April 2020 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!
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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bhopal’s Taj-ul-Masajid: One of the Largest Mosques in Asia

Praying at Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal

It is one of the top heritage destinations of Madhya Pradesh. It is believed to be the largest mosque in India and one of the largest mosques in whole of Asia. It is one of those few mosques in India to have been funded by women. I am talking about Taj-ul-Masajid (Crown of the Mosques), located in the heart of old Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.



Spanning over 250,000 sq. feet with a huge lake nearby and with stunning views of Bhopal old town, Taj-ul-Masajid mosque can seat close to 200,000 people. Built using Indo-Islam and Mughal architecture, construction for Taj-ul-Masajid began during the reign of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (1844-1860) under the able guidance of Nawab Shah Jahan Begum of Bhopal and her daughter Sultan Jahan Begum. The mosque could not be completed during their lifetime due to lack of funds, but was completed between 1971 and 1985 by Allama Mohammad Imran Khan Nadwi Azhari and Maulana Syed Hashmat Ali Sahab of Bhopal.

Taj-ul-Masajid - one of the largest mosques in the world

Resembling Jama Masjid of Delhi and the Badshahi Mosque of Lahore, Taj-ul-Masajid is made up of a beautiful mix of Hindu, Mughal and Syrian design elements. It’s three marble domes, two marble minarets, the gorgeous pink facade, the marble flooring, the recessed archways, the ancient motifs from Syrian mosques and its ornate petaled designs are nothing short of extraordinary.

A climb to the first floor view points are much recommended for a view of the old palaces beyond the lake and some fabulous perspectives of the mosque itself.



The mosque may look simple at first glance, but it packs in a lot of stories. It is best to go there with a knowledgeable guide to help you understand the history of Bhopal, its women rulers and the importance of this mosque in all of this. A high recommended place to visit in Bhopal, especially on a culture and heritage trip to Madhya Pradesh.

A side view of Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Bhopal international airport, just a short drive away from the center of the city.

The nearest railway station would be Bhopal railway station, just 4 kilometers from the Taj-ul-Masajid mosque.

Bhopal is well connected by road with the rest of the country and especially with Indore, the bustling commercial city of Madhya Pradesh.

Lake surrounding Taj-ul-Masajid with the palace ruins in the background

Mosque Timings and Rules:

Taj-ul-Masajid is open from 6 AM to 8 PM on all days of the week. However, on Fridays and on important prayer days, only Muslims are allowed to enter the mosque.

There is no entry fee for entering the mosque.

It is best to dress conservatively while entering the mosque, which is to cover your head, shoulder and legs.



Where to stay:

There are a lot of budget hotels near the mosque and the railway station that offer great proximity and that allow you to soak in the vibrancy of the city center. However, if you wish for slightly up-market accommodation and for scenic lakes, you will have to go closer to the Upper lake.

My personal favorite for up-market luxury accommodation is Jehan Numa Palace, an erstwhile palace of the Begums of Bhopal that has been converted into a boutique hotel. The same group also has a luxury property located amidst nature called Jehan Numa retreat. Both these properties make for fantastic stay options.

The beautiful arches of Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal

Where to eat:

Old Bhopal is the place to be if you wish to indulge in some local street food and to taste authentic Bhopali cuisine. Itawar chowk are Chatori Gali are two places to visit for all food lovers.

For something exquisite, choose either some of the fancier restaurants in Bhopal or the hotel where you are staying.

A portrait of a local at Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal

Other attractions in Bhopal:

1) Jehan Numa Palace: A boutique luxury hotel that was once the palace of the begums of Bhopal

2) Upper Lake: A Ramsar site and one of the largest man made lakes of India

3) Van Vihar National Park: A modern zoological park near the Upper lake

4) Bharat Bhavan: A multi-arts complex and museum

5) Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum: A heritage museum showcasing the tribal cultures of Madhya Pradesh

6) State Museum: Home to cultural and historical artefacts from the state

Students inside the Taj-ul=Masajid, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Other nearby attractions in Madhya Pradesh:

1) Sanchi Stupa: A UNESCO World Heritage site and the pioneer of torana architecture

2) Bhojeshwar Temple: A 11th century temple home to the largest Shiva Lingam in the world

3) Bhimbetka Rock Shelters: A UNESCO World heritage site and one of the places that teach us the evolution in man’s cognitive capacity from 100,000 years back

