2022 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What Is Overlanding and Why You Should Try It

What is Overlanding and why you should try it

Overlanding is a way to explore the world flexibly, on your own agenda, and with limited restrictions. With the right equipment, overlanding is a guaranteed adventure to be shaped as you see fit. This alternative to the all-inclusive holiday entails exploring the open roads, starry skies, and complete autonomy in nature. Read on to find out more about overlanding and all the reasons why you should give it a go.

A More In-Depth Look at Overlanding

Generally speaking, an overlanding adventure is mainly journey focused. A transient destination rules the agenda, and the main purpose is to experience as much as possible, in as many places as is functional. There are two recognized types of overlanding:

Short Term

Overlanding in this frame is more for a weekend adventure. This is an interim experience and either serves as an overlanding fix to see you through until the next big adventure or as a way to build up to a longer journey.

Long Term

This is all about the long journey. Overlanding journeys from hardcore enthusiasts may last for months at a time and this is quite typical of the hobby. A higher level of preparation and hardy equipment is required for this category, as you need to be ready for anything out there in the wild.

The Equipment Requirements

There are various items that you need from the mode of transport to the smaller details. A big journey will naturally demand a bigger suitcase and in-depth planning, whereas for a weekend, it is easier to move more flexibly. Therefore, depending on the time frame of the adventure, the list will fluctuate.

Let’s explore the requirements in more detail.

The Transport Factors

Above all else, the mode of transport you are using has to be up to standard. As overlanding tends to be on rough terrain, there is basic maintenance beforehand that should be observed. For example, check and double check all the tires and maybe invest in off-roading style wheels for the vehicle. Always carry a spare (or maybe two) as uneven roads pose more risk for punctures and flats. A repair kit for any problems that may come along is also a good idea, as it will save you from having to abandon the process entirely.

A 4x4 type vehicle is one of the better options to successfully accommodate off-road style driving. Some short-term overlanding trips can be bicycle based, but these are usually for a night or two given the restrictions in carrying supplies. Regardless of your chosen transport mode, getting to know your vehicle before you set off is essential. Make sure you at least are familiar with how to fix basic mechanical issues that commonly occur and have a toolkit somewhere close by.

The Basic Supplies

Overlanding takes you away from stores, city lights, and home comforts. So, everything you take with you has to meet your needs for the entirety of the trip unless you deviate from the plan and head back to civilization. The following list is all helpful to make a trip successful.

· A first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, pain medication, and gauze

· Food items for the duration that are unlikely to perish within the timeframe

· Water for cooking, washing, and drinking

· A cooking implement such as a gas stove

· Solar powered charging devices for emergencies and recreational purposes

· A means of communication with the outside world, in case of emergencies

· A strong torch (or two) plus spare batteries

· Blankets and pillows, and warm, protective layers

· Essential hygiene items

· A multi-tool (plus knife) and toolkit

· Something to protect from the elements like a roof top tent with a hard shell design

Why You Should Give it a Go

This is not an activity for the faint hearted. It is an adventure heavy, wilderness-focused exploration of nature and requires patience, savvy, hypervigilance, and logic. If you want fun, to see the world from a unique perspective, solitude, breath taking experiences, and are comfortable in small spaces under the stars, these are all great reasons to give it a go. Here are ten reasons to embark on an overlanding adventure.

1. To learn survival skills

2. To experience the world through a different viewpoint

3. To find new parts of nature

4. To sleep under the stars

5. To find true peace in solitude

6. To have time alone with your thoughts

7. To step away from the hustle and bustle

8. It is less expensive than paying for a hotel and flights

9. The adventure will be unique

10. You can experience the local culture from an alternate vantage point

Be prepared for adventure, new horizons, and newfound peace. Whether the GPS signal is strong or weak, the weather is kind or impeding, or you come face to face with predators, there will be a story to be told when you return home.

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Monday, August 08, 2022

Anaimalai Tiger Reserve’s Lion Tailed Macaque: A Wild Photo Series

The Alpha Male Lion Tailed Macaque at Puduthotham Tea Estate, Valparai

This endangered primate is an old world monkey endemic to the Western Ghats of India. They are found exclusively in the Western Ghats mountains of Southwestern India in the upper canopy of tropical evergreen and monsoon forests. Also known as wanderoos, they are known for their striking silver mane and lion-like tail tufts. They play an extremely important role in seed dispersal. By transporting fruit in their cheek pouches and consuming long distances from where they were gathered, they drop or defecate seeds far from the mother plant and contribute to the survival and propagation of many plant species in their environment. I am talking about the extremely social lion tailed macaque.

One of the best places to see them up close in the wild is Puthuthottam estate, a hidden gem located in the buffer zone of the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve near Valparai in Tamil Nadu. I bring to you this wild photo series of the lion tailed macaque from inside Puthuthottam Estate. It is here that the lion tailed macaques are more trusting of us humans and they often leave their arboreal behaviour and come to the ground.

Above photo: This alpha lion tailed macaque keeps a keen eye out for any threats. Like other macaque species, the lion tailed macaques are also very cunning and often steal food from the homes of locals.

