway running through this national park that once connected the hill stations of Munnar and Kodaikanal. Thankfully, this highway is defunct today else these rainforests would have disappeared by now. Vehicles cannot ply on this British era road, but one can trek with prior forest permissions and in the company of forest guards and guides.

Indian giant squirrel spotted at Pampadum Shola National Park

This trek through the Pampadum Shola National Park is a great way to experience the beauty of this ancient forest up close. Dense shrubs, moss, ferns, waterfalls, insects, birds of paradise, butterflies, bees, lion tailed macaques, nilgiri langurs, flying squirrels, elephants, gaur and other wildlife, leeches, exotic flowers, insectivore plants, itchy plants, herbs and many other unique species from the plant and animal kingdom can be seen during this trek through the Pampadum Shola National Park.

Admiring the gorgeous green colors of Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala

But, the thing that is bound to captivate you is the sheer denseness of the forest, the fact that it is dark inside at mid day and the various shades of those pleasant green colors all around. And not just that, it is much cooler inside the forest than outside and there is absolutely no kind of pollution inside. It is totally cut off from the outside world and is living its own sweet existence.

The ancient road connecting Munnar and Kodaikanal

Depending on how many days you have at hand and your fitness and endurance levels, you can opt for anywhere from a 2 hour to a 2 day trek. The 2 day trek takes you all the way from Pampadum Shola National Park to near Berijam lake in Kodaikanal. I had done this trek about 13 years ago and this is definitely the best way to experience this rainforest at length, but if you don’t have enough time, do try at least the 2 to 3 hour trek to see the trailer effect.

The stunning forest bungalows of Pampadum Shola National Park that is located right in the middle of Shola Forests

While the trek is a sure shot way of experiencing this surreal rainforest, you can also get a decent experience by staying at the forest bungalows and huts that are smack in the middle of the national park. This forest accommodation set at an elevation offers you a great perspective of the shola forests and also provides you an unobstructed view of the park’s wildlife and birds, especially during the early mornings and late evenings when gaurs and other animals graze in the fields right below the forest huts.

The simply magnificent Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala

Whatever you end up doing at Pampadum Shola National Park, these rainforests are bound to leave an imprint on you. May be the pure atmosphere will rejuvenate you completely or it could even reverse a good bit of the damage we end up doing to ourselves with our fast paced lifestyle. Whatever it is, the rainforests of Pampadum Shola National Park are a blessing to mankind and hence a must experience on an off beat holiday to Munnar, Kerala.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Windermere River House: Where time goes for a stroll

The Gorgeous Windermere River house property at Neriamangalam

In our fast paced lives, each of us crave for a break. But, unfortunately, this break (where we go to a dream destination) ends up being more stressful than our regular day in the city. The reasons could be many: jet lag, flights at odd hours, changing weather, changing sleep patterns, cramming a lot into a small schedule, food issues, that thought of work piling up when we return, too much road travel and so many other things that we have all faced during our travels.

So, how do we end up enjoying and loving our holiday and yet return home fully refreshed physically, mentally and emotionally? There is no set template to find the answer, but slow travel, oodles of nature, a quiet environment, yoga, physical activity, lots of sunshine, a good bed, delicious food and minimal connectivity seems to do the trick for me.

One such place in peninsular India that offers oodles of the above is a new boutique luxury property called Windermere River House, that is tucked between the calm Periyar river of Kerala, the dense Neriamangalam forest, rubber plantations and the tall Western Ghat mountains. Set in a small 2 acre space, it offers you that perfect tropical countryside experience with all the ingredients for a totally relaxing holiday. For bookings, do look up their website or go through Rare India, a great portal of those special properties across India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Location! Location! Location!

The location of the Windermere River House property is such that one will fall in love with it even before stepping into the property. The small and winding countryside roads that lead you to the property once you deviate from the Munnar – Kochi highway are a delight to the senses. Tall trees, small streams, pretty villages and an overall sense of solitude is what makes this place so special.

And then there is the property itself. On one side of the property is the Periyar river that is dammed just further down. On the opposite side is the dense Neriamangalam jungle and the tall mountain peaks of the Western Ghats. On either side are rubber plantations interspersed with spice farms and other tropical trees. And all this just an hour or so away from the bustling city of Kochi, which means that this kind of a nature rich relaxing holiday is so easily accessible from any Indian city with an airport.