4) Udayagiri Caves: A 4th to 5th century cave temple gem that is home to some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and iconography in India

5) Chanderi: An ancient kingdom that gave us the traditional Chanderi saree

6) Orchha: A medieval Bundelkhand kingdom where nature, culture and heritage all live in a pristine environment

7) Khajuraho: A UNESCO World Heritage site and a 10th century temple gem

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Natural Wonder called Yana Rocks: A Drone’s Eye View

Drone photograph of Yana Rocks, Karnataka

One of Karnataka state’s stunning natural wonders, the Yana rocks and caves are a treat to the eyes. Towering majestically over lush green forests of the Western Ghats, these magical rocks and caves make for great jungles treks, rock climbing expeditions and fantastic monsoon holiday destinations.

In this time of lockdown, I thought I should take you on a virtual tour to this lush wonder and give you a drone’s eye view of this mesmerizing landscape.



Best explored during the rains, Yana is a place that is a mix of nature, spirituality, religion and adventure. You should either explore the landscape on foot thus appreciating the dynamic flora and fauna of this region or embark on a road trip through the forests and many waterfalls of Uttara Kannada.

Bhairava Yana Rock and the Uttara Kannada Forest Landscape

Rock climbers and adventure enthusiasts will love its steep walls and cragged surfaces. Nature lovers will love the diversity of the Western Ghats and water babies can find solace in the many waterfalls nearby, especially Vibhooti Falls that is located about 9 kms away.

Mohini Rock as seen from the top of Bhairava Rock, Yana Rocks, Karnataka

And while you are in the region, do not miss out on the black beaches of Kumta, the iconic OM beach of Gokarna, the Shivapura hanging bridge, the winding roads of the Arbail ghat, the magnificent waterfalls of Unchalli, Magod and Sathodi, the many river crossings, the rich wildlife and the lush countryside.

The stunning Yana Rocks surrounded by the dense jungles of the Western Ghats

It is one of Karnataka’s nature rich regions and deserves a full-on experience by one and all. May be, it should be in your travel bucket-list for the next long weekend from Bangalore once the lockdown is over and once things return to a state of normalcy. I hope you get to see it in the monsoons as that is my favorite season to be in this region.

Note: The drone photographs and video are courtesy of Pradeep H Gowda, a dear friend, a fellow motorcyclist and monsoon chaser.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Satiate your Wanderlust in The City of Dreams: Mumbai

Mumbai - the bejeweled night queen

Being called the financial and entertainment capital of India, Mumbai doesn't need any introduction. Every year millions of people head to Mumbai to explore its beautiful colonial architecture, gorgeous sandy beaches and iconic historical landmarks.

If you, too, are planning on visiting the city this summer, you've got to see a few must-visit places there to have the most fulfilling trip. We bet exploring these beautiful places by pre-booking a rental car in Mumbai will make your journey a breeze and revitalize your spirits.

Without further ado, let's uncover gorgeous places to explore in Mumbai:

Marine Drive


The Mumbai Skyline and its beautiful coastline

Also known as Queen's Necklace, Marine Drive is a 4 km stretch situated in South Bombay. Frankly, it's a no-brainer that you must visit this place in Mumbai. Witness the amazing Arabian sea and admire the brilliant view with your buddies.

Situated in the heart of Mumbai, reaching here via local train or auto is extremely easy. But taking over-crowdedness into account, we highly recommend seeking the help of a reliable car rental in Mumbai.

There is a multitude of non-luxury and luxury full-day car rental options available in Mumbai. We advise opting for the most reliable one.

Juhu Beach


Juhu Beach, Mumbai

Juhu Beach is a perfect getaway in Mumbai for family and friends. It is one of the most famous tourist places to visit in Mumbai. Enjoy roaming around Juhu beach, eat lip-smacking street food and catch the beautiful sunset.

Just 6 km away from Mumbai Airport, Juhu beach is in the heart of Mumbai. You can reach the place within a few minutes from the airport. If you are a group of 3-4 people, you could book a rental car in Mumbai for a full day or a few hours. In case, your group has more than 8 members, hiring Innova in Mumbai makes perfect sense.