Puduthotham's lion tailed macaques stare into my camera lens

Above photo: We humans have caught the attention of these two female lion tail macaques and they seem to be tracking our every move. These lion tailed macaques are the pride of the Western Ghats.

The endangered primate - Lion Tailed Macaque

Above photo: Their greyish silver mane and their black coat is their main identifying feature. However, they get their name from their lion like tufts at the bottom of their tails.

Lion tailed macaque munching on wild fruit at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Above photo: Lion tailed macaques are primarily fruit eating primates. They are fond of jackfruits and wild durian. When they don’t find fruits, they will also eat leaves, flowers and invertebrates. They play a crucial role in seed dispersal in their habitat.

A Lion Tailed Macaque Portrait

Above photo: Male lion tailed macaques often stay alone in their group or they remain part of bachelor groups. This big one in picture is an alpha and heads a group of about 30 lion tailed macaques.

The look of a female lion tailed macaque at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Above photo: Female lion tailed macaques are smaller in size than the males. They usually stay in the company of other females within the group and produce one offspring every couple of years. The young are nurtured by their mothers until they reach puberty.

Lion Tailed Macaque digs into a wild jackfruit at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Above photo: Lion tailed macaques spend half the day foraging and the other half resting of traveling to find areas to forage. They usually have a set territory within which they forage. After foraging, they usually rest on the higher branches of trees.

Lion Tailed Macaque in its favourite habitat at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Above photo: Lion tailed macaques are social creatures that roam in troops of 25 to 30 with a single dominant male. In Puthuthottam estate, lion tailed macaques troops of even 100 members have been spotted quite regularly.

Lion tailed macaque enjoying its favourite meal - the wild jackfruit

Above photo: Lion tailed macaques are very intelligent and resourceful. For example, they use leaves to remove poisonous stingers from chrysalises before eating them. They also use forest litter to extract water from tree holes.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

14 Top Things to Experience in and around Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

Winding Himalayan roads surrounded by snow

India’s true Shangri-La, the 10,000 feet high hill station of Tawang in Western Arunachal Pradesh is home to ancient and rich Buddhist culture, unparalleled beauty, kind people and lots of hidden treasures. It’s spectacular landscape is made up of snow capped peaks, high altitude lakes, lush forests, smiling valleys, gurgling streams, picture perfect tribal villages and rich monasteries. It is here that one can see the heady mixture of breath taking vistas of Himalayan uplands, Monpa villages and the rich monasteries. If you are looking for a gorgeous Himalayan hill station with rich culture and beautiful vistas, then you should definitely visit Tawang in Western Arunachal Pradesh.

Below are the top 14 things to experience in and around Tawang. These experiences should definitely be a part of your dream Tawang holiday itinerary.

The pride of Tawang - Tawang Gompa

1) Tawang Gompa

This serene and majestic Buddhist monastery is the pride of Tawang. Located on a hilltop at an altitude of 10,000 feet and facing the Tawang town, Tawang Gompa is one of the older Buddhist monasteries in the world and the largest Buddhist monastery in India. A lot of Tawang’s culture and tradition stems from this very gompa. Founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyamtso, the Tawang Gompa is an epitome of Buddhist architecture and belongs to the Gelukpa sect. One of the main attractions of Tawang monastery is its huge gilded statue of Lord Buddha.

Tongpen La View Point, Arunachal Pradesh

2) Tongpen La View Point

Tongpen La view point is a gorgeous Himalayan vista located at an altitude of 15,150 feet above MSL. It is situated at Tongpen La, a high altitude mountain pass that connects the army base of Y junction with Bumla pass on the India-China army highway. This view includes the high altitude Tongpen lake and the snow covered Eastern Himalayas.

Penga Teng Tso Lake - a fantastic white setting

3) Penga Teng Tso Lake

Penga Teng Tso Lake or PT Tso lake is a serene looking high altitude lake located at around 12,000 feet in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. At about 23 kilometres from Tawang, PT Tso is located amidst sensational natural beauty with snow capped mountains surrounding it on all sides. This lake holds spiritual importance to the Buddhist community.

T Gompa near Sangetsar Lake

4) Tak Tsang Gompa

Tak Tsang Gompa or T Gompa is one of my favourite Buddhist monasteries in India. This remote and peaceful destination is so quiet that the only sound that you can hear is that of the wind blowing and your heart beating. Tak Tsang, which means ‘tiger’s den’ is a 12, 500 feet high Buddhist monastery located on the edge of a cliff in the Eastern Himalayas of Western Arunachal Pradesh. It is about 40 kilometres or 2 hours from Tawang. If self introspection or meditation is on your mind, this remote Buddhist monastery would be the ideal destination.

Sangetsar Lake from a distance

5) Sangetsar Lake

Sangetsar lake or Madhuri jheel is a high altitude lake in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh that is considered holy by the Buddhists of India and Tibet. This remote lake, located at an altitude of 12000 feet, offers a heady mix of spirituality, awe inspiring mighty Himalayas surrounding it and eerie looking tree trunks jutting out of the lake. Sangetsar lake is located at about 30 kms north east of Tawang and it was where a few scenes of the movie Koyla (featuring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit) was shot.

