April 2019 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Nongu and Padhani: Best cooling summer drink packed with many health benefits

Raja - the guy who sells Nongu and Padhani near Courtrallam, Tamil Nadu

The sun is beating really hard on us. This could be one of those really hot summers. Staying cool is of paramount importance. Modern day drinks available in the super markets are loaded with sugar and artificial chemicals and don’t cool you down properly. If you wish to cool yourself down using a traditional summer fruit drink, then read on as this article is just for you.

Most of us know of the health and cooling benefits of the electrolyte packed fresh tender coconut water. But, did you know that there is something else available in the tropics that not only cools you down impressively, but is also super delicious. I am referring to a combination of a fruit and a drink made from the sap of the tree. This combo is called Nongu and Padhani or Nongu and Pathani in Tamil.



This fruit and sap combo drink is loaded with nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamins B and C and other minerals and natural sugars. This delicious summer drink is extremely low in calorific value and hence perfect for diabetics and for all those who are watching their weight, but still wish to cool down this summer. This lip smacking drink is also said to be immensely good for your skin and stomach.

Kid all smiles with his Palm fruit at Kallidaikurichi

The palmyra fruit (nongu) is part of the palmyra palm that grows abundantly in the hot and dry tropical regions of South and South East Asia. The Tirunelveli district in Southern Tamil Nadu is one of the best places to find this tree, fruit and drink and as it is my homeland, I have had the privilege of having this summer drink a good many times. The tree sap is collected every morning at dawn, diluted with water or palm fruit juice and then served with fresh palm fruit in a fresh palm leaf. No plastic, no paper cups, no straws. Everything is bio-degradable. In fact, they will turn into great compost for future plants to grow. The only thing to keep in mind is that as the day goes by, the tree sap starts fermenting. While fresh and mildly fermented are good for your body and help in reducing the body heat, the more fermented one can make you feel tipsy. Hence, make sure to ask the person about when the tree sap was collected and try to have this drink before 11 AM or latest by 12 noon to ensure that it hasn’t gotten very fermented.

Nongu fruit in palm leaf

Usually, 6 fleshy fruit pods (from 2 whole palm fruits) and 2 glasses of drink should cost you INR 60 in the countryside and could be a bit pricier in cities. This drink works pretty quickly. Within a matter of 15 minutes, you will start feeling its cooling effects and that is when 40 degrees or more heat will feel like 30 degree Celsius. This is my trick to carry on with my daily outdoor lifestyle during summer without letting the heat affect or bother me. What is your summer trick?

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Top Attractions in New York City

New York Skyline

Known as the Big Apple, New York City is home to one of the most iconic and beautiful skylines and some of the world’s most important buildings. New York City is the centre of finance, for fashion, music, art, theatre, literature and architecture. It is certainly difficult to narrow down what to see when visiting New York City when every angle of the city holds important attractions and landmarks.

5 ICONIC BUILDINGS

1. The Chrysler Building


Aerial Architecture of New York Buildings

One of the most iconic buildings to see while vising New York City is definitely The Chrysler Building. Designed by William Van Alen, the Chrysler Building is known for its elegant, terraced crown, sunburst pattern and its grand eagles which stand sentry on the 61st floor, as well as its radiator caps on the 31st floor, an homage to the company whose name graces the building.

2. One World Trade Centre


The new World Trade Center of New York

The WTC’s road to completion was a long and rocky as it included several different designs and many delays. The WTC was finally opened in 2014, 13 years after the terrorist attack that destroyed the Twin Towers, which once stood where the WTC is today. The WTC not only holds a historical significance but its incredible height of 1,776 feet makes it the tallest building in the city.

3. Flatiron Building


Once known as one of the tallest structures in New York City, the Flatiron Building’s triangular shape helps it remain one of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Originally named for George A. Fuller, founder of the Fuller Company and “father of the skyscraper”, the Flatiron Building resembles a Greek column with its limestone base and glazed terra cotta shaft.

4. Empire State Building


Empire State Building from Rockefeller Center

This is definitely one of New York City’s most beloved buildings. It was once the tallest skyscraper in the world upon completion in 1931 and remained so until the original World Trace Centre was completed in the 1970s. The Empire State Building is a pop-culture icon, having appeared in many movies and TV shows.