Aksa Beach


Sunset at Aksa Beach, Mumbai

Having been mentioned in many Bollywood movies, Aksa Beach is among the most visited clean beaches in the city of Mumbai. Surrounded by lush coconut palms and gorgeous brown sand, Aksa Beach is a perfect place to experience the coastal beauty of this filmy city. The months from September to March are the best months to visit Aksa Beach. The reason being the fantastic weather.

Close to Malad and Borivali in Mumbai, it takes approx. 40 minutes to reach Aksa Beach from Malad Station. Again, opting for a full day car rental in Mumbai for this beach jaunt will be an ideal choice.

Gateway of India


Gateway of India, Mumbai

Built during the British rule, Gateway of India is the most popular historical monument in the Maximum city and, of course, is a must-visit. Located in the most crowded area of Mumbai, Gateway of India can be reached by auto or local train. However, hiring a self-drive rental car in Mumbai would be a wise decision.

In a traffic-choked city like Mumbai, opting for a reliable and luxury self-drive rental car in Mumbai ensures you and your pals don't feel uncomfortable while travelling around the city.

Moreover, you can even rent a car in Mumbai for a day if you are keen to visit all the Mumbai's beautiful places, including Gateway of India, in a single day.

Bonus Tip
- Avoid visiting the monument in the rush hour. You'll thank us later!

Get Lost in Maximum City this Summer

Maximum City doesn't disappoint in any way. It's beautiful, has gorgeous beaches and boasts of architectural masterpieces. Whether you are coming from Delhi or Kerala, it's super easy to reach Mumbai by road. There are a plethora of providers for car rental services in Mumbai like Zoomcar, which offer a fleet of reliable and affordable cars including hatchbacks, sedans, MUVs and SUVs to help you effortlessly move around the City of Dreams. With a pre-booked rental car in Mumbai, you can rest assured to reach your destinations with utmost comfort.

Now, it's time to pack your bags, book a luxury rental car in Mumbai and gear up to be mesmerized by the beauty of the place!

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Best Kayaking Destinations in Asia

Best Kayaking Destinations in Asia

Even if you choose to kayak through a portion of the river near your home that you have traveled through on regular ferries multiple times, it will feel like a whole new experience altogether. Unbelievable as it may seem to those who do not have much experience with kayaking, that’s exactly how it feels.

The difference between kayaking and being on a regular motorized boat or ferry is the distance between you and the water. To be so low and close to the water in a manual boat presents kayakers with a thrilling perspective that’s unique only to kayaking. If you truly want to enjoy that surreal perspective from the most adventurous and beautiful lakes or rivers across Asia, here’s the list you need to follow.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is a conservation area for marine life and it’s a gorgeous one at that. Each time you visit Raja Ampat and decide to go on a kayaking tour with the local guides, you are helping the local population and the conservation efforts simultaneously, in addition to enjoying a grand kayaking experience.

The trips themselves can last for days, taking you through some amazing sceneries and backdrops which are hard to describe but are meant to be seen first hand. There’s the blue sky up above and blue-green water below, which is almost astonishingly clear. As you kayak along those clear waters on a bright day, you can see the marine wildlife clearly, swimming below and close to your kayak!

Inle Lake in Myanmar



If fishing is on your mind, then the Inle Lake in Myanmar should be at the top of your kayaking list. Those that do not know about the fishing or how beautiful the place looks, will skip a visit to Inle and head straight over to Bagan, but they have no idea how gorgeous and untouched the lake feels on a kayak.

A fishing kayak would be ideal for the trip since it will let you take advantage of the local fishing opportunities, which are among the best in Myanmar. Entire villages depend on fishing for their livelihoods near Lake Inle, so, if fishing while kayaking seems like an awesome idea to you, bring your own fishing kayak to the Inle Lake and you will have a blast.

Phang Nga Bay in Thailand

The famous James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Right in between Phuket Island and the Southern Thai mainland lies the stunning Phang Nga Bay. Kayaking feels quite different from what you might be acquainted with while visiting any of the many lakes in Southeast Asia, simply because it’s not a lake, but an actual part of the bay, nestled in natural cliffs of limestone. As one carefully paddles past the karst structures jutting out of the waters, they will inevitably come across the mighty karst and limestone island of Ko Khao Phing Kan, aka, the James Bond Island.

A major thrill and adventure await those that venture through the hongs, which are collapsed caves that allow entry inside the islands on the bay via cave openings which are still accessible to kayaks. It’s an indescribable experience to paddle through limestone caves that do not have a roof anymore, but the walls still stand. The kind of plants and small animals you will be seeing here are only seen in these hongs only, so respect their privacy and move on as silently as possible.

Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia

Floating village at Chong Khneas, Tonle Sap, Cambodia

The Tonle Sap Lake is another place where bringing a fishing kayak would be ideal for fishing enthusiasts. Not only is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia a beautiful spot to row low and near the water’s surface, but the calm lake is also teeming with fish. The water isn’t clear here, but the reflections shimmer on the water with amazing perfection. The reflections of a starlit sky on a calm, full-moon night almost feel magical while paddling on the Tonle Sap Lake.

It’s important to note that although the lake is good for beginners due to the reliable calmness it is famous for, the mangrove forests and the sheer size of the freshwater lake can get you lost if you are not careful or don’t have a guide with you, especially during the night. Practice caution while kayaking in any place around the world, and don’t go out unguided into the night if you are a beginner.

There are plenty of other destinations in Asia of course, but this is a well-curated list that won’t let you down. Kayaking is also considered an extreme sport if you take on the rougher rivers and seas which are also present in Asia, but as long as you are just blissfully kayaking and doing a bit of fishing, each of the places mentioned here has a unique flavor to them for exactly that, making them stand out from each other in beautiful, calm contrast.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Chanderi Sari: 700 years of history and a traditional handloom icon of India

Shopping for the famous sarees of Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh

It is among some of the finest weaves of India. It was loved by the ladies from the royal houses of Baroda, Indore, Gwalior and Nagpur. It is as famous and as big a traditional handloom icon as the Patola sarees of Gujarat, the Benarsi Saree of Uttar Pradesh, the Kanjeevaram Pattu of Tamil Nadu, the Muga silk sarees of Assam, the Mysore Silks of Karnataka or the Kasavu sarees from Kerala. I am talking about the famous Chanderi sarees of Madhya Pradesh that have more than 700 years of weaving history and that are one of top heritage destinations to visit in Madhya Pradesh.



The Chanderi saris, which are among the finest in the country are produced from a mix of cotton and silk, which gives it its unique texture and feel. Embellished with beautiful motifs of coins, buds, peacocks, geometric designs and gold zari border, these sarees originated sometime in the 13th century even though the weaving culture dates back to the 2nd century CE.

The birth of the Chanderi saree might have taken place at the hand of a Koshti weaver when they were employed as the royal weavers of the land. But, its evolution might have happened on multiple fronts. The continuous change of royalty (Bundelkhand, Malwa, Mughals), the consistent trade that took place in Chanderi during the medieval times (Malwa, Medwa, Central India, Southern Gujarat, etc.)) and finally, the involvement of Mughal designs when this handloom most probably reached its zenith have all played a part in its journey.

A portrait of a Chanderi saree weaver

Today, the Chanderi weave and designs are used by every saree designer house in the country and are a hot favorite across all saree shops. They have been known to also include modern design elements too. But, even today, you can get your hands on a traditional Chanderi saree woven by a traditional weaver of Chanderi. The traditional handlooms have been slightly modernized and new jacquards can be found above the traditional looms due to the state and central government’s help, but the skills, designs and weaves are still classic Chanderi as the weaving knowledge has been passed on for generations and kept alive and kicking.

You can not only buy such traditional sarees at Chanderi, but you can see them in close action and may be even interact with the weavers too. And once you are done with your saree shopping in Chanderi, you can also explore the various heritage sites of this once bustling kingdom of traders and merchants.

And just so you know, these traditional weavers of Chanderi not only make only saris, but also stoles, shawls, bedsheets, table cloths, wall hangings and many more. Do pay a visit to experience one of India’s best traditional handicrafts.



How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Bhopal international airport, about 219 kms away. It should take you about 4 to 5 hours to reach Chanderi from Bhopal.

The nearest railway station would be Lalitpur (40 kms away), but Jhansi railway station (about 110 kms away) might offer better connectivity and pan-India coverage.

Good roads connect Chanderi with most of Madhya Pradesh. Buses, taxis and self drive rentals can easily help you cover this journey.

Iconic sarees of Chanderi available in different colors and designs

Best season to visit:

Chanderi is open all year round, but the heat of the summer months can be a bit oppressive. The monsoon months of July through September give a totally different character to this heritage town.