High Altitude and religious Sela Lake at 13,700 feet above MSL

6) Sela Pass and Sela Lake

Sela pass is a 13,700 feet high altitude Himalayan wonderland that connects the Buddhist district of Tawang with the rest of Arunachal Pradesh and India and it is known to be home to more than 101 lakes. Each of these lakes is considered very religious by the Buddhist community. One of these 101 lakes is the large Sela lake located on top of the Sela pass. Winding Himalayan roads of Western Arunachal Pradesh are an added thrill of this destination and one gets to experience such roads both while ascending and while descending Sela pass. Sela pass, which is covered in snow most months of the year is also a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Sela pass is more than just a pit stop that falls on the Bomdila – Tawang mountain highway. Its unparalleled rugged beauty, pristine mountain nature, exotic mountain birds, rich Buddhist connection and winding mountain roads make it a hot favorite in Arunachal Pradesh.

Jang Falls, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

7) Jung Falls

Ranked as one the best waterfalls of Arunachal Pradesh, Jung Falls, lies in the valley between Sela and Tawang near the town of Jung. Fed by alpine lakes and snow streams, it tumbles in multiple steep steps into the river below from an appreciable height. The waterfall, which swells with water during the monsoons is a sight to behold. The waterfall, the hill stream below it, the surrounding greenery and the Himalayan mountains make it a top destination in the Tawang circuit.

Ugyenling Temple - Birth place of the 6th Dalai Lama

8) Ugyenling Monastery

The Ugyenling monastery, which is famous as the birth place of the 6th Dalai Lama, was built in the 15th century by Ugyen Zangpo, the youngest brother of Terton Pemalinga, the great treasure traveler. It is situated about 5 kilometres from Tawang and close to Tawang’s war memorial.

Inside the Ani Gompa along with the young Ani (nun)

9) Thukje Chueling Ani Gompa
Western Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its monasteries that are run by nuns. These Ani Gompas or nunneries are managed by sparkle-eyed nuns with clean-shaven heads. No male monks can be seen near these ani gompas. One such monastery is the Thukje Chueling Ani Gompa, that is located on top of a hill that faces the Tawang valley. This place is about 10 kilometres from the city of Tawang. Though this Ani Gompa is small in size, it makes up with its vibrant colours and unique surroundings.

War memorial stupa against the blue Himalayan sky

10) Tawang War Memorial

The Tawang war memorial, a pride of Tawang, is a 40 foot high memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. This memorial, locally referred to as the ‘Namgya; Chorten’ has names of 2420 dead soldiers etched in gold on 32 black granite plaques. This war memorial, blessed by the Dalai Lama is nestled among picturesque snow-capped peaks overlooking the imposing Tawang-Chu valley. This scenic location ensures that the tourists get a chance to soak in pristine nature, while admiring the deeds of the Indian soldiers.

Western Arunachal Attire

11) Handicraft Emporium

If shopping is your thing, then you should definitely head to the Handicraft Emporium run by the Arunachal Pradesh government (open from 9 AM through 4 PM and situated close to the District Commissioner’s office). This is where you will find authentic goods from the wool weaving industry of Tawang. Shawls, carpets, chadars (wrap skirts worn by Monpa women), handcrafted bags and local tribal dresses are some of the more popular items to shop in Tawang. The other places to shop for in Tawang would be the Old market and the Tibetan settlement areas. Religious Buddhist goods (prayer wheels, flags, Buddha statues, wall hangings, good luck charms and other gift items), delicate chinese crockery, locally carved wooden utensils, traditional jewellery and yak cheese are some of the other things to shop for in Tawang.

Nagula Lake, Arunachal Pradesh

12) Nagula Lake

Nagula lake is a high altitude lake located at an altitude of 4,300 metres above MSL. This scenic lake is a delight for nature lovers and one can spot a number of Brahminy ducks around the lake. These ducks are considered lucky according to Buddhism. Located on the Tawang – Bumla road, the Nagula lake mesmerizes everyone with the beautiful reflection of the snow capped mountain peaks on its pristine waters.

At Y Junction

13) Y Junction

Y junction is a key military outpost on the Tawang-Bumla mountain highway towards the India-China border. It is here that the road forks into two. One heads towards T Gompa and Sangetsar lake while the other heads towards Bumla pass. This is a fabulous location to interact with the soldiers, have a cup of tea at the army canteen and enjoy the bleak and cold landscape.

Enroute to Bumla Pass

14) Bumla Pass

Bumla pass is one of the remotest mountain passes in the world. Located at an elevation of 15,200 feet, Bumla pass is a border pass between China’s Cona county in Tibet and India’s Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh. It is 37 kms from Tawang and is the old trading route between India and Tibet. It is here at Bumla pass that the fierce 1962 India-China war took place.