5. The New York Public Library


This iconic building was designed by Careere and Hastings and took more than a decade to design and build. Two Tennessee marble lions, known and Patience and Fortitude, flank the Beaux Arts structure’s main entrance along Fifth Avenue and inside, the Rose Reading Room is one of the loveliest and most majestic public spaces in the city. The library’s 51foot high ceilings feature intricate sculpted mouldings and painted clouds worth seeing.

4 ICONIC LANDMARKS


1. Statue or Liberty


Statue of Liberty, New York

Gifted to the United States in 1886 from France, the State of Liberty honours the friendship established between the newly minted United States of America and France during the French Revolution. Today, it has become an American symbol of freedom and welcomes immigrants who come to the US looking for a better life.

2. Rockefeller Centre


Empire State Building from Rockefeller Center, New York

This is a great tourist destination anytime of the year but especially during the holiday season as it becomes home to the famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink. Rockefeller Centre was built during the Great Depression and its complex Art Deco architecture make it destination-worthy.

3. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum


Some street action in front of the 911 world trade center memorial

While this landmark hardly needs an introduction or explanation, tourists flock to view the twin reflecting pools that are a footprint of the World Trace Centre’s Twin Towers attacked on September 11, 2001. Bronze panels line the edges of the two pools and hold the names of all the victims of the attacks on that day at the Twin Towers, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, as well as the 6 who dies in the 1993 bombing.

4. Grand Central Station


Grand Central Station, New York

Not only has it been dubbed the “world’s loveliest station” it is also considered one of the top attractions in New York City. The cavernous Main Concourse is home to the impressive clock made of pearly opal glass and visitors are also treated to the elaborate astronomical ceiling decorations originally conceived in 1912. You will get a up close experience if you opt for a USA coast to coast train journey.

3 ETHNIC NEIGHBOURHOODS


Iconic Brooklyn Bridge of New York

New York City is also known as a melting pot and one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. A few incredible ethnic neighbourhoods to certainly visit are:

1. Koreatown. A highly concentrated strip along Manhattan’s West 32nd street, between Broadway and 5th Avenue featuring dozens of Korean restaurants, karaoke bars and 24 hour spas;

2. Chinatown. One of the oldest in the country as well as outside Asia;

3. Little Italy. Once a Neapolitan Village whose primary language was Italian and today a vibrant and fun neighbourhoods with narrow, European-feeling cobblestone streets full of gelaterias and bakeries.

Offering an incredible skyline, a vibrant atmosphere and incredible landmarks and attractions, even a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to explore all of New York City’s corners.

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Aham Anubhava: Traditional Plantation Home in Rural Wayanad, Kerala

Drone shot of Aham Anubhava, Mylambady, Wayanad, Kerala

It is here that you wake up to the chirping of birds. It is here that you are fed delicious home-cooked organic food. It is here that you can learn how to be a farm hand. It is here that you learn to enjoy the simple joys of life. It is here that you become one with nature. It is here that you recharge your physical and mental batteries and rediscover your ‘joie de vivre’. ‘Here’ is a traditional plantation home in a quiet village of Wayanad in northern Kerala. It is a combination of a lovely Brahmin household, their plantation and farm land and their new hospitality offering called ‘Aham Anubhava’ or "’I Experience”.

Above Photo Credit:  Pradeep H Gowda

A Motorcycle holiday to Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

They are not your typical homestay and certainly not a resort or a hotel. They are simply a traditional plantation home and if you opt to stay here, you become part of this home. You become one in the family. You stay in their home, albeit in your own private room in the first floor. You eat with the family. And if you wish you can work with them in their home garden, farm and plantation. And you share lots of lots of interesting conversations amidst pristine nature with a hot cup of home grown coffee or tea. Sounds sweet right? This is exactly how I spent my festival holiday with them a couple of weeks back on a motorcycle trip to Wayanad. And did I say that I hated leaving this place and returning to Bangalore. Such was the simplistic, yet nurturing and nourishing charm of this place.