Getting a closer look at the Chanderi saree weaving industry

Where to shop:

There are many authentic saree shops in Chanderi, but if you wish to see the traditional looms and the weavers weaving these sarees, the place to visit is the ‘Handlooms Park’ that is tucked a little bit away from the main town. A lot of different master weavers have their own facilities and shops here. Apart from buying sarees, stoles or shawls, you can also place individual orders here.

Note: Cash is much preferred as the mode of payment. Mobile payment options are available, but internet connectivity can be patchy. Card payments are not available at this point in time, but could be available in the near future.

The traditional saree of Chanderi in the making

Where to stay:

There are only 4 or 5 good properties to stay in Chanderi. Out of these, I would recommend Kila Kothi run by Madhya Pradesh tourism for their location and food. Hotel Shri Kunj and Tana Bana are other good accommodation options in the town.



Where to eat:

There is a property run by Madhya Pradesh called Kila Kothi and it is located on the top of Chanderi Fort. The food here is absolutely lip smacking and the views of the Chanderi old town from here are spectacular.

There are a few other simple options in Chanderi town. You can try those if you just wish for a quick bite.

The saree weavers of Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh

Other tourist attractions in Chanderi:

1) Chanderi museum – A great place to see the artefacts from the Bundela and Malwa era

2) Kaati Ghati – is a gate cut out of rock mountain in a single night. It links the route between Bundelkhand and Malwa and doesn’t have a door

3) Badal Mahal Darwaza – is a 100 feet high singular structure of a gate that was constructed by the King of Malwa in the 15th century

4) Chanderi Fort – is a vast Mughal fort that commands a lovely view of the old town of Chanderi

5) Jama Masjid – is a 15th century mosque with beautiful carvings and that is located right opposite the Badal Mahal Darwaza

6) The village of Chanderi - that is full of ancient alleys and beautiful temples and that is the shooting location of popular Bollywood movies like Stree and Sui Dhaga

A Chanderi weaver and the saree that he is weaving

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The medieval Bundelkhand kingdom of Orchha – 108 kms

2) 5th century rock-cut cave temples at Udaygiri – 159 kms

2) the 3rd century BCE UNESCO World Heritage site of Sanchi Stupa – 166 kms

3) The UNESCO world heritage site and the erotica temples of Khajuraho – 229 kms

4) The largest Shiva linga at Bhojpur – 243 kms

5) Bhopal, the city of lakes and that were ruled famously by the begums – 214 kms

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

The UNESCO World Heritage Site on the back of the 200 Rupee Indian Note

The torana that is on the back of the 200 rupee note

Have you seen the images of monuments and temples behind the new currency notes of India? Did you know that all of them with the exception of the 2000 rupee note are all UNESCO World Heritage sites and are some of India’s best heritage gems? One such gem on the back of the 200 rupee Indian note is the Sanchi Stupa, one of India’s oldest stone structures and commissioned by none other than the great emperor Ashoka himself in the 3rd century BCE, about 5000 years ago. While the Sanchi Stupa itself is special, its intricately carved toranas or gateways are breath taking. There are 4 toranas in total and each one is steeped in stunning architecture and umpteen visual stories from the jataka tales and from others. The one at the back of the 200 rupee note is the Western torana view and you can notice by the 4 yakshas supporting the structure. Built in the 1st century BCE, these toranas are mesmerizing and are believed to have been the pioneers of this type of architecture at those times. Mind blowing indeed!

200 rupee Indian note and Sanchi Stupa

Here is a list of all the UNESCO World heritage sites on the back of the Indian currency notes:

10 Rupee – Konark Sun Temple, Odisha

20 Rupee – Ellora Caves, Maharashtra

50 Rupee – Hampi Vittala Temple, Karnataka

100 rupee – Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat

200 Rupee – Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

500 Rupee – Red Fort, Delhi

How many have you seen up close? Do you have any favorites? To me, each one of them are unique and special in their own way. That is the sheer richness we have in our heritage.

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Fascinating Human Component in God’s Own Country

The nature loving people of Kerala

The world over knows or at least have heard of the beauty of Kerala’s stunning landscapes, but what we might not know are its fascinating human elements. Kerala is a human scape that draws belief, inspiration and faith from its rich cultural past, its seafaring capabilities, its love for nature and its rich trading experiences. A highly adaptable and hard working race, its people comprise of nature lovers, fishermen, artisans, footballers, farmers and those who have a zest for life and wish to indulge in its simple pleasures.