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Pristine Vazhachal Rainforest Highway: A special road trip hot spot

The dense Vazhachal forest between Athirampally Waterfalls and Valparai

It is one of India’s most pristine rainforests. It is a fresh lease of oxygen in Kerala. It is one of the top tropical motorcycle routes in India. I am talking about Vazhachal forest that connects Valparai, the unsung hill station of India with Athirapally Falls, the Niagara falls of Kerala.

This forest highway, a plastic free zone, offers a beautiful mix of cloud rainforests, tropical rainforests, waterfalls, many reservoirs, mountain streams, tea estates, coffee estates, curvy ghat roads and oodles of greenery. It is also an important wildlife corridor as it connects the Anaimalai tiger reserve and Parambikulam tiger reserve with the Sholayar reserve forest, Vazhachal forest and Chimmony wildlife sanctuary. This highway is an integral part of the elephant migration corridor and that is why vehicles are not allowed to ply here between 8 pm and 6 am to prevent any elephant – human conflict. While you might spot wild elephants and wild gaurs on this route from time to time, you will almost always spot lion tailed macaques, bonnet macaques, malabar giant squirrels, nilgiri langurs and tropical birds of paradise if you drive slowly and keep a keen eye out for any movement amidst the dense forest cover.

For most people, the Vazhachal rainforest highway is just a means to connect to Athirapally falls, Vazhachal falls, Poringalkuthu reservoir, Sholayar dam, the vast tea estates and hill station of Valparai and/or the other tourist attractions in and around Valparai. But, for me, this rainforest highway is a destination in itself.

The Vazhachal forest highway between Valparai and Athirampally Waterfalls

For a few years during and prior to covid, this forest highway was open only to four wheelers. However, now, it is open for all vehicles. Four wheelers can ply between 6 am and 8 pm while two wheelers can ply between 6 am and 6 pm. Be prepared for forest checks at either ends of the Vazhachal forest highway. Plastics of any kind is banned inside the forest and loud silencers are also banned.

Monsoons are the best time to visit this rainforest highway, though you need to ensure that your vehicle tyres and brakes are in top condition and that you are fresh and confident enough to negate poor visibility, heavy downpours and slippery roads. Landslides are quite common on this highway during the monsoons and this might cause a few delays.

I highly recommend this route to all motorcycling and road trip enthusiasts. However, do ensure to carry all your trash back with you. This rainforest is a nature and wildlife hot spot and it is our responsibility to ensure that it thrives in the years to come. Do visit on your next trip to Valparai or Athirapally falls and let me know what you think of this absolutely gorgeous and dense jungle.

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Monday, July 18, 2022

6 Things to Know Before You Visit Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach, Florida, is one of the world’s best travel destinations. The island of Palm Beach is known as being a glitzy paradise for the rich and famous. Palm Beach has historical landmarks, stunning mansions, and scenic water views. The town is on a barrier island in Palm Beach County, separated from nearby cities like West Palm Beach.

There are dozens of billionaires that are residents of Palm Beach, and throughout history, it’s been home to U.S. Presidents and politicians, moguls, and celebrities.

If you’re thinking about planning a visit, following are six things to know before you go.

1. Driving in Palm Beach

If you’re flying into the Palm Beach area, you may want to rent a car to get around town. Public transportation is limited. If you are going to drive in Palm Beach, there’s a lot of scenery to take in. Just be mindful of the many other drivers on the roadways. Most are likely to be tourists, so they’re not familiar with the area as well, increasing the risk of accidents occurring.

Palm Beach is only 16 miles long, and to the west, it’s bordered by the Intracoastal waterway. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean.

2. Bike the Lake Trail

Lake Bike Trail, Palm Beach, Florida

One of the popular things to do in Palm Beach is biking the Lake Trail, which is 5.5 miles, running parallel to the Intracoastal Waterway.

There are views of Palm Beach estates to the east and then the skyline of West Palm to the west.

There’s a massive kapok tree along the way and coral towers on both sides of the passage where North Lake Trail comes together with Country Club Road.

3. Shopping Worth Avenue

Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida

Worth Avenue is one of the must-sees of Palm Beach.

Worth Avenue is known around the world as a beautiful area for shopping and dining. The Mediterranean architecture is a draw on its own, even if your budget only allows for window shopping.

Worth Avenue was one of the first places on Palm Beach Island that was developed. It was established in 1913, and it was originally a residential street until the 1940s. Along with shopping and dining, you can take a historic walking tour, enjoy the art galleries, or stop in and have a cocktail at the many eateries and lounges.

4. When To Visit

The summer months can be swelteringly hot in Palm Beach, which is why the high season tends to start at the end of fall when the crowds are still small. It goes through the winter, but if you wait until the holiday season to go, there will be crowds, and you’ll pay a premium.

Hurricane season for Florida is in the fall, so this is something to be mindful of as you plan your trip as well.

5. Where to Stay

One of the most well-known and luxurious hotels in Palm Beach is the Breakers. The historic hotel is designed in the Renaissance Revival style. Henry Flagler originally opened the hotel in 1896 as a way to accommodate travelers on the Florida East Coast Railway.