Vishu Kani - Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

Aham Anubhava is that perfect place where you can unwind and yet pick up new skills, learn about new subjects or simply indulge in good food. It doesn’t matter whether you are single, a couple or traveling with your family, Aham Anubhava will appeal to everyone. And it certainly doesn’t matter whether you are here for a few days or for a much longer duration, you will still yearn to stay here longer.

Delicious traditional home cooked lunch at Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

Following are the key highlights and benefits of living in this traditional plantation home environment:

Banana Plantations of Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

1) An absolutely quiet village surrounded by greenery

Benefits: Better sleep, digital detox, relaxed body and mind, rejuvenation, off beat holiday, pure air, lots of Vitamin D

Everyone knows Wayanad, a popular hill getaway in Kerala. Its easy and fast access from Bangalore has made it a hot weekend getaway from Bangalore. Now, have you heard of Mylambady? I didn’t think so. It is a small village located in Wayanad and most of the people living here have farms or plantations. There should be not more than a hundred homes and less than a thousand people living in this village. Aham Anubhava is one such home tucked in a corner of this village. So, not only are you located in a remote village in Wayanad, you are located in a remote part of the village too. This means that the bulk of the sounds that you hear during the day are sounds of nature. Vehicle sounds are a rarity. And nights are eerily quiet. Apart from BSNL, connectivity is a bit poor. So, if you are looking for digital detox, then this might be the perfect place for you. If you wish to stay connected, Aham Anubhava has free in-house wi-fi that you can use to stay connected with the outside world.

Rubber plantations of Aham Anubhava, Mylambady, Wayanad, Kerala

This is the kind of place where you sleep early and wake up early to the chirping of birds (nature’s alarm call). This is the kind of place where you can switch off from the humdrum of regular life and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like a walk in the morning sun towards the nearby stream or watch the sunbirds jump from flower to flower while you sip on your morning cup of coffee or stretch out your legs on the balcony with a book in your hand.

A plantation jeep track - Wayanad, Kerala

You can get plenty of Vitamin D here, either by sun bathing right in your balcony or you could go on those short or long village walks. Greenery is all around, either in the form of plantations, native trees or farms. So, you are sure to be relaxed at all times. And the air is so pure that it feels so good and refreshing when you fill your lungs to the brim with it. It is indeed a far cry from the foul air we breathe in our cities and certainly one of the top perks for me.

During the night, you can request the property to switch off all lights and stare at the star studded sky while sipping on some hot herbal tea or may be a stiff drink (the choice is entirely yours).

Delicious Jackfruits getting ready for harvest at Mylambady, Wayanad

2) Birdwatching right from the balcony

Benefits: Bird lover, Bird photography

Every morning and late evening, I would simply stand on my balcony with a hot cup of coffee in hand and see purple sunbirds, greater flame-backed woodpeckers, common mynas, jungle mynas, hill mynas, greater coucals, swallows, barbets, wagtails, flowerpeckers, red vented bulbuls, red whiskered bulbuls, Malabar whistling thrushes, black drongos, racket tailed drongos, jungle babblers, large billed leaf warblers, parakeets and so many other species of birds. And all this without any binoculars or big zoom lenses. I could simply spot all of them with my naked eye. Which means that if you have a good pair of binoculars, zoom lenses and tripods, you can not only see and study their behavior from close quarters, but you can also end up taking some amazing bird photographs.

Green jungles and plantations of Wayanad from the sky
Above Photo Credit:  Pradeep H Gowda

3) Being in the wild

Benefits: Wild animal sightings, wildlife photography, an adrenaline rush

Aham Anubhava and the entire village of Mylambady is surrounded by national parks, tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests. To one side there is Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Muthanga forest and to the other is Wayanad and Tholpetty wildlife sanctuary and somewhere in the middle is Nagarhole and Kabini Tiger Reserve. This means that you can almost always come across a wildlife crossing in this village as it falls in various animal corridor zones. While wild boars and peacocks are common here, elephants are known to pay a visit almost every week. You can sense this by seeing the elephant dung lying on the various plantation trails. The Malabar giant squirrel is also commonly seen here. So are many types of macaques and langurs. Tigers and leopards are also seen here from time to time, though it is rare to catch a view of these stealthy animals. In principle, it is almost the same experience as a wildlife safari, but you are not inside a forest jeep but on foot and there are no armed forest guards, which makes this so much more thrilling.