Traditional Look with Modern Luxuries

Lush green Windermere River House property
The Windermere River House property, which is surrounded by beautiful nature, is in itself a treat to the eye. Built in traditional Kerala style architecture, it is that perfect combination of minimalistic tropical style mixed with modern day luxuries. It’s infinity pool facing the Periyar river is the perfect place to relax and unwind. It’s 5 traditionally designed rooms are ideal for couples or a small group of family and friends. It’s balconies are perfect for spotting birds with a hot cup of tea or coffee in hand during the day and counting fireflies in the night.

The kitchen churns out a lip smacking combination of traditional and continental food. If you love fish, this is the place to be, as cooking the fresh catch of the day in Kerala curry style is their specialty. The chef is also super accommodating, which means that you can ask him to cook a special menu just for you.

Perfect for Yoga or Spiritual Holidays

The dedicated open air yoga and meditation center facing the infinity pool and the river and the presence of yoga mats in each room means that this is the place to truly unwind. When you do yoga or meditate here, all you can hear is the sounds of nature and your own breathing. That is how quiet this place is. While I was there, I enjoyed doing yoga both at early in the morning and at sunset. This was followed by a session in the pool and good food and coffee. And that’s why when I returned home, I was all fresh and rejuvenated both physically and mentally. 

Great for Sunbathing and Reading

Enjoying the relaxed atmosphere at Windermere River House, Neriamangalam, Kerala

The lush tropical weather, the bright sunny days, the sound of the birds, the mild gurgle of the Periyar, the sensational infinity pool, the umpteen green spaces and the open air lounge nearby makes this a great place for those lazy swims coupled with book reading, sun bathing and dreamy afternoon siesta sessions. Nothing beats the feeling of sleeping in tropical shade after a good yoga and swimming session followed by an absolutely delicious Kerala meal that is starch heavy. That kind of sleep is so care free and is so hard to come by in this time and era.

Motorcycling, Fishing, Nature Walks, Cycling and Birdwatching

Sunset colors during a motorcycle holiday to Windermere River House, Kerala
Whenever you feel like you have relaxed enough and wish to do some kind of activity, this place provides you with many options. If you prefer walks, you can go for long forest walks or to the nearby villages. If you wish to go a bit far away, you can borrow the in-house bicycles and head over the suspension bridges, the burial sites and the far away villages. If you are a motorcycling afficionado, you will certainly love the winding roads that take you to the different waterfalls and the Thattekad bird sanctuary.

Birders will have a field day almost everywhere as this entire region is known for its birds. Malabar grey honrbills can be spotted every morning and afternoon right from the balconies in front of your rooms. Other birds that frequent the Windermere River House are the purple sunbirds, brain fever bird, night heron, mynas, barbets, bee eaters and so many more. If you feel like spreading your birding wings a bit wider, you have the neighbouring Neriamangalam forest or the iconic birding trails of Dr Salim Bird Sanctuary at Thattekad.

I foresee this place to be a huge hit with anglers. The only flip side is that you will have to carry your own fishing equipment. The perennial Periyar river and the fact that it get dammed just a bit further downstream ensures that you are never too far away from that special catch.

What else to see around here?

Valara Falls, Kerala

1) Thattekad Bird Sanctuary: If you a birder or a nature lover, you will definitely enjoy the rich bird, butterfly and insect life while walking on the Salim Ali birding trails inside Thattekad Bird Sanctuary.

2) Inchathotty Bridge: A 20 minute bicycle ride or a 5 minute motorcycle ride would take you to Kerala’s longest suspension bridge that connects the mighty Periyar river.

3) Neriamangalam Forest: If you feel like a forest walk, you can get permits from the wildlife department and go in search of more exotic bird and wildlife species inside the dense Neriamangalam forest.

4) Valara waterfall and other waterfalls: A short drive from Windermere River House towards Munnar are a plethora of waterfalls that are set amidst pristine greenery. These can make for great photography and picnic spots.

How to reach here?

Kochi would be your nearest domestic and international airport. Windermere River House is about 60 kms by road from both Kochi and Munnar. If you follow Google maps, it is about 7 kms from the intersection near the big Neriamangalam bridge on the Periyar. It is best to have some form of transportation as buses would not be able to provide you with last mile connectivity.

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