In 1973, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Breakers is currently an AAA five-diamond rated resort and has been since 1996.

The Colony is another historic hotel that also happens to be incredibly colorful. The Colony Palm Beach has just 89 rooms, and you’re within steps of Worth Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Chesterfield is a more moderately priced option that’s still elegant. This hotel is also historic, and it’s surrounded by palm-lined streets, near Worth Avenue.

6. Other Things to Do

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, Palm Beach, Florida

Some of the many other can’t miss options in Palm Beach include:

a) Have breakfast at Green’s pharmacy. The lunch county is where President John F. Kennedy would have breakfast when he was in town, and the menu and overall atmosphere remain pretty much the same.

b) The polo season runs from January through the end of April, so consider going to the International Polo Club Palm Beach. There’s a champagne brunch every da Sunday during the season.

c) If you want to grab a sandwich to take to the beach, head to the family-owned Amici Market.

d) You can take a boat or water taxi to Peanut Island, where there’s an 80-acre county park. This is where you’ll find the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. It was at one point a Coast Guard station and the presidential bunker for President Kennedy.

Finally, if you love animals, go to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which is a non-profit that helps rescue endangered sea turtles.

Photo Courtesy: Each photograph in this article has been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.org.

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Monday, July 04, 2022

Puthuthottam Estate: The Hidden Gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

Lion Tailed Macaque in its favourite habitat at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

It is a 3000 acre estate comprising of tea gardens, coffee plants and native trees that is located just a few kilometres before Valparai, the unsung hill station of India. It is surrounded by the forests of the Anaimalai tiger reserve on all sides and it itself falls in the buffer zone of the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve. It is a great destination to spot diverse wildlife and birdlife and this specifically holds true for the lion tailed macaque, a primate species endemic to this part of the Western Ghats. I am talking about Puthuthottam Estate, the hidden gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve.

A Wild Indian Gaur stares just 50 feet from me at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Puthuthottam wakes up to its usual jungle music every morning. The Malabar whistling thrush whistles in all its glory. The black rumped flameback woodpecker’s drilling sound reverberates in the woods. And some times, you can even hear the gruff guttural calls of the Great hornbill and may be hear its iconic wing beat and see it as its flies overhead. As you excitedly wake up to these gorgeous sounds and step out of your wildlife bungalow, you can catch sight of the greater racket tailed drongo dancing from tree to tree with its long tail and head crest shining in the golden morning light. Bulbuls, quails and babblers can be seen amongst the coffee plant thicket. And you can spot grey hornbills, barbets, myna, oriental magpie robin and flycatchers if you look a bit higher into the trees.

Black Rumped Flameback woodpecker at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

As you get ready and go on your morning walk, you can spot even more birds like the beautiful scarlet minivet or the regal crested serpent eagle. As you continue walking amidst the mesmerizing sounds of the jungle, your tea garden trail opens into a panoramic view with mountains in the yonder and dense jungle below. If you opt for the narrow jungle trails, you can come across the wild Indian gaurs grazing in front of you or the Lion tailed macaque, Bonnet macaque or Nilgiri langur dancing from tree to tree, socializing or digging into their favourite food. I did not get to see any wild elephants on any of my wildlife walks, but my forest guide told me that wild elephant sightings are very common between the months of October to December as Puthuthottam falls on their annual migratory route.

As you finish your breakfast, the lion tailed macaques (the special citizens of Puthuthottam) make their appearance. They have just made their way from the forest to Puthuthottam. They will forage for food, socialize and rest in and around Puthuthottam before returning to the forest somewhere between 3 and 4 pm. Puthuthottam is one of the few places in the Western Ghats where the lion tailed macaques have left their pure arboreal existence and can be seen quite frequently on the ground. This is because of the trust that they have built with the people of Puthuthottam. This human-macaque happy co-existence ensures that you see the lion tailed macaque at very close quarters at Puthuthottam. This also means that it is one of the best places to photograph the lion tailed macaque in the wild.

The Alpha Lion Tailed Macaque keeping a keen eye out for threats

When I was staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, I saw lion tailed macaques right in front of my bungalow. I saw them at Woodhouse Mansion, during one of my wildlife walks in the forest and next to the Puthuthottam tea factory as these primates were making their way back to the lion tailed macaque bridge to cross into the forest for the night. Me and my friends tracked a group of 30 plus macaques on multiple occasions and on multiple days. It was a great experience to see their behaviour at such close quarters.

As with other wildlife destinations, the wildlife of Puthuthottam start getting active as the sun starts setting. This is the best time to spot wild Indian gaurs, sambar deer and barking deer. We were extremely lucky to spot a large herd of wild Indian gaurs (about 50 plus gaurs including an alpha male, young males, females and calves). Not only did we see them at a distance of about 50 to 100 feet from us, we were also able to move with them for close to a kilometre before we gave up due to the lack of natural light.

