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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Emerald Lake: An Offbeat Gem near Ooty, Tamil Nadu

The stunning Emerald Lake

Holidays in the hill stations of India usually follow a set template of well known tourist attractions, sights and activities and hence have fallen a little out of the pecking order in terms of best holiday destinations, but I still see them as a spectacular holiday option, especially if you tend to look a bit outside the box as these hill stations enjoy some of the best topography and nature in our country. Let’s take Ooty, the Queen of the Nilgiris, as an example! Usually visitors enjoy the climb via the hairpin bends, the many waterfalls, the cooler weather, the taste of the local chocolates and a walk through the tea gardens. While these are certainly extremely pleasant experiences, Ooty offers so much more if you are willing to look a little bit into its gorgeous countryside.

Red Whiskered Bulbul seen at Emerald Lake, Ooty

This countryside around Ooty is made up of beautiful lake systems, dense rainforests and pine forests, shola grasslands, rolling hills, pretty little villages, vegetable farms, tea gardens, lesser known hairpin bends on smaller roads and an overall idyllic setting. Emerald Lake system is one such offbeat attraction near Ooty that offers all of the above.

Emerald Lake - a great day trip idea from Ooty

Located on the fringes of the Mukurthi National Park and part of the Avalanche and Upper Bhavani water system, Emerald Lake is a sight to behold. Be it the colors and hues of the lake waters, the lush green surroundings, the stunning mountain system or the tiny villages located near it, each one catches your eye and bowls you over with their appeal.

Moddorai village enroute Emerald Lake from Ooty

Right from the time you leave the busy Ooty roads and cross the sprawling campus of the Good Shepherd International School, you will be greeted with one vista after another. It is the beetroot, carrot and potato farms that will catch your eye when you are near the villages and when you are driving on slightly higher roads, you will notice the tea gardens, the sprawling Emerald lake and the huts of the tiny villages in the yonder.

Women working in the vegetable farms surrounding Emerald Lake

And once you turn off towards the Emerald Dam and beyond, you will be greeted by lush forests where you can hardly see a living human being, but oodles of greenery and bird life and once you cross Surukku Palam or the narrow bridge, a dirt track leads you all the way to the colonial Red Hills Resort property that commands an absolutely spectacular panorama of the Emerald Lake. It is here that you can take a coffee or tea break and enjoy the scenery in front of you. If you wish, you can also attempt some small treks in this region.

Tea estates and Vegetable Farms all around Emerald Lake

And when you are returning, do not forget to take a walk in the tea gardens and the vegetable farms where you can buy some fresh carrots and beetroots for your munching or for your evening salad and curries.

Emerald lake surrounded by tea  estates, pine forests and vegetable farms

As tempting as it might be, do not attempt to enter the lake waters as a lot of people have miscalculated its depth and have lost their lives. It is better to enjoy the lake from the banks and from the various view points.

Gorgeous Emerald Lake near Ooty

Winter offers a unique experience.
Well, for starters, the best off beat time of the year to visit Ooty are the winter months and not the popular summer months as we all know. This is when there is a consistent nip in the air, dense fog in the early mornings and late evenings, bright sunny days and a genuine lack of crowds. Also, this is when the lake system is full of water after the monsoon season and the vegetable farms are full with fresh produce.

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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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