This article is a humble attempt at celebrating these fascinating people of Kerala and their many charming attributes.



Kathakali

One of Kerala’s gift to the world is its classical dance form called Kathakali. Those colorful faces, that elaborate make up and costume and the unbelievable facial expressions are the trademarks of Kathakali. Even though the fully developed version of the dance originated in the 17th century, it has its roots in temple and folks arts from the 2nd century BCE. Elements of the Kathakali dance can be found in ancient Sanskrit texts such as the Natya Shastra.

While a Kathakali dance performance can take you on a mesmerizing mythological journey, the dancer has to spend years of training in training their body and mind before they reach this level of precision and control.

Admiring the Neelakurinji mountain view

One with Nature

One of the things that stand out with the people of Kerala is their unanimous love for mother nature. May be, that is the only reason why Kerala has remained as God’s own country and not morphed itself into a concrete jungle. The people of Kerala love their farms, their green cover, their plantations, their estates and their tropical forests and jungles.

Can't stop admiring the lush nature inside Pampadum Shola National Park, Kerala

They honestly believe that they will disappear if their green cover disappears and hence take utmost care of it. You can see this love for nature in all Keralite families, the farmers, the forest officials, the tourist guides, the boatmen and almost every single citizen of Kerala from all strata of society. And this love for nature can be seen in their traditional cuisines, their festivals and during the monsoons.

Kerala's floating life at a glance

Secular

Kerala is a melting pot where the most diverse of ideologies, faiths and cultures co-exist.  Their ideologies are a beautiful mix of communism and democracy. May be, that is why, they are most literate state in all of India. And may be, that is why their per capital income per household is also on the higher side.

Celebrating secular India - Vasco Da Gama square, Kochi

This secular nature of Kerala along with its diverse array of cultures is one of its highlights and one that begs a visit. In fact, it is what makes the people of Kerala so very unique.

 With locals at Bekal beach, Kerala

Food

It is this rich diversity of culture and the love for nature that creates the lip smacking Kerala cuisine. From the breakfast items of appam with potato stew and idiyappam with kadalai curry to the sadhya meals served on banana leaves for lunch, from the adaprathaman and steamed banana fritters for dessert to freshly caught fish cooked in coconut and spice curry and from fresh toddy to kattan chaya as drinks, Kerala cuisine is a divine mix of spices, aromas and ancient power foods. These foods are not only a treat to the senses, but they take you straight to gastronomic heaven.

Kerala's rich cultures

Fishing

It’s long coast to its vast backwaters and umpteen rivers makes fishing an integral part of Kerala’s heart beat. It were these waters that allowed Kerala’s fishermen to explore the high seas and trade with other countries in the past. And it is because of this trade and sea-faring capabilities that you see the multi-faceted and adaptable nature of the people of Kerala. Whether it is fishing via Chinese fishing nets, dealing in import-export business or being comfortable living a floating life, it is this rich past that passes on its learnings to the people of Kerala.

Kerala's love for fishing and football

Football

Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany and other teams are cheered frantically here. Cricket might be the most popular sport and canoeing might be the heartthrob of Kerala, but if there is one sport that all of Kerala loves, it has to be football (soccer). It could be the beaches, the small village grounds or the streets of the city, Kerala does not mind where it seems to play its football as long as it plays it.

The traditional Strawberry wine of Vattavada, Kerala

Ayurveda

Kerala’s love for traditions and ancient roots can be seen in its rich practice of Ayurveda. This traditional science of medicine thrives in the families of Kerala. Be it home remedies for common ailments or a full fledged course of treatment in their specialized hospitals and ayurvedic centers, no one does it as well as Kerala. The tropical environment, lush greenery and rich knowledge of Ayurveda makes Kerala one of the best places on the planet for a rejuvenating Ayurvedic holiday.

The famous garlic of Vattavada, Kerala

Kalaripayattu

Did you know that Kerala is home to India’s oldest surviving martial art. You might have seen it in movie stunts and fights, but to see Kalaripayattu in real action is a different thrill altogether. Originating sometime in the 3rd century BCE, Kalaripayattu incorporates a detailed understanding of the human body and the knowledge of Ayurveda and Yoga.