Blooming flowers galore at Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

4) Learn how to be a farm hand

Benefits: Lots of sunshine, good exercise, pick up a thing or two about farming, pick up a thing or two about plants, may be plant a few plants to do your bit for mother nature

It is not often that you get to learn how to be a plantation owner, a farmer or an agriculturist. At Aham Anubhava, you can join the family while they go back their daily work in their farms and plantation. Not only will this give you good Vitamin D and exercise, but this will also make you learn a thing or do about farming, plants, fruits, vegetables, spices, irrigation, composting, recycling, etc. Depending on the season when you are visiting, you could even plant a coffee or other sapling. This is one unique attribute of staying with Aham Anubhava.

If you have a lot of time at hand, you could also explore the possibility of volunteering or teaching at the village school nearby.

A tranquil riverside - Mylambady, Wayanad, Kerala

5) Indulge in traditional Tamil and Kerala cuisine

Benefits: Sattvic food, organic food, happy gut, pick up some traditional recipes for home

Most of Aham Anubhava’s daily fruits and vegetables are home grown. Whatever is not home grown comes from nearby farms. So basically, all the raw ingredients are fresh, organic and full of rich nutrients. Add to it a brilliant cook, also the lady of the house, and you have a gastronomy extravaganza. Traditional recipes cooked using ancient techniques ensures that you get the best taste possible. Raw jackfruit vegetable, green pepper pickle, sweet mango sauce, fried okra in yoghurt sauce and many other traditional, yet super delicious dishes are on offer here.

If you are interested, you can help with the vegetable picking from the garden, assist with the cooking or even learn some recipes and take it back home. Whatever you do, the smell of fresh firewood, the vapors of coconut oil floating in the air and the smiling conversations are bound to linger in your mind forever. Such is the charm of the kitchen atmosphere here.

And even if you haven’t stepped into the kitchen, the meals in itself are good enough to create an everlasting memory of tastes, flavors and smells. I would simply return to this place in a heart beat just for its food. It is vegetarian food only, but it spans a diverse menu. I think all foodies will fall in love with this place.

Lush nature of Mylambady, Wayanad, Kerala
Above Photo Credit:  Pradeep H Gowda

6) Go on long nature, farm and plantation walks

Benefits: Lots of Vitamin D, good exercise, pure air and quality de-cluttering time

The delicious food and the guilty pleasures that you enjoy in the dining room give you an incentive to explore the nearby village, nature, farm and plantation trails by foot. Not only do these walks allow you to burn all those calories, it somehow makes you ready for more of that amazingly yummy food. Lots of sunshine, good exercise, pure air and plenty of nature are some other excuses to go on those village walks. One of my favorite things to do here is to go to the village center, order a cup of hot lemon tea, buy a small piece of cake, feed the family of house sparrows and watch the village life go by while listening to the happy chirps of the birds. Definitely a far cry from our mad city life.

The yellow flower that is taking over the hedge at Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

By now you would have realized the rustic charm of this place. I am sure there are ton more things to do, experience and discover here, but I guess I would need many more trips for that. For the time being, I can tell you that this traditional plantation home in rural Wayanad is truly a slice of god’s own country, without any of the frills of modern tourist infrastructure. If relaxation and rejuvenation in pristine nature is your thing, head to Aham Anubhava. If good food and family is what you are looking for, head to Aham Anubhava. If a rural holiday experience is what you are seeking, head to Aham Anubhava.

To know more about Aham Anubhava, look up their website. If you need any additional information or if you are interested in booking this place, contact Menaka Ramanan (menaka at ahamanubhava dot com).

Drone Shot of mountain stream flowing through Mylambady, Wayanad, Kerala
Above Photo Credit:  Pradeep H Gowda

How to get here:

By air: The nearest airport is Kozhikode, about 2 hours away. But, if you are looking for an airport with a wider connectivity, Bangalore airport, at 300 kms away, is your best bet.

