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

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 saddle 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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Kerala’s Longest Suspension Bridge

The Injathotty suspension bridge of Kerala

One of the key reasons I love slow travel is because it allows me to discover lesser known attractions in addition to building a much stronger local connection. A case in point is the longest suspension bridge of Kerala that is tucked quietly amidst the extremely popular destinations of Munnar, Kochi and Thattekad bird sanctuary. And not just that it is surrounded by dense forest, a beautiful village and super friendly people.

This longest suspension bridge of Kerala is called Inchathotty bridge or Injathotty bridge. Connecting the Inchathotty village with the other bank of the Periyar river, this 181 meter swinging delight of a bridge, serves as a lifeline for the people of this village who otherwise have to travel an extra 20 km distance to go to their offices, schools, religious places, hospitals and for other emergencies.

This pedestrian only bridge can be reached from either of these two sides: One, from the Neriamangalam forest and the other from the Thattakad bird sanctuary side. My personal choice is the Neriamangalam forest side as it allows you to see a true and traditional countryside life of Kerala and the drive to the Inchathotty bridge through the Neriamangalam forest and rubber plantations is nothing short of magical.

Inchathotty Suspension Bridge, Kerala

While a walk on the suspension bridge is heavily recommended (even for those people who suffer from motion sickness), one should also try a canoe ride on the Periyar river to get a different perspective of the bridge. The only word of advice is to hold your phones and cameras tightly when you cross the bridge as it does shake and swing a bit when the people traffic is high. Apart from that, this offbeat beauty near Munnar and Thattekad will blow your mind with its greenery, river views, countryside look and its shakes. Do give it a visit the next time you are in the region.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sahari Mariental Resort: A World of Eucalyptus

The super comfortable hammock amidst Eucali forests at Sahari Mariental Resort, Vattavada

Some of the more off beat trails near Munnar can be found near the farm and orchard village of Vattavada and Pampadum Shola National Park, the smallest national park in Kerala. Not only is this place insanely beautiful, it is also super quiet and blessed with amazing nature. In simple words, it is a fabulous choice for a quiet and relaxed nature holiday. In terms of staying options, you can stay inside the Pampadum Shola National Park in huts, at homestays that are located near vegetable farms or stay by the fringes of the Pampadum Shola National Park.

During our recent Neelakurinji road trip across Kerala, my friends and I opted for the third option and stayed for a couple of nights at a place called Sahari Mariental Resort that is surrounded by tall Eucali and Eucalyptus trees. We stayed here for two days and two nights and this review is based on this recent experience.

Fabulous Location

View from the room in Sahari Mariental Resort, Vattavada

Sahari Mariental Resort is located right after you cross the Pampadum Shola National Park on the Vattavada side. This means that all those shola national park drives and treks inside the forest are easily accessible and you can even catch a herd of wild gaur crossing the road if you leave early morning. The vegetable and fruit farms of Vattavada are just a couple of kilometres away, which means exotic strawberry wines are just round the corner. And the property itself is in the midst of a gorgeous Eucalyptus forest that gives it a stunning look. Lying here on a hammock and staring up at the tall Eucalyptus trees is nothing short of surreal.

Simple Property in Nature

Parking spot next to Eucali trees, Vattavada

Sahari Mariental Resort is a simple property that is made up of mud huts and wooden bungalows that are located in 14 acres of Eucalyptus forest. I would go here for nature, but for other urban denizens, they provide modern day evils like satellite television and internet connectivity. One of their best perks is a lovely outdoor camp site that is perfect for those chilly evenings and nights.

If you love animals, you will definitely fall in love with Maya and her pups and the super friendly cat ‘Rosy’. These animals are perfect companions to de stress and to feel like a child again.

Even though the property is located in steep terrain, they have concrete roads that allow vehicles to traverse all the way till the rooms.

Food and Hospitality can be Better

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

This is one area where Sahari Mariental Resort can do better. There food is fairly basic and the cooking certainly needs some variety and love. The people running the place are a bit lazy. May be, it is the remote location and/or the weather, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of hospitality and service.