Crested Serpent Eagle at Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Valparai, Tamil Nadu

We even spotted a slow loris in the tree while returning from our dinner at Woodhouse Mansion. It was our powerful flashlight that reflected its eyes from the dark and upon a closer look, we noticed its revolving head and slow movements.

It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting at your wildlife bungalow, going on a wildlife walk, having breakfast or returning to your bungalow post dinner, you are never too far away from wildlife at Puthuthottam.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 1

Most visitors go to Puthuthottam to photograph the lion tailed macaque or to see the gaurs and elephants at close quarters. But, there is so much more to Puthuthottam than sighting these three animals. Staying amidst pristine plantations and forests, waking up to the call of the Malabar whistling thrush, feeling super excited at the helicopter rotor whirring sound of the Great Hornbill flapping its wings, experiencing the behaviour of the lion tailed macaque at close quarters, walking along some surreal views, feeling the raw thrill upon seeing a 2500 kilogram gaur at no more than 50 feet from you and when you are on foot and having the entire forest to yourself are some of the reasons why I love Puthuthottam estate, located in the buffer zone of Anaimalai tiger reserve. This hidden gem of Anaimalai holds many surprises. I have visited it three times and each time, I have absolutely loved my time there. And I can’t wait to return in November to see more hornbills and track wild elephants on foot.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 2

Key things to remember while you are visiting Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Wear sturdy shoes as you will be required to walk long distances

2) Carry sunglasses and a cap/hat to protect you from the mountain sun

3) Carry rain wear or an umbrella with you in case you are visiting during the wet season

4) Leeches are quite common during the wet season. So be prepared for them accordingly

5) Most of the time, it is safe to be with children on these trails. However, do exercise caution for self and others, if there happens to be wild gaurs or elephants in the vicinity

6) Try to stay quiet to get best sightings in wild habitat. If you make a lot of sound, the animals might go to some other place or at worst case, they can chase you

7) Carry some trail mix, energy bars and water with you when going on these trails

8) Carry a flashlight with you if you like early morning or late evening walks

Best season to visit:

Puthuthottam estate is open all year round and each season will allow you to see the forest and its wildlife in a new light.

October to December is excellent for spotting wild elephants and for great hornbills.

Puduthotham's lion tailed macaques stare into my camera lens

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Coimbatore international airport. It is located about 111 kms from Puthuthottam estate and it should take you close to 3 and a half hours to reach here.

The nearest railway station would be Pollachi Junction. It is located about 63 kms or 2 hours away.

The nearest bus station would be Valparai. If your bus happens to be coming from Pollachi or Coimbatore, you can get down at Puthuthottam Estate located just before Valparai. If you are traveling from Kerala, you can get down at Valparai and take a cab or bus to reach Puthuthottam, about 5 kms away.

Where to stay:

Only the guests of Briar tea bungalows are allowed into Puthuthottam Estate as it happens to be a private property owned by the Woodbriar Group.

If you want the best wildlife experience, I would recommend that you stay at the 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe bungalow that is located right in the middle of the Puthuthottam estate and is regularly visited by birds and wild citizens.

If Puthuthottam Annexe is not your kind of property, you can stay at any of the other properties belonging to Briar Tea Bungalows and plan morning walks here.

An early morning walk through the lush green Puduthotham Estate near Valparai

Where to eat:

If you are staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, your meals would be at the Woodhouse Mansion. The menu and meal times would be mutually agreed upon in advance based on the timings of your wildlife walks and your food preferences.

If you are staying at any of the other properties of Briar Tea Bungalows, you might have hot or cold beverages at Woodhouse Mansion, but your meals would be at your place of stay.

Attractions in Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Tea Estates: The main attraction of Puthuthottam is its sprawling tea gardens, its plantation walks and its many panoramic view points.

2) Coffee Estates: In addition to tea garden, Puthuthottam is also home to coffee estates, though it is on a much smaller scale when compared to the tea gardens.

3) Forest Stretches: In between its tea and coffee estates, Puthuthottam has many stretches of native forest that attract the wild visitors.

4) Birdwatching: Great hornbill, grey hornbill, black rumped flameback woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, malabar whistling thrush, scarlet minivet, jungle babbler, hill myna, bulbul, barbet and many other species of birds can be spotted here.

5) Wildlife: Lion tailed macaques, elephants, gaurs, Malabar giant squirrels, sambar deer, barking deer, Nilgiri langurs, Bonnet macaques and many other wildlife can be seen here.

6) 184 year old Woodhouse Mansion: One of the earliest bungalows in Valparai, time stands still at Woodhouse Mansion. Lion Tailed Macaques also drop in here every day.

7) 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe: It used to be the tea manager’s bungalows in its hey days. Today, it is the only place to stay at Puthuthottam Estate for tourists. It is home to 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a balcony. And it is located right in the middle of tea gardens, coffee estates and tropical forests.