By rail: Mysore, Bangalore or Kozhikode would be 3 train stations with good pan India coverage.

By road: Mylambady is somewhere between 260 and 300 kms away from Bangalore depending on which route you opt for. The Bangalore –> Mysore –> Gundlupet –> Muthanga Forest –> Sultan Bathery –> Mylambady is possibly the fastest and the road in the best condition. There is an alternate route via Hunsur and Mananthavady that passes through Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Only four wheelers are allowed on that route. Both routes are open only from sunrise to sunset.

A festival rural holiday to Aham Anubhava, Wayanad, Kerala

Nearby Hidden Tourist Attractions:

1) Karapuzha Dam

2) Wayanad cricket stadium at Krishnagiri, a scenic cricket stadium surrounded by jungles and mountains

3) A small mountain stream completely cut off from outside view and that is surrounded by lush greenery

Drone shot of Mylambady, Wayanad - forests, plantations and farms
Above Photo Credit:  Pradeep H Gowda

Nearby Mainstream Tourist Attractions:

1) Kuruva Island, a lovely island on the Kabini river

2) Edakkal Caves, known for its cave paintings from the Neolithic era

3) Banasura Sagar Dam, one of the largest earthen dams in the region

4) Chembra Peak, the tallest peak in the region and a stunning trekking location

5) Soochipara Falls, a beautiful waterfall accessible to all

6) Meenmutty Falls, a gorgeous forest waterfall that requires a decent trek

7) Pookote Lake, a beautiful lake known for its lilies, lotus flowers and boat rides

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mysore Palace: A Destination for Photography

Focus on the blue fan inside the colorful private durbar hall of Mysore Palace

One of Incredible India’s iconic landmarks, the Amba Vilas Palace or the Mysore Palace, is the second most visited tourist attraction in India after the Taj Mahal. It is estimated that more than 8 million people visit this palace every year, most of whom visit during the colorful and regal Dasara festival. There are 3 things that are noteworthy when it comes to the Mysore Palace. One, is the world famous Dasara festival with the decorated elephants and all the fanfare. Then, there is the night view of the Mysore Palace that is illuminated with over 97,000 bulbs on Sundays, national holidays and the during the 10 days of Dasara celebrations. The third and final highlight are the interiors of the palace that are an epitome of beauty, a rich dash of colors and a work of pure art.

Above photo: This is the private durbar hall inside the Mysore palace. Not only is it insanely beautiful, it also carries an air of opulence.

A photographers delight - Public durbar hall of Mysore Palace

All these years, one could only take photographs from the outside and you had to apply for special permissions to photograph inside. However, the rules changed recently and everyone can photograph inside the beautiful Mysore Palace. This recent change can be seen outside the palace where many vendors can be seen selling selfie sticks to the visitors.

Above photo: This public durbar hall of Mysore palace is located on the 1st floor and is possibly the most photogenic room in the palace. This place is a huge hit with people who want to take selfies or get their profile photos clicked.

A wide view of a hall inside Mysore Palace

This is fabulous news for all those selfie lovers, budding photographers, architecture photographers, travel photographers and for all those people simply looking to create a good holiday memory. You can take photographs everywhere inside and outside the palace with the exception of the cordoned off areas. The only areas where you continue to need special permissions are if you wish to use the palace premises for a professional photoshoot, if you wish to use a tripod and/or if you wish to do professional videos.

Above photo: This room is one of the first large rooms you encounter during your exploration of the palace. Its ornate pillars and patterned flooring are breath-taking.

The windows of Mysore Palace

This article is more like a photo story of Mysore Palace. I simply wanted to capture different elements of its Indo-Saracenic architecture that contains beautiful blends of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput and Gothic styles. I hope these pictures make you want to visit this insanely gorgeous palace. The people of Bangalore are the most lucky due to their close proximity to Mysore. They can simply plan a easy day trip from Bangalore, which includes a visit to the Chamundeshwari temple in the morning followed by a traditional Mylari Dosa breakfast and then visits to the Mysore Palace, museums, Brindavan garden, shopping districts and other attractions before returning to Bangalore in the evening. For people from other states, they can easily base themselves in Mysore and enjoy its relaxed pace and lush green environment.