Bekal Fort and Bekal beach, Kerala

There are many other human elements that can be experienced in the state of Kerala and that add tons of value to your overall holiday, but the above are some of the few salient ones that come to my mind when I think of Kerala’s fascinating human scape. Are they any that are your favourites or one that caught your eye on your holiday to Kerala? Do share it through the comments below so that all of us can learn about it.

Note: This article has been sponsored by Kerala Tourism.

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Sunday, April 05, 2020

The best place to see the rare Lion Tailed Macaque in the wild

Lion Tailed Macaque - Mother and Baby

It ranks among the rarest and most threatened primates. It is endemic to the Western Ghats of South India. It is a rainforest dweller that prefers the upper canopy of tropical moist evergreen forests and rainforests. There are fewer than 4000 of them in the wild. I am talking about the lion-tailed macaque, a small to medium black monkey with an outstanding silver-white mane.

Lion Tailed Macaque at Pudhuthotham Tea Estate, Valparai

The lion-tailed macaque is usually arboreal and prefers the dense canopies of rainforests, thus making it difficult to be spotted let alone photographed. Even if you end up going on wildlife safaris to some of its best habitats, you might return without a sighting. But, there exists a place where one can get get sure shot sightings of this rare primate.

Located on a popular wildlife migration corridor and surrounded by the forests of Parambikulam tiger reserve, Anaimalai tiger reserve, Aaliyar reserve forest and Chinnar wildlife sanctuary, is a private tea estate called Puduthotham (Puthuthottam) tea estate. A large group of lion tailed macaques have made this tea estate their home for the last few decades and have let go of their arboreal nature for tea estate roof tops and compound walls.

The rare Lion Tailed Macaque at Pudhuthotham Tea Estate

It is here where you can see and experience this endangered primate and its behaviour in close quarters. You can see them jumping between trees, foraging for food and interacting within their social circle. The wild action at Puduthotham tea estate is not just limited to lion tailed macaques, but you can also spot large herds of wild gaur, hornbills, woodpeckers, paradise flycatchers, racket-tailed drongos and even Asian elephants, thus making it a hidden wildlife gem.

Do visit right after breakfast (around 9 am or so) for the best sightings at this offbeat wildlife destination!

Lion Tailed Macaque in monochrome

Best season to visit:

Valparai is open all year round, but it looks the best during the monsoons when all the waterfalls are in full flow, the terrain is lush and the wildlife action is aplenty.

The summer months of March through May would be the peak season and hence it might be prudent to make advance hotel bookings if you are planning to visit in this season.

The monsoon months of June through November can offer a bit of trouble in terms of heavy mist cover, landslides, poor visibility, etc. But, this is also my favorite season. Carry a raincoat and wear good waterproof boots to make the best of this season.

The winter months of December through February can get a bit chilly. Do remember to carry your warm wear with you.

Gaur at Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, Valparai

How to reach there:

The nearest airport is at Coimbatore, about 120 kms away. The drive from the airport to Valparai should take you about 3 hours on a good day and may be a bit more on rainy and foggy days.

The nearest railway station would be Pollachi, about 48 kms away, though Coimbatore railway station, about 120 kms would offer much better rail connectivity.

Valparai is well connected by good quality roads. If you are driving from Pollachi side, you will have 48 kms of winding ghat roads and if you are driving from Chalukudy in Kerala, you will drive through about 40 kilometers of cloud rainforests.

If you are driving from Bangalore, Valparai is about 470 kms or 10 hours away.

Puduthotham tea estate is just a 10 minute drive from Valparai on the Valparai-Pollachi road.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai

Where to stay:

The nearest place to stay would be the hill station of Valparai. Many hotels can be found here catering to a wide range of traveler budgets.

I recommend staying at colonial bungalows inside tea estates. My favorites place to stay are the Stanmore and the Monica Garden Bungalows managed by the Woodbriar group. These might be a bit on the expensive side, but make up for with absolutely gorgeous settings, lip smacking food and great service.

Black Rumped Flameback (Lesser Golden-Backed) Woodpecker at Valparai

Where to eat:

The nearest place to eat would be Valparai town, though options might be few. You will certainly find many shops serving hot tea and home made chocolates though.

It might be prudent to tell your hotel or guest house about your itinerary so that they can cook your meals for you. That way, you can enjoy good hygienic food at a great location.