A Large herd of Wild Indian gaur just a few 100 feet away from Puduthotham Annexe property, Valparai

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Nallamudi Poonjolai: A fabulous view point tucked within the Valparai hills and inside the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

2) Sholayar Dam: Asia’s 2nd deepest dam nestled in the pristine Anaimalai hills of Tamil Nadu

3) Athirapally Falls: The Niagara falls of Kerala

4) Vazhachal Falls: A tropical forest waterfall located near Athirapally falls

5) Vazhachal Forest: A fresh lease of oxygen in Kerala

6) Hike to Nadumalai River: A pristine picnic spot surrounded by tea estates and nature

7) Tea Estates of Valparai: For a rich tea estate and factory experience along with surreal views

8) Poringalkuthu Reservoir: A remote water body nestled in the tropical rainforests of Vazhachal, Kerala

9) Aliyar Dam: A large dam just before the climb to Valparai begins from Pollachi

10) Monkey Falls: A beautiful waterfall located on the ghat road from Pollachi to Valparai

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Hike to Nadumalai River through the Tea Gardens of Stanmore Tea Bungalow

Nadumalai river and Tea Estates, Valparai

You are standing at the Stanmore Garden Bungalows near Valparai, one of the properties managed by Briar Tea Bungalows overlooking a panoramic view of tea estates and mountains. As you stand mesmerized by the beauty of the sprawling tea estates, you can hear the sound of water in the yonder. This sound of water is coming from the Nadumalai river, Valparai’s main river that begins its journey in the nearby mountains. This is the starting point of your hike to the beautiful Nadumalai river. This hike is possible only if you happen to be staying at any of the properties belonging to Briar Tea Bungalows as the entire trail passes through private tea gardens and estate roads.

The hike through tea gardens to reach Nadumalai river
This hike to Nadumalai river from the Stanmore garden bungalows is a steep down hill trail through tea gardens and finally through dense undergrowth to the Nadumalai river. The hike is fairly easy downhill, though you might huff and puff a bit on your way back up. The only things to watch out are for leeches and slippery terrain if you happen to be walking during the wet season. On your hike, you might come across the whistling sound of the Malabar whistling thrush, the dance of a peacock or the sight of other pretty birds. And if you happen to be lucky, you might even get to see wild dogs or a herd of wild elephants. So this trek is not just a simple walk through tea gardens, but it is also a wildlife walk, if you keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.

The hike which begins at Stanmore Garden Bungalow ends at the rocks by the Nadumalai river. These rocks can double up as your picnic spot. You can sun bathe here after a dip in the river, you can indulge in some reading here or you can simply enjoy a bite from your picnic basket with your family and friends. This location is absolutely pristine and quiet. The only sounds you can hear here are the gurgle of the river and the sounds of nature surrounding it. Do ensure that you leave this place exactly as how you found it.

Gorgeous leaves near Nadumalai river, Valparai
The rocks of Nadumalai river are also a great location to indulge in some wildlife and nature photography and even to record some authentic sounds of nature. This is my favourite activity to do as the sounds of nature drown away all your thoughts and you end up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. A dip in the river, a small bite to eat and a short nap on these rocks will charge your batteries in record time.

The best time to go on this hike is straight after your morning tea or coffee as this is when the weather will be pleasant, the rays of the sun will be golden (for all those photographers), there is a higher chance of spotting birds and wildlife and you can work up a great appetite after to indulge in all the food items cooked for breakfast.

The rolling hills of tea as seen from the cottages of Stanmore Garden Bungalows, Valparai
Don’t miss this hike to Nadumalai river if you happen to be staying at any of the Briar Tea Bungalows as this pristine and peaceful location has everything from rolling hills, sprawling tea gardens, rich birds and wildlife, a gurgling river, a lovely hike and a fabulous picnic spot. I highly recommend this private trek.

Key things to remember on this hike:

1) A good pair of walking shoes or slippers will help you keep your feet firmly on the ground

2) There is a good chance that you will get leeches on this hike. Do carry some salt with you, if required. Else, just be alert to the leeches climbing onto your shoes and remove them before they start to suck your blood

3) Swim wear, sunglasses and a towel will be required if you wish to take a dip in the water and sun bathe on the rocks near the river

4) The river can have a strong current during the wet season. Do seek local advice and take good care if you don’t happen to be an excellent swimmer

5) Don’t forget to carry along your phone or camera so that you can create excellent memories

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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Valparai’s Lion Tailed Macaque Bridge shows how we should co-exist with nature

The lion tailed macaque tree bridge over the Valparai forest highway

This old world monkey endemic to the Western Ghats of South India was once on the world’s 25 most endangered primates list. Today, it is no more on this list and its numbers are slowly increasing to healthy numbers. And all thanks to simple, yet effective wildlife conservation efforts by the government, forest department, local authorities, wildlife enthusiasts, plantation owners, locals and others.

A Lion Tailed Macaque Crossing on the Valparai Forest highway near Puduthotham
I am talking about the lion tailed macaque, an arboreal rainforest dweller who prefers the upper canopy of moist evergreen forests. There was a time when their numbers thrived along with the rest of the forest species. Then their forest habitat started fragmenting as humans started timber harvesting and building exotic plantations like tea, coffee, rubber, etc and villages on the edges of the forests started burgeoning into large towns, cities and hill stations. This led to a drop in their numbers. Lion tailed macaques were killed while crossing the highways and humans were either killing them for meat or to protect their fruit trees and crops.