Above photo: These windows inside the Mysore palace are an element that is hardly noticed by the visitors as they head to other iconic rooms, but if you stare at it for a bit, you cannot stop admiring its beautiful architecture.

Indo-Saracenic architecture of Mysore Palace, Karnataka

I would simply visit Mysore just to photograph the Mysore palace in its full glory. I still haven’t visited the palace during the Dasara festival, which I hear is an absolutely amazing experience, but I can certainly say that I have seen it stunningly lit from the outside and have photographed its colorful, opulent and aesthetic interiors. It is truly an amazing destination for photography!

Above photo: The Indo-Saracenic architecture can be seen most clearly from the outside of the palace due to the many red colored domes located on the top of the palace structure.

Gorgeous pillars and arches of public durbar hall of Mysore Palace

How to get there:

Mysore has an airport, though Bangalore would be your best option when it comes to best connectivity for domestic and international flights. The 3 hour drive from Bangalore to Mysore can be either made using cars or you can opt for the KSRTC buses from Bangalore airport to Mysore. Train connectivity between Bangalore and Mysore is excellent and many long distance trains make their way to Mysore. For last mile connectivity in Mysore, you can opt for auto rickshaws or horse carts.

Above photo: Every inch of the public durbar hall is a treat to the eyes. Its beauty makes me want to transport myself a 100 years back and be a part of an actual durbar session.

Horse cart, Autorickshaw and street life in front of Mysore Palace, Karnataka, India

What are the palace timings:

The palace ticket counter opens at 10 AM, though it is best to head there at least 30 minutes before if you are heading there on a weekend or a national holiday. The palace closes at 5:30 PM, though if you are already inside, you can spend another hour or so.

Above photo: One of Mysore’s amazing holiday experiences is to go on a horse cart ride in the wee hours of the morning. Most of these rides start in front of the Mysore palace before making its way through the different cobbled pathways and roads of this beautiful city.

Color Overdose - Mysore Palace

Mysore palace in the night:

There is a light and sound show in the night that you can experience and if you happen to be in Mysore on a Sunday or a national holiday, do wait till 8 PM to see the Mysore palace in all its illuminated glory.

Above photo: The chandeliers, lights and colored glass of this private durbar hall are truly eye popping.

Main entrance to Mysore Palace, India

Best season to visit Mysore:

Mysore is good to visit all year around, though the peak summer months can be a bit warm at times.

Above photo:
The main entrance of the Mysore palace and a closer look at its lovely arches, pillars and domes.

Colorful wall tiles inside Mysore Palace

Other best experiences to be had in Mysore:

1) Chamundeshwari temple for a powerful temple and amazing aerial views of Mysore city

2) St. Philomena Cathedral

3) Brindavan Gardens

4) Mysore Zoo, if you have young kids with you

5) Shop for Mysore silk sarees at the government silk weaving factory

6) Have a meal or a drink at the stunningly beautiful Lalith Mahal Palace hotel, a popular location for movie shoots

7) Have a Mylari Dosa breakfast at Original Vinayaka Mylari hotel

8) Explore Devaraja market during the early morning hours

Above photo: Mysore palace’s beauty lies in its various elements. These are wall tiles, which could have been influenced by Persia or even our own very Chettinad region.

Exquisite flooring inside Mysore Palace

Attractions worth visiting near Mysore:

1) The Somnathpur Chenna Keshava Temple

2) Kabini Tiger Reserve for a true jungle experience

3) Bandipur Tiger Reserve to get closer to the elephants

4) Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery (Golden temple) at Bylaguppe

5) The historical town of Srirangapatna

6) The birding paradise of Rangaathittu

7) Barachukki and Gaganachukki waterfalls

8) The toy town of Channapatna

9) The subterranean temples at Talakad

Above photo: Likewise with the flooring. I absolutely love them and if available today, I would instantly fix them on the floors of my house.