Stunningly muscular Adult Male Gaur at Puduthotham Tea Estate

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The unsung hill station of Valparai

2) The majestic Athirampally waterfalls – the shooting location for many Indian movies

3) Anaimalai Tiger Reserve – one of the most dense national parks in Southern India

4) Parambikulam tiger reserve – a stunning wildlife holiday destination

5) Monkey Aliyar Falls

6) Aliyar Dam, Sholayar Dam and other vast water bodies

7) Nallamudi Poonjolai

8) Chinnar wildlife sanctuary

9) The drive/ride from Valparai to Chalakudy through cloud rainforests

10) The tea estates of Valparai and around

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Friday, April 03, 2020

The simple resting place of the last strong Mughal Emperor

Aurangzeb's unmarked tomb at Khuldabad

He was the last of the strong Mughal Emperors who ruled over almost the entire Indian subcontinent for a period of 49 years. He was an accomplished military leader who has also been described as the most controversial ruler in Indian history. He was given the title of Alamgir or conqueror of the world. And the world knows him by his popular name ‘Aurangzeb’, which translates to ‘Ornament of the Throne’ in Persian. But, in spite of his titles, regal status and rich legacy, his final resting place is a simple and unmarked one.

Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, Khuldabad

Why is Aurangzeb’s tomb a simple one when his predecessors had grand mausoleums built; some of which are large monuments of Mughal architecture? Be it Babur’s tomb in Babur garden, Afghanistan,  Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, Jehangir’s tomb at Shahdara Bagh, Pakistan or Shah Jahan’s tomb at Taj Mahal in Agra along with his wife Mumtaz Mahal, all of them symbolize the magnificence and architecture of Mughal architecture. While all of Aurangzeb’s forefathers had grand resting places, Aurangzeb chose a bare minimum one and even opted to pay for it from his own pocket. Why did he chose to do that?

Is it because he did not care for any artistic or creative expression? I believe he changed at the final stages of his life, something similar to how King Ashoka changed after the battle of Kalinga and how he embraced Buddhism after that. May be, Aurangzeb too was tired of all the wars, bloodshed, conquering and materialistic life. May be, he found his spiritual calling after believing in the teachings of Sheikh Zainuddin, a sufi saint, who was also his spiritual and religious teacher. May be, that was why he wanted to be buried near the dargah of his spiritual guru in Khuldabad.

A moment from the dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, Khuldabad

The initial grave was just a simple platform made of red stone, but Lord Curzon later covered the site with marble and jaali work. The tomb is open to the sky and is located in the south eastern corner of the dargah. The tomb is definitely a simple one, but the dargah has its own charm. Be it the smell of incense, the smile on the faces of the people here, the peaceful ambience or the colorful shops selling books, incense and flowers, the dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin is a lovely place to visit. It is the kind of place that treats to the simple joys of life and tells you that it is never too late to understand that. The mighty Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb understood that here. May be, you too can find your true calling here.

Flower and incense shop in front of Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, Khuldabad

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Aurangabad international airport. Connectivity might not be the best at this point in time, but it at least has a few daily flights to most destinations. The airport is just about 12 kms from the city. An autorickshaw, a taxi or an uber can take you to the city in less than 30 minutes.

From Aurangabad, one can either opt for a taxi, a local bus or autorickshaw to go to Khuldabad, which is 28 kms away.

The nearest railway station is Aurangabad railway station and it has decent connectivity with most parts of the country, though you might have change at least once if you are traveling from far away.

Khuldabad is well connected by road with most of India. The ghat roads can get blocked during the monsoons owing to landslides or floods, but otherwise, they are open all year around.

Offering prayers inside the dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, Khuldabad

Where to stay:

The best stay option would be Aurangabad city, about 28 kms away. One can opt from homestays, guest houses, Airbnbs, budget hotels to luxury hotels here.

Book store opposite Aurangzeb's tomb at Khuldabad

Where to eat:

While you can get a basic bite with tea and coffee at Khuldabad, better restaurants are available in front of Ellora Caves, just about 5 kilometers away.

For something fancier, head to Aurangabad city about 28 kms away.

Rose petals just outside Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, Khuldabad

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The heritage gem called Ellora Caves

2) Daulatabad Fort, one of the strongest forts of India

3) Bibi Ka Maqbara, a Taj Mahal lookalike

4) Panchakki, a medieval era water mill

5) The 2200 year old rock cave wonder called Ajanta Caves

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