The endangered primate - Lion Tailed Macaque

Today, there are beautiful bridges that connect the upper canopies of the trees on either side of the Valparai forest highway.  These bridges have been built keeping the lion tailed macaque in mind and is aimed at preventing these primates from getting down from their trees and crossing the forest highway on foot. You can see these bridges near the Puthuthottam estate (just a few kms before Valparai town) in the buffer zone of the Anaimalai tiger reserve where these lion tailed macaques frequent every day in search of food. These bridges prevent vehicle and macaque conflicts and thus reduce stress for the lion tailed macaques. A lot of effort from the forest department and the locals is key in building and maintaining these bridges.

A Lion Tailed Macaque Portrait
This is another example of how we can happily co-exist with mother nature, even if it means it is a old world monkey. Yes, we did usurp their forests by building towns, highways and plantations. But, it is never too late. We can set the balance right. The lion tailed macaques of Puthuthottam show us that they trust us humans. They have left their strictly arboreal nature and come to the ground level to feed and forage. They are happy near our homes, tea factories and farms. They keep us close, but still maintain safe distance, which is good in a way. We humans should also be happy to see them at close quarters while keeping our distance from them.

This is a story of Valparai’s lion tailed macaque bridge and how we should and can co-exist with our wild denizens.

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Monday, May 23, 2022

First-timers' guide to a perfect vacation in Bali

First timers guide to a perfect vacation in Bali

Stunning beaches, beautiful temples, cultural landmarks, and shopping trips make Bali a true paradise for travellers. Located in the Indian Ocean, this is one of the most famous islands among the 1700 islands of Indonesia.

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However, individuals planning to visit Bali for the first time might not be aware of certain particulars like which places to visit, where to stay, etc. They should also consider securing their vacation by opting for travel insurance online. This policy covers expenses resulting from unfortunate events like baggage loss, personal belongings theft, etc.

Thus, first-time travellers must consider following the guide below for a perfect Bali trip.

Your ultimate beginner's guide to the perfect vacation in Bali

A travel enthusiast experiences many challenges while planning a complete vacation in Bali, especially when it comes to deciding the places to visit and travel routes to take.

Here is a complete guide for beginners planning a vacation in Bali.

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1. Choose the places you want to visit

First-time travellers will be interested to know that Southern Bali is the most touristy area on the island. It comprises the capital city Denpasar along with Ngurah Rai International Airport. Additionally, individuals looking to spend time in posh cafes, serene beaches, and fancy restaurants will find this area to be an ideal destination. Here are some of the best places to visit in South Bali:

● Uluwatu Temple
● Nusa Dua Beach
● Tanah Lot
● Nyangnyang Beach
● Cabina Bali
● Kuta Beach

2. Know the best time to visit Bali

Located to the South of the equator, Bali has a tropical climate throughout the year. So, there are predominantly two seasons here- the dry and the rainy season. From November to March, this area experiences rain making it less convenient for a vacation. Around July and August, Bali remains crowded due to the national school holidays in Indonesia. However, an ideal time to visit Bali is May, June, or September. The climate is pleasant during this period, and the beaches will be less crowded.

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4. Check reviews

Before planning a trip to Bali and deciding the places to visit, one should refer to the online reviews. First-hand experiences will give an idea of how to make a Bali vacation perfect. Furthermore, individuals might choose to do an activity that does not have good reviews and waste time and money. To avoid this, one should check out the reviews of these places and save expenses.

5. Plan a budget and itinerary

It is vital to fix a budget before planning a trip to Bali to avoid future hassles. Setting a budget will also help a traveller plan an itinerary. Besides including mandatory expenses while calculating a budget, keeping some additional cash available for any emergency is crucial.

6. Know the travel routes

As there are several places to visit in Bali, one should know the travel routes for a seamless vacation. An initial idea of travel routes will allow individuals to consider the conveyance fees in their budget checklist. One can opt for public as well as private transportation in Bali. However, public transportation is not very convenient as individuals would not be able to travel as per their timing and availability.

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7. Get travel insurance

First-time travellers must obtain a well-rounded insurance plan from a reputed provider to secure their Bali trip. There can be some mishaps during a vacation resulting in substantial cash outflow. Additionally, loss of baggage, visa, passport, etc., can also change a planned itinerary as travellers will need to spare time waiting for their belongings to arrive. To avoid inconvenience and reduce financial liability, one should purchase a travel insurance plan.

8. Plan your Visa

Tourists traveling to Bali for less than 30 days will not require a visa. It is applicable to only 170 countries, including India. However, if the travel duration is beyond 30 days, one needs to obtain a Bali visa for Indians on arrival at the airport. To apply for a Visa on Arrival (VoA), travellers must visit the immigration offices at least a week before the first 30 days are over and request an extension.

So, before planning a vacation in this postcard-perfect place for the first time, one should be aware of the points above. It will help them in making the trip successful and convenient.

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