Me getting photographed in the public durbar hall of Mysore Palace

Above photo: Mirrors kept at different corners of the public durbar hall add a bit of additional magic to this stunning room. These mirrors also allow you to play around when it comes to photography.

Color, riches and beauty galore inside Mysore Palace

Above photo: The blue, gold and red colors of the private durbar hall are simply mesmerizing.

The absolutely stunning interiors of Mysore Palace

Above photo: This is one room where I could lie down and appreciate the beauty for hours together.

Intricate work in the private durbar hall of Mysore Palace

Above photo: While exploring the Mysore palace, always keep an eye open for all the traditional Hindu elements, vaastu, HIndu gods and mythological creatures. You will notice them in almost every room.

Public Durbar hall - a different perspective

Above photo: A slightly different perspective of the public durbar hall Do you notice the image of goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) in the far right?.

Ornate pillars inside Mysore Palace

Above photo: The rich detailing on the pillars and the beautiful flooring are something to die for when it comes to creativity. I wish they didn’t use the strong tungsten lights here.

A wide view of the public Durbar hall inside Mysore Palace

Above photo: A wide angle view of the public durbar hall, a pretty large room and which overlooks into the front of the palace.

Opulent Private Durbar Hall inside Mysore Palace

Above photo: I loved the ancient blue looking fan that sits in the middle of this private durbar hall. It adds variety to this otherwise symmetrical room.

Public durbar hall, one of the most photographed places inside Mysore Palace

Above photo: A floor level view of the public durbar hall. I wish I could have lied down at this place and studied the carvings more closely.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Borneo’s Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary: A Gem for Wildlife Lovers!

Sunset colors in the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary, Sabah, Malaysia

Pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, long tailed macaques, pig tailed macaques, western tarsier, silver langurs, about 8 types of hornbills including the magnificent rhinoceros hornbill, gorgeously colorful butterflies, crocodiles, frogs and so many other beautiful animal, bird and insect species can be spotted in this piece of wild paradise. This is that kind of place where you will kick yourself for not carrying a pair of binoculars or zoom lenses as there is so much amazing nature to see here. And that is precisely what I did for carrying just my landscape lens during my holiday to Borneo.

Group of long tailed macaques at Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia

The rainforests of Borneo hold a fifth of the world’s green cover and hence it should be of no surprise that it houses so many unique species. This place that I am talking about is the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary and it is located in the Sabah state of Malaysian Borneo. And all its action is packed around the Kinabatangan river that lends its name to this pristine forest.

Watching sunset on the Kinabatangan river, Borneo

Traversing for over 500 kilometers through the Sabah lowlands, Kinabatangan river is a mosaic of equatorial rainforests, riverine forests, forest islands, limestone caves, mangroves, swamps and lakes. And it is close to this water body where all the action unfolds.

Western Tarsier at Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Sabah, Malaysia

The only way in and out of this forest is by boat and the best way to sight wildlife here is also on boat. The only things you need during such a boat ride are a life jacket, a pair of binoculars and a keen sense of sight and smell. And when used well, you can see some of the rarest wildlife species of the world.

Stay is usually in the middle of the forest in a forest guest house that is located on a riparian forest stretch or on an island. Like with any wildlife sanctuary, the day starts before sunrise and as your boat starts chugging along the river, the dense mist that had settled on the river overnight disappears to present some of the densest forest you would have ever laid your eyes on. And as your eyes get adjusted to this beautiful sight, your ears are treated to a cacophony of primate and bird sounds.

Proboscis monkey at Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia

From the middle of the river, you might not be able to see a lot of wild action, but as you head closer to the river banks, you are treated to some mind blowing primate action. After all, the Kinabatngan wildlife sanctuary is one of only two areas in the world inhabited by ten species of primate, four of which are endemic to Borneo. The first ones you usually see are the Proboscis monkeys that are famous for their pot bellies and large noses. They usually stay in groups and mornings are a heightened feeding frenzy for them. Their leaps between trees are also quite a sight. You also see pig tailed and long tailed macaques, though orangutans and other primates need much patience and luck when it comes to spotting them.