Overall, the place is nice, but I am not sure if I will return unless the hospitality levels and food menu improves. If the forest huts at Pampadum Shola National Park are booked and you wish to stay close to the national park, this could be a potential option.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

11 Offbeat Experiences to be had near Munnar, Kerala

Gorogeous Western Ghats near Pampadum Shola National Park

Usually when someone thinks of a holiday in Munnar, it means driving on winding mountain roads surrounded by tea estates, a visit to Mattupetty dam, boating at Kundala dam, a trip to Top Station for surreal mountain views, an experience of the mighty Attakud waterfalls and the chaotic, yet charming markets in Munnar town to indulge in some local shopping. This is what tourists to Munnar have been experiencing time and time again. But, a Munnar holiday means and offers so much more. This whole region is full of amazingly gorgeous terrain that includes shola forests, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, exotic plantations and farms and so much more. So, why limit ourselves to the usual?

Scenic vegetable farms of Yellapatty, Kerala

As this is the year of the Neelakurinji, I am pretty sure that a lot of you would be headed towards the hill station of Munnar in god’s own country. And which is why I think you will find these hand picked off beat experiences to be super helpful while planning either your Munnar holiday itinerary or a potential Neelakurinji holiday.

1) Trek inside the lush Pampadum Shola National Park

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

Kerala’s smallest national park, Pampadum Shola National Park is one of the most pristine rainforests you will get to experience in the South of India. Elephants, gaurs, leopards, lion tailed macaques, Nilgiri Langurs, Indian Giant Flying Squirrel and many exotic flora and fauna call this place their home. There is no jeep safari here, but can trek inside the heart of this forest to experience its sheer size, density and rich life all around. The trekking route is actually a defunct British highway that once connected Munnar with Kodaikanal. One can still see the milestones that were installed during the British era.

This trek is one of the perfect ways to enjoy nature in its purest forms. One can also stay in the middle of its shola forests to experience nature at very close quarters. Bookings can be made through the Munnar Wildlife website.

Distance from Munnar: 40 km

2) Indulge in some traditionally made strawberry wine at Vattavada

The traditional Strawberry wine of Vattavada, Kerala

Strawberries are quite an exotic fruit in a country such as ours and hence you can imagine my happiness when I heard that a family near Vattavada makes fresh strawberry wine. Not only do they pick their strawberries fresh from their strawberry farm, but they make the wine using a traditional technique where they let it ferment in an earthen pot that is placed underground by the roots of the banana tree. As the wine gets moist and cool surroundings throughout, it ferments slowly and the earthen pot and the surrounding banana plant roots lend to its flavor.

The farmer who grows this wine told me that this traditional technique allowed him to store the wine even for a couple of years. Not only can you taste and buy this strawberry wine, but you can also try his other fruits and his specially pungent garlic.

Distance from Munnar: 45 km

3) Walk with the endangered Nilgiri Tahr at Eravikulam National Park

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

The Nilgiri Tahr or the varaiaadu (as it is called locally) is an endangered species that is endemic to the shola forests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. At Eravikulam National Park, which is just about 9 kms from Munnar, one can see this beautiful animal up close along with stunning views of Kerala’s highest peak, the Neelakurinji when it is in bloom and many other rich flora and fauna that is endemic to this region.

If one is lucky, one can walk along with the endangered Nilgiri Tahr on the trails inside Eravikulam National Park. This beautiful animal is usually docile, though I would exercise caution keeping in mind its strong and sharp horns and powerful body.

Distance from Munnar: 11 km

4) Ride through the highest motorable roads of the Southern Peninsula

One of the highest motorable roads of South India

When we think of the highest motorable roads in India, our thoughts usually go to the Himalayas. The Himalayas have definitely some of the highest roads in India and the world. But, have you given a thought about the highest roads in India that is not a part of the Himalayan mountain range? Well, these roads happen to be in the South of India and are higher than 7,000 feet. Yellapatty, Vattavada, top station, Pazha Thothum, Pampadum Shola National Park and a few other gorgeous villages happen to connect these high altitude roads.

So if you are a motorcycling aficionado, you definitely have to ride here and be mesmerized by its misty terrain, tea estates, forests, mountain panorama and winding roads.

Distance from Munnar: 50 km

5) Buy vegetables and fruits from the farms of Pazha Thottum

The famous vegetable farms of Vattavada

Pazha Thottum, which literally translates into fruit orchard is the vegetable and fruit bowl of this region. The high altitude, the moist environment, the tropical sunshine and the rich soil makes Pazha Thottum one of the best places to grow fruits and vegetables. Passion fruit, strawberry, tamarillo (tree tomato), canistel (egg fruit), black berry, peach, plum, goose berry, potatoes, cabbage, beans, orange, garlic, carrot, radish, turkey berry, night shade and many other exotic fruits, vegetables, greens and herbs grow here.

One can get close to this by living at homestays bordering farm lands or you can also visit the weekly farmers market and sample the produce.

Distance from Munnar: 45 km

6) Enjoy the spectacular views from Yellapatty peak

The Neelakurinji flowers and the gorgeous view of the Western Ghats

One of the view points that is really famous in the Munnar region is Top Station. It overlooks the mighty mountains and provides a sea of green kind of view. While Top Station certainly does offer a spectacular view, I kind of prefer the more wholesome view from Yellapatty peak that is directly opposite to Top Station. From here, you can see the Neelakurinji mountains, the shola forests, the tea estates, the entire mountain range and the plains of Tamil Nadu (Pamban, Theni, etc.).

The only issue is that this requires a short trek unlike Top Station where one can simply get down from their car and climb the stairs to the view point. But, I see even the trek as part of the overall adventurous package.

Distance from Munnar: 28 km

7) Drive through the tall Eucalyptus forests of Vattavada

A monsoon ride through the eucalyptus forests of Vattavada, Kerala

Quite a few years before, the Indian government took a stupid decision to plant Eucalyptus and Eucali trees in the Western Ghats and other regions of India. At that time, it seemed like a great decision, but what they did not take into account is that Eucalyptus trees are an invasive species and dry out the ground water due to their super thirsty nature. Today, they can be seen in many mountainous parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They have grown mighty tall and big and co-exist with the shola forests. The environmentalists do not like it, but as a visitor, these gigantic Eucalyptus trees make for a grand sight.

The scenic motorcycle ride through Vattavada while looking for the Neelakurinji flower

It is a treat to drive through these Eucalyptus forests or even walk or hike through them.

Distance from Munnar: 45 km

8) Opt for a Cardamom Plantation Holiday

Cardamom Pods and Cardamom Plantations - Windermere Estate, Munnar

Munnar is not just about its tea estates, but its spice plantations too. Staying in a cardamom plantation, walking on spice trails and digging into traditional local foods is my kind of holiday. A little away from the hula boo of Munnar town and deeper into the mountains is Pothamedu where is located Windermere Estate, a beautiful plantation property.

The world of tea for the tea connossieur in you

Watching the sunrise and sunset here, taking relaxed strolls in their plantation, learning how green cardamom is turned into the aromatic cardamom as we know it, sipping on plantation coffee and testing locally grown teas and smacking on some delicious Kerala food are few of the perks of a plantation holiday. Lush nature, gorgeous mountains, pure air and waking up to the songs of birds are just icing on the cake.

Distance from Munnar: 5 km

9) Explore the Megalithic Tombs of Marayoor

Lovely green colors of Kerala at Marayoor

A short drive away from Munnar is the beautiful mountain town of Marayoor, which is green and beautiful like the rest of the region, but its true specialty lies in its Neolithic age dolmens or burial chambers. Known locally as Muniyara, these magnificent prehistoric dolmens have been existing here from as long before as 14,000 BC and some of them even belong to the Iron age. A short walk on the Marayoor-Kanthaloor road takes you closer to 14 such ancient stone burial sites. And once you have finished appreciating the history, you can get back to enjoying the nature here, which is full of sandalwood forests, tall mountains and many wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

Distance from Munnar: 40 km

10) Experience Rich Wildlife at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Waterfall amidst the forests - enroute to Munnar from Marayoor

Contiguous with Tamil Nadu’s Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and Kerala’s Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Eravikulam National Park and Anaimudi Shola National Park, Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary is a treasure trove for wildlife lovers. The best part about this jungle is that one can stay right in the middle of it and watch the movement of the wild from extremely close quarters. And not just that, you can also trek in the company of armed forest guards and guides to experience the rich animal and bird life here. Be prepared from some serious elephant, gaur and primate views here.

Distance from Munnar: 60 km

11) Connect with your inner self at Inchathotty

The Gorgeous Windermere River house property at Neriamangalam

These days, all of us seem to be looking for that place that offers perfect solitude. I found one such place at Inchathotty. Located at the base of the mighty Anaimudi peak, surrounded by the Neriamangalam forest, the Thattekad bird sanctuary and the Periyar river, Inchathotty enjoys some pristine location. There is only one way to drive in and out, which means that there is hardly any people except the few locals who work in the surrounding rubber plantations and in the forest.

This is the kind of place where you practice your yoga, read a book, introspect and simply declutter your head while you enjoy the beauty of mother nature. Windermere River House where I stayed offered me the perfect environment to slow down, recharge and rejuvenate.

If you feel like some action, you can go birding at the nearby Thattekad Bird Sanctuary or in the Neriamangalam forest, fish in the Periyar river, go cycling in the Kerala countryside or feel the shudder on Kerala’s longest suspension bridge, that is located nearby.

Distance from Munnar:
60 km

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Beauty of the Rare Neelakurinji Flower in Pictures

Admiring the Neelakurinji mountain view

Year 2018 is the year of the Neelakurinji. When something occurs once in 12 years, it takes special status. Be it the Kumbha Mela or the Neelakurinji, it is bound to be a rare event. I saw this rare flower last month for the first time in my life and boy was I left speechless. To see vast stretches of mountain in stunning blue is nothing short of surreal. And when you stand on top of such a blue Neelakurinji mountain admiring the panorama, it is quite a heady experience.

The blue in the blue mountains - Neelakurinji

About Photo: There are many species of Neelakurinji in the Western Ghats. The one that blooms every 12 years is ‘Strobilanthes kunthianus’. It is indeed blue in colour, but depending on ambient light and the play of light, it can look blue, indigo, violet, pink or even white to you.

There is still another 15 days to catch a glimpse of nature’s miracle event. For those of you who cannot see it in person, I hope these pictures do justice in bringing the beauty of the flowers and the surrounding nature to you. If you don’t know how to go about planning your Neelakurinji trip, look up my detailed guide with all answers to your questions and some handy tips based on my recent trip.

The Neelakurinji view that greets you on the mountain highways of Kerala

About Photo: This was a location where an entire mountain range was decked in blue. It was quite an unbelievable experience to even stand amidst the flowers.

The Neelakurinji flowers and the gorgeous view of the Western Ghats

About Photo: The Neelakurinji enjoys some of the best views in the Western Ghats. As it prefers to grow on steep slopes at altitudes between 1600m and 2000m, it more or less ends up looking at some of the best sunrises or sunsets and an almost always gorgeous view of the green mountains.

The Neelakurinji view of Yellapatty, Kerala

About Photo: Here, the Neelakurinji hill is overlooking Tamil Nadu. This hill where the flower is growing is in Tamil Nadu forest land, but the access is through Kerala.

The Neelakurinji slope at Yellapatty, Kerala

About Photo: You see the bluish haze in the background. All of them are the Neelakurinji flowers.

Photos don't do justice to the beauty of the Neelakurinji blooms

About Photo: When you stand amidst a mass Neelakurinji bloom, you are constantly hearing a buzz. This is is the buzz of the bees who are working hard to produce the rare Neelakurinji honey, a once in a 12 year feast.

The blue Neelakurinji flowers right after a brief spell of rain

About Photo: Here is a close up of the flower after a brief spell of rain. Remember that I went right after the Kerala floods. The brown edges of the flowers are because of the rains.

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

About Photo: One of the famous landmarks of the Neelakurinji is the Eravikulam National Park near Munnar. Here you can see the endangered Nilgiri Tahr chomp on the Neelakurinji flowers.

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