Young crocodile seen by the banks of the Kinabatangan river, Borneo, Malaysia

Mornings are also a great time to see the crocodiles as they come out of the water to bask in the morning sun. So are the hornbills that jump from tree to tree in search of fruits. Hornbills are fruit eating birds that act as seed dispersers and thus protect the ecology of the forest. All 8 of the hornbill species seen in Borneo are seen in this forest. The sight of the great rhinoceros hornbill flying over the Kinabatangan river with its massive wings was a special highlight for me. As most of the forest is tall here, do ensure to carry a good pair of binoculars or big prime lenses if you wish to appreciate the beauty of the hornbills as they usually stick to the top tier of the forests, especially the fig trees.

Silhouette of the Giant Wood Spider as seen at Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary, Malaysia

The pygmy elephants were also a highlight for me, though it took many attempts and the sighting was short due to the thick forest cover. There are other species such as the Sumatran Rhino, Bornean clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat, , Malay Sun Bear, Monitor Lizard, Otter, Freshwater Terrapin and Slow Loris, though they are not easily spotted and one has to go deep inside the forest and spend longer amounts of time to get lucky.

Lush rainforests by the Kinabatangan river, Borneo, Malaysia

In addition to the boat safari, Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary is famous for its night walks, where you get to see a different side of its wild nature. It is during this night walk that you get to see the Western Tarsier, a cute looking tree hugging animal with big eyes and that can rotate its head nearly 360 degrees. If lucky, you can see the slow loris too on such night walks. These night walks are also a great time to see the rich insect and amphibian life. Do ensure that you carry your macro lens with you in case you are interested in these subjects. You can also spot birds such as the stork billed kingfisher that roosts on tree branches. You will find mosquitoes, leeches and other bugs in plenty. So go prepared for that.

Stork billed kingfisher roosting in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Malaysia

You can also go on day walks during the morning and evening boat safari rides. Usually, it is hard to spot any animals and birds due to the heat, but it is a good way to see the riverine forest system up close.

Tree frog from Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary seen during a night trek

Whether you go on boat rides, night walks or day walks, you are bound to fall in love with this forest. Every aspect of its wild riches are bound to astound you. This ecosystem is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, wildlife photographers, bird watchers and just regular travelers. Do remember to pack your sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellant, walking shoes, hat, binoculars, etc. for the near perfect experience. And do plan to stay for longer durations to allow yourself enough time to soak in the real beauty of this place.

Black and white butterfly, Borneo, Malaysia

After all, it is not often that WWF refers to a place as “Gift to the Earth’. And this is in spite of the all the illegal tree logging, cash crop agriculture and hunting that has usurped Borneo in the recent past. Such is the aura of arguably the last forest alluvial floodplain of Asia.

Baby Pig tailed Macaque, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Malaysia

Best season to visit:

Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary is open throughout the year, though the river gets swollen during the rainy months of December and January. Personally, I think each season allows you to see the forest in new light.

Kinabatangan river, Borneo, Malaysia

How to get there:

Kota Kinabalu in the Sabah state of Malaysia would be your nearest international airport, though Sandakan and Tawau are good domestic airport options. If you are flying into Kota Kinabalu, you can drive from Kota Kinabalu to Sukau. If you are traveling by bus, you will first have to go to Sandakan and then head to Sukau. From Sukau, a boat will take you to your place of stay.

Boatman at Kinabatangan Wildlife sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia

Where to stay:

You can either stay at the lodges in Sukau or in the basic lodges or homestays run by the local Orang Sungai people in the villages deep inside the forest. Bookings for these homestays Miso Walai website or through the Sabah tourism website.

Evening skyscape from Kinabatangan river, Malaysia

Nearby tourist attractions:

1) Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak of Sabah. This is a fabulous trek.

2) The Orangutan rehabilitation center at Sepilok.

3) El Nido, Puerto Princesa underground river and other attractions of Philippines’s Palawan island that shares a similar environment.

4) Pulau Sipadan, a great place for scuba diving and one of the most beautiful islands of Malaysia.

5) Rock Pinnacles at Gunung Mulu, one of the top adventure experiences of Malaysian Borneo.

6) Danum valley conservation area for a luxurious rainforest holiday